It is remarkable that in the 75 years or so since the team of Gillbert and Sullivan was flourishing, there has been no such musical comedy or operetta which has even remotely approached their brilliant style. And it is perhaps even more surprising that the Savoyard masterpieces have lost little of their appeal in the decades that have intervend.
On Monday, the D'Oyly Carte Company, whose original directors worked with the great pair, arrived in Boston for a three-week season of G. & S. works. They opened with "Pirates of Penzance" and "Cox and Box," probably not the outstanding works, but certainly representative operettas. "Pirates of Penzance" has one of the magnificently involved plots around which Gilbert embroidered his witty songs and speech.
One Gilbert and Sullivan performance can only be compared to another Gilbert and Sullivan performance, and, this three-week program is very likely the best that will be in Boston for a good while. The cast includes such veteran savoyards as Darrell Fancourt and Martyn Green, who have been with D'Oyly Carte for 30 to 28 years respectively. Fancourt, as the guffawing pirate king, is heartily delightful, and all that can be said in criticism of Green is that his part is not large enough. As Major-General Stanley, he gets several of the best songs in the play, but both his speaking and the physical exertions for which he is justly famous are circumscribed by the script.
Heroes and Heroines are never the highlights of a G. & S. piece, but both principals in "Pirates of Penzance" performed well. Neville Griffiths as Frederic, the pirate apprentice whose "sense of duty" is carried to ridiculous extremes, got his line across clearly, which is the basic test of any Savoyard performance. Muriel Harding, who will be chief heroine in several of the plays on this visit, was pleasing as Mabel.
"Cox and Box," a "triumveretta in one act," is as pleasant a way as any to start the evening. Though the words are not Gilbert's, the music is Sullivan', and the whole is a delightfully simple spoof, in contrast to the complicated plot in the main feature.
Gilbert and Sullivan found the location of a funny-bone which was not an exclusive feature of the English Victorian physique. Their works have three levels: the actual setting, be it the Cornish coast or the imperial court of Japan; the institutions of Victorian England which are being lampooned; and some indefinable sense of humor which the English-speaking world has maintained for at least 75 years. For those who are not lacking in this last ingredient, an evening at the Opera House is definitely in order.