Notable Gilbert & Sullivan adaptations

Samantha PillingHistory

Gilbert & Sullivan

Adaptations of the most popular Gilbert & Sullivan operas have been around since 1908, and they continue through to this day. W.S. Gilbert himself, started adapting them in 1908, with his first children’s book and since then, there’s been many notable adaptations.

Children’s books

W.S. Gilbert adapted stories from both H.M.S. Pinafore and the Mikado into story books for children. In 1908 he created the Pinafore Picture Book. It was published by George Bell & Sons. He then turned his attention to another piece in 1921, when he published the Story of the Mikado through publisher Daniel O’Conner. Both books included backstory not found in the original operas.

Many children’s stories have since been written, retelling the stories from the Gilbert & Sullivan operas. There’s also been many that have taken characters and events from the original plays, creating yet more story books for children to enjoy – and also helping to introduce them to younger generations.

Dance pieces

At the time of the original Gilbert & Sullivan operas, it was common to take popular songs and music from plays and adapt them into dance pieces for private and public performance. Several Gilbert & Sullivan operas were turned into dance pieces, with notable musicians such as Charles Louis Napoleon d’Albert (1809-1886) and Procida Bucalossi (1832-1918) undertaking this task. Unfortunately, these adaptations are virtually unknown today.

Musical theatre and film

One of the most popular forms of adaptation is, without doubt, that of musical theatre and film. Notable adaptations of Gilbert & Sullivan operas include:

  • The Swing Mikado – 1938, Chicago – featuring an all-black cast
  • The Jazz Mikado – 1927, Berlin
  • The Ratepayers’ Iolanthe – 1984 adaptation by Ned Sherman and Alistair Beaton – an Olivier Award-winning musical
  • Di Yam Gazlomin – 1986, New York – a Yiddish adaptation of Pirates, that went on to be nominated for a 2007 Drama Desk Award.
  • Pinafore! (A Saucy, Sexy, Ship-Shape New Musical) – 2001, California – adapted by Mark Savage, the cast consisted of one female character; and all but one of the male characters are gay.

With the popularity of the Gilbert & Sullivan operas, it’s understandable that there have been so many adaptations – from children’s books, through to ballet and theatre. They’ve also been translated into many different languages – including Yiddish, Russian, Spanish, Hungarian and German!

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