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Rose Valley Chorus & Orchestra

HISTORY AND SYNOPSIS FOR Thespis

Cast List    Production History

Thespis

or The Gods Grown Old

First performed at the Gaiety Theater in London in 1871, Thespis or The Gods Grown Old began the most successful collaboration in the history of musical theater.  William S. Gilbert, successful playwright, and Arthur Sullivan, successful composer, joined their remarkable talents to write the first of the fourteen light operas that were to make their names inseparable forever. 

But today Thespis remains an enigma.  Although revivals were planned by Gilbert, Sullivan and impresario Richard D’Oyly-Carte, none ever occurred, and sometime after 1879 almost the entire score was lost – and remains lost to this day.  The two exceptions are the choral piece “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain” which later was lifted bodily and placed into The Pirates of Penzance,  and the solo “Little Maid of Arcadee” which was published as a popular drawing-room ballad of the day.  A third exception, a ballet, was unexpectedly discovered in the early 1990s, but there is no mention of it in Gilbert’s libretto, and where it might have been inserted remains a mystery. 

So that Gilbert & Sullivan aficionados could have the opportunity of seeing what the opera might have been like, in 1954 tenor James Montgomery – longtime artistic director of Philadelphia’s Savoy Company and founder of the Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Philadelphia – commissioned his son, Bruce, to compose a new score for the opera in the style of Sullivan, using the existing libretto.  It is an interesting sidelight to note that Thespis is a youthful work of both composers.  Sullivan was twenty-nine; Montgomery was twenty-eight.  It was first produced by the Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Philadelphia in 1971, in celebration of the G & S centennial.  “Monty” (as the composer was affectionately known) included the two original songs from Thespis in his version of the operetta. While others have attempted to recreate Thespis by writing new music or interpolating melodies from the other G&S operettas, Bruce Montgomery’s original score – so reminiscent of Sullivan himself – has been the most widely produced and received the most critical acclaim.

After 1971, Thespis became a regular part of the Gilbert & Sullivan Player’s repertoire.  It was also produced and directed by Montgomery with the University of Pennsylvania’s light opera company, the Penn Singers, in the spring of 1992. The Gilbert & Sullivan Society of Chester County produced the show, again directed by Montgomery, in January 2001 at West Chester University.

When the Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Philadelphia was resurrected in 1989 to perform Thespis at the Basingstoke Festival held at West Chester University, the show was presented by Ian Smith and his son, Neil Smith. Both these Englishmen would later found the very successful G&S International Festival in their homeland which has run annually since 1994. The success of Thespis at the 1989 Basingstoke Festival resulted in an invitation by the Smiths to the composer, Bruce Montgomery, to produce and direct Thespis at the 2000 International G & S Festival in Buxton England. The Gilbert & Sullivan Players of Philadelphia was again revitalized for the express purpose of appearing in the 2000 Festival, where this rare opportunity to experience the international premiere of Thespis was received with universal acclaim.  J.W. Pepper will now publish and distribute Thespis worldwide, with all royalties going to support the Springboard Grants Program of the Bruce Montgomery Foundation for the Arts. 

— Elizabeth Montgomery Thomas

Synopsis

An acting troupe out for a wedding picnic is spotted ascending the slopes of sacred Olympus, greatly surprising the ancient Greek gods! The astonished gods, who have grown elderly, confess they feel much ignored of late. A deal is struck whereby the thespians will play the roles of the gods for a year, allowing the latter to go to Earth to find out why their worshippers are dwindling. While the gods are down below, the newly-appointed deputy-gods on Olympus have been encouraged to experiment with their new powers, destroying the calendar, ruining viniculture, and upsetting international relations! In short, the actors turn out to be comically inept rulers. Having seen the ensuing mayhem from down on Earth, the angry Gods return to Olympus, sending the actors back to Earth as "eminent tragedians, whom no one ever goes to see."

    Thespis


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