Gilbert and Sullivan Archive


Stagecraft (continued)

6.4 Rewriting the List
6.5 Stock Staging
6.6 Cheap Pickets
6.7 Differentiating Officers of State

6.4 Rewriting the List

Megan Zurawicz wrote: I've noticed that the only comment so far on the rewriting of the list has been "don't" - yet, obviously, original racist bits in the list have to be excised. I've the task of doing the rewrite for our summer production, and would like to invite, on list or privately, all comments and suggestions on this. How much of a rewrite? How topical? Just remove the offensive bits and come up with an alternative, or get a bit more local and topical? (the temptation to take at least a bit of a shot at a college admin that's been visibly UNsupportive looms large.) Also, adding to the topic of the response to the location question, suggestions pertinent to a US/Chicago area production are cheerfully solicited. Andrew Crowther replied: This topic came up last year on Savoynet, and I remember there were one or two voices who said the word "nigger" should be retained, because it's the original word and referred only to blackface minstrels. But the word is really so offensive now that it seems perverse to defend its use in songs which are supposed to be lightly entertaining, to shock. As for your re-write - personally, as a G&S purist, I'd say "Keep revisions to the minimum". I suppose you know the "standard" revisions, done I believe by A.P. Herbert:

"The banjo serenader and the others of his race"

and (in the Mikado's song)

"...Or pinches her figger/Is painted with vigour/And permanent walnut juice."

I don't think either is perfect, but they're unobtrusive and do their job. By changing to "banjo serenader", the word "race" is left looking rather odd at the end of that line. May I suggest as an alternative something like: "The hyperactive jogger and the others of his race"? Just a thought. Whereupon Jeff DeMarco quipped: Perhaps "And the Blackfaced serenader.

Ian Hollamby opined: I think that if you want to update the 'List', then do so. WSG was poking fun (as ever) at contemporary prejudice, cant and humbuggery; why shouldn't WE? There is after all, an unimpeachable precedent for a rewrite - Gilbert himself did it more than once.

[That was all the encouragement some SavoyNetters were eagerly awaiting.]

Mike Nash was first into the Meistersinger Ring.: AS SOME DAY IT MAY HAPPEN As performed in Woodhouse's Amateur Operatic Society's production of The Mikado, 26th April - 3rd May 1997. Written by Mike Nash and Tony Kerr.

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list - I've got a little list
Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed - who never would be missed;
There's the pestilential nuisances who sell from door to door
Demonstrating vacuum cleaners and leave dog-hairs on the floor;
All children who watch "Neighbours" every night of every week
And while it's on they hush you every time you try to speak
Then think that you're a moron when you haven't got the gist;
They'd none of 'em be missed - they'd none of 'em be missed!

There's the amateur impressionist who only does John Wayne,
I've got him on the list - I've got him on the list;
Or who dons a pair of specs and says, "My name is Michael Caine",
He never would be missed - he never would be missed;
There are those in every shop or train who use a mobile phone
And all they ever seem to do is gripe and grouse and moan;
There's the man who rides a motorbike and likes to make a row,
He's all dressed up in chains and studs and smells just like a cow;
And the dozy shop assistant who won't smile and can't assist -
I don't think she'd be missed - I'm sure she'd not be missed!

There's the driver up your bumper who can't wait to go flat out
And he drives you round the twist, so I've got him on the list;
And the karaoke singer who does little else but shout,
She never will be missed - she never will be missed;
There's the telephoning salesman with his timeshare flat for two,
He always seems to ring you up just when you're on the loo;
And the meter man who only calls whenever you've gone out;
The inventor of that dashed infernal mini-roundabout;
And the members of the audience who just slept through all of this -
They'd none of 'em be missed - no, they'd none of 'em be missed!

Then it was the turn of Philip Walsh: Here is one for the OOTW Archive. THE NATIONAL TRUST LITTLE LIST: With great reluctance, I have decided to give it to the Nation. Perhaps nobody will look at again. Nevertheless I think this is the most honourable way to go about it. After all, what would my family do with the millions it inherits from the Lottery when it is sold to the Victoria and Albert after my demise!!! If anyone wishes to use it "in whole rather than in pieces" or in pieces rather than the whole, please feel free to do so. I would be grateful if you could drop me an E.Mail for my own personal delight though! I wrote it last December for a concert my Group did for the National Trust in Lancashire. It went down well with the audience who were mostly members of the Trust and many were Stewards or helpers at NT Properties. The lines seem long but believe me, they fit!! " It's the way you tell 'em!"

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
I've got a little list - I've got a little list
Of National Trust Offenders who might well be underground,
And who never would be missed - who never would be missed !
There's the pestilential nuisances who touch the tapestries -
And set the bells a-ringing in their search for antiquities -
All children who are up in dates, and think that they know best -
And just to prove that they are right, pull down the Baron's Crest -
And the Manager who interferes and slaps the occasional wrist -
They'd none of them be missed - they'd none of 'em be missed.

CHORUS. He's got 'em on the list - he's got 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed - they'll none of 'em be missed.

There's the walker who ignores the signs, that say you 'Must not go',
The Path erosionist - I've got him on the list !
And the careless tobacco smoker who discards his fags ends too,
The Forest Arsonist - I've got him on the list !
Then the i-di-ot who lets his dog roam free at lambing time,
To the farmer it's his livelihood - but to him it's not a crime,
And the hiker who jumps over and dislodges dry stone walls,
And drops his litter in the tarns, in lakes and waterfalls,
And that singular anomaly, the hunting lobbyist -
I don't think he'd be missed -I'm sure he'd not be missed !

CHORUS. He's got him on the list -he's got him on the list;
And I don't think he'll be missed - I'm sure he'll not be missed !

There's the youth who writes 'Kilroy was ere' upon the bedroom door,
The wicked humorist -I've got him on the list !
The people who with back packs, push chairs and great big hob nailed boots -
They never would be missed - they never would be missed !
There's the folk who bring their own food in the tea room at the rear,
And walk right through the gift shop without buying a souvenir
And the honeymooning couple behind the 'Private' doors they kissed,
And the Alcoholics on the bottle, must be 'Brahms and Liszt';
And the badge holder who parks for 'nowt' because of his poor wrist -
I don't think he'd be missed - I'm sure he'd not be missed !

CHORUS. He's got him on the list -he's got him on the list;
And I don't think he'll be missed - I'm sure he'll not be missed !

And the family who on Open Day turn up in their Rolls Royce *
The rich Numismatist - I've got him on the list
And members who forget their cards and say with weeping voice -
"Don't put us on the list. Don't put us on the list".
And the lady from the States who with her ancestry is versed -
And bores you with her family names from James to George the First.
There's 'St - 'st - 'st and What's his name, and also Virginia who? **
The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you,
But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list,
For they'd none of 'em be missed - they'd none of them be missed !

CHORUS. You may put 'em on the list - you may put 'em on the list;
And they'll none of 'em be missed -they'll none of 'em be missed !

[More specific suggestions came from:]

Dean Wall suggested: Any time you want to "hide" the N word, at least try to be as crafty with words as Gilbert. How about,

"The Melanistic minstrel, and the others of his race."

-or elsewhere-

"whose frame she cinches by choice...till the strings have a voice, and whose eyeballs bulge from the strain..."

And Sarah Mankowski: I strongly believe this word should be replaced, even if the replacement is just so-so. Banjo serenader, or minstrel serenader, may not be perfect, but at least they don't offend. Anyway, for what it's worth, here are my suggestions.

If you want to call attention to the change:

There's the minstrel serenader, and the others we replace.

Locally, this one would go over big, especially during The Sweeps:

There's the local news-reporters, and the others with bad taste. (or, TV news-reporters)

In self-mockery, it could be:

There's the hyper-patter songster, and the others of his pace.

Or, and you can fill in the blanks:

There's the something something-something, and all other wasted space.

Ok, guys, you can stop groaning now.

Mary Finn agreed and suggested: I like this change to avoid the n-word:

"The sidewalk seranader with his open music case."

And I disagree that topical updating of the list song works. I wrote a version in 1990 that went over extremely well. I have fond memories of waiting for my entrance (as a chorus member) and hearing a sold-out audience laugh, and then quickly shut up so that they could catch the next line. And Paul Sinasohn added: NOT speaking officially (that would be John Alecca) - but I can state that Lamplighters always updates the list song, almost completely, with local/topical references. As Mary stated, you get short, sharp shocks of laughter from the audience so they can catch the next line. And sustained applause at the end of the song.

Sarah Mankowski was quickly back with this: After just receiving an e-mail note (NOT from Savoynet) in which a person repeated pages of another post, only to add, "I agree," I feel compelled to suggest the following:

There's the thoughtless e-mail-sender, who never edits lines for space.

And Biff Florescu had the last word: I'm not sure who suggested that updating the list song doesn't work, but I think it's absurd not to change it...each time I've either directed it or sung the role, I've written it with topical references, and the audience loves it.....why not do it? That's why it was written in the first place I saw it at City Opera a few years ago, and they didn't and it was a total bust.

6.5 Stock Staging

Mike Nash wrote: Putting in more oars than the Cambridge boat race team. Mikado seems to be one of the shows more than most that suffers from stock staging. I think this may relate to my idea in my earlier post, that there is a dichotomy (subtle book plug) between the farcical nature of the opera (the pseudo-Japanese setting, the silly names, the frenetic pace of events getting more and more out of hand) and the too-real characters (especially Ko-Ko and Katisha). Few directors have the skill to tie them together, and what tends to happen is that either the farce takes over completely and the subtler characterization is lost, or more often, the director simply copies a production he/she has seen before, because that "seemed to work" and it's the path of least resistance. A couple of examples:-

The opening chorus. Every production of Mikado I have seen or been in (I've been in three, and seen a few more) has the gentlemen's chorus doing one of two things: either they stand stock still, in rows or in a semicircle, and open and close their fans in time with the music; or they attempt some energetic (and often noisy) martial arts routine. The former seems to fit the words of the song better ("If you think we are worked by strings like a commonplace/Japanese marionette"), but it's boring. The latter is more interesting to watch, but how many amateur societies have a men's chorus that can do all the kicks, AND sing, AND not collapse in a heap by the time Nanki-Poo comes on? As these are meant to be the gentlemen of Titipu, why can't they do the sort of things that ordinary people do in a town square - talk to one another, do a bit of shopping, queue up for the only cash machine still working etc. etc.?

Ever done G&S in a straitjacket? No? Then you've never played Ko-Ko. I jest not, I have been instructed on how to say most of my dialogue, gestures, "ad-libs" (totally spontaneous of course), even how high to lift my knees when I walk. Couldn't we just program a robot to do it and have done with it?

All in all, it means that I groan whenever Mikado is announced as the show for next year. I haven't yet enjoyed being in it ever. I don't think any other G&S has had that effect with me (apart from one dreadfully dull production of Gondoliers in which I was Giorgio and my legs went to sleep while Gianetta and Tessa sang "Now Marco dear" during Finale Act 1).

6.6 Cheap Pickets

Mark Beckwith reported: Opera A La Carte's Mikado was boycotted once in Claremont, California by an ethnic student group who felt it was racist and sexist. There were picket signs out front. It would have been funny except that it was so pathetic. We think they missed the point. As the overture began we were warned there would be a "walkout." As promised, on the initial downbeat approximately 6 people got up and left the otherwise filled-to-capacity auditorium. I think they would have done well to involve some students of management. WE could not resist a hasty response. In the list song when I sang "Likewise, you know who" our Pooh-Bah obstinately crossed behind me with a large picket sign saying "DOWN WITH OPERA." Cheap, I know. Hey, it got a laugh.

6.7 Differentiating Officers of State

Paul Sinasohn asked: BTW, how much differentiation do you Pooh-Bahs put into the various officers of state?? Lamps' Pooh-Bah has always done different voices for each, with varying degrees of smarminess and curmudgeon-ness for the various people. And Clive Woods asked: In every production of Mikado that I've seen, Pooh-Bah's costume has been just a generally flamboyant noble-ish quasi-Japanese robe/kimono. But, in view of all his high offices of state, has anyone ever costumed him with bits of other costumes? What I mean is, for example, an archbishop's crook, a first lord of the Admiralty's hat, a mayor's chain, a commissionaire's jacket, a chief commissioner of police's trousers, and so on. [Can you tell that I know nothing about costumes?]

Janice Dallas was first up with a reply: I've been in two productions, neither of which had him costumed in an assortment of bits and pieces. However, in order to show his multiple "hats", one had him wear several broad bands of ribbon, each with a different symbol of office, layered on top of each other and (I think) attached to the edge of his sleeve. He'd flip to which ever office he was representing at the moment. For the other one, we took the Japanese noble's cap with it's stiffened "feather", and added several more, each in a different color. This "rooster-tail" stood for all the "hats" (offices) he was now "wearing". I don't think either Director would have gone for anything too motley or obvious.

Followed by Derrick McClure: I've seen Pooh-Bahs coming in wearing different headgear -mitres, tricornes, policemen's helmets, etc. - for successive entrances in Act II. In Aberdeen OC's 1996 Mikado, Pooh-Bah played the virtuoso trick of adopting a different accent - Liverpool, Lancashire, Welsh, Irish, Cockney, pukkah Cheltenham, etc., for the lines spoken as each of his various roles - ending with a rugged Glasgow demotic (very different from Aberdeen!) for "Furrst kummissionurr uh puleece!" Entertaining though this was, the objection could be raised that there was in most cases no very obvious reason why a given accent should be associated with a given character - except for the last, which was (I think) a reference to a popular television cops-and-robbers series set in Glasgow. It got a lot of laughs, though!

Then Rica Mendes offered the following: I have to say, that the thought of having other costume elements strikes me as impractical. Pooh-Bah, in each scene where his delicate positions are mentioned, takes on more than just one official capacity, correct? That would mean that he would have to have a prop or costume element for each station (otherwise it could look rather lopsided). Where would these pieces be kept? Pooh-Bah couldn't carry them. Go To? Perhaps. But would the gag be worth it? I question that. Personally, I think that vocal interpretation is a much more effective and practical manner of depicting the positions. I don't think that I have come upon any discussion on the use of various voices for each office. I have seen this done in two rather effective ways:

1. Each station has a very different voice/accent/manner - the Exchequer can sound like a stuffy old Brit, the Private Sect'y has a mock-Oriental accent with little regard to Pooh-Bah's "natural" accent/voice/manner.

2. Within Pooh-Bah's natural vocal abilities, he (the character) attempts different accents.

(Funny thing is, though, that each time I saw this, by two very different actors who, I know, hadn't consulted one another, both actors chanted "Archbishop of Titipu", though one crossed the person/s to which he was speaking.)

David Craven replied to this: Well.... yes... if done with appropriate accents. I recall seeing an abysmal production of Mikado in which the interpretations were done in sundry "modern day" accents including rewriting of the words to make them more appropriate... (James Stewart... for example with all sorts of wells..).. John Wayne.... and the worst... a pale imitation of Dana Carvey's Church Lady from Saturday Night Live as Archbishop of Titipu. And Pooh-Bah was one of the less objectionably drawn characters. The production was a tragic waste... it had one of the two great patter guys working in Chicago as Ko-Ko and it completely threw away his performance by inartful directing... It took the usual soprano lead and made her Pitti-Sing with the result that the usually admirable voice did not carry on the lower end of the register...and so on.... That chanting seems to be something that most Pooh-Bah's try... in fact, I am adopting it for my upcoming performance in La Boheme. When Schaunard says something about their religion being eating and drinking... (a very poor translation of the what I am singing in Italian... I cross myself and modify the sound a bit so it sounds more like a chant... a change which is consonant with Puccini's writing at that point...)

Page created 19 March 1999