What’s Old is New Again: Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged

by Mary Donofrio

Best known for their “Big Three”—The Mikado, Pirates of Penzance, and HMS Pinafore—Gilbert and Sullivan brought a whimsical approach to classical operetta in the late 19th century that is still celebrated today.

Now imagine these operettas performed with a banjo. What about an accordion, mandolin, and an acoustic guitar? Gilbert & Sullivan Unplugged features iconic excerpts from the composing duo performed with a contemporary folk-inspired style, ensuring that this cabaret is not your grandmother’s Gilbert and Sullivan!

The cast of talented multi-instrumentalists are no strangers to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, each having performed in one or all of the composing duo’s “Big Three.” When distilled down to their essence, the cast and creative team discovered that these classic operetta favorites sounded much like contemporary popular music. “We’ve taken so much pleasure in playing these songs together through the years,” said Erik Schroeder, conceiver and co-creator of Gilbert & Sullivan Unplugged. “We are excited to introduce Gilbert and Sullivan’s music to more audiences in a form that appeals to the modern ear while remaining true to the spirit of its source.”

Even with these updated arrangements, the cast and creative team have maintained the true meaning behind the music: being able to make fun of yourself. According to Schroeder, “No matter how many layers of absurdity are applied, no matter how convoluted the plot is, Gilbert and Sullivan’s work can be condensed down to a joyful lampooning of human nature. It’s the same reason that Shakespeare and the Greeks remain relevant: well-crafted comedy, tragedy, ambition, love, catharsis, hubris, and good storytelling.” Gilbert & Sullivan Unplugged presents these classics in a fresh way to delight operetta buffs and newcomers alike.

It was the mix of old and new that drew FST Associate Artist Catherine Randazzo to the group. “The cast offers a wide array of arrangements on string instruments, with tight vocal harmonies—as they call it—modern twists on classic hits.” Randazzo is looking forward to seeing how audiences will engage with the cast and their original takes on these iconic works. “Our audiences are smart!” continued Randazzo. “They love operettas filled with clever lyrics, bawdy characters, and twisting plot lines.”

Last appearing at New York’s 54 Below, Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged has been called “a rollicking evening” and “virtuosic” by Opera Wire, and “thoroughly engaging” and “impressive” by Cabaret Scenes. The cast features Marco Aivazian, Matt Kahler, Dana Saleh Omar, Shaun Pfautsch, and Lauren Vogel.

Gilbert and Sullivan Unplugged with arrangements by Matt Kahler will begin August 21 in FST’s John C. Court Cabaret. For more information, please call our box office at 941-366-9000 or visit floridastudiotheatre.org.

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