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UPDATING "HEAVY DRAGOON"

SARAH MANKOWSKI: I recall reading, can't recall where, the suggestion that if Gilbert had written "Heavy Dragoon" fifteen years later, he would surely have used Sherlock Holmes instead of Paddington Pollaky. Well, maybe, but I've tried and I can't work out a suitable scheme.

The keen observations of Baker Street's prodigy?

When it comes to altering lyrics, I suspect that "A Little List" is the song most frequently altered; after all, Gilbert invites us to do so with "The task of filling up the blanks I'd rather leave to you" and "But it really doesn't matter whom you put upon the list". But what about "Heavy Dragoon", a list of the most remarkable people in history? Can the lines be changed - successfully? Is it ever changed, and how?

NEIL ELLENOFF: Remember that no one knew who Paddington Pollaky was at the time either.

ROBERT JONES: There are some rather esoteric references. I doubt that half a modern audience understands half of them. Does that justify rewriting them? You'd have to do a good job of it to approach Gilbert's expertise in scansion and rhyme, let alone wit.

ANDREW CROWTHER: Yes, that's the point. All those threesyllable rhymes are a real beast to do, and everyone except Sondheim seems to have forgotten how to do them.

PHILIP STERNENBERG: This, more or less, is one reason I strongly oppose changing this song's lyrics. (Another reason is that I rarely like to see anything changed in G&S). I feel the song's appeal lies not in what the lyrics mean but rather how they sound. They go by so quickly that I'm not sure even the first Patience audiences had time to think about what they were hearing unless they were studying libretti. In this respect, changing the lyrics wouldn't be much different from changing the melody, which I doubt anyone would ever do.

DANIEL KRAVETZ: I remember hearing many years ago a version of "Heavy Dragoon" that had been written in New York during the 1950's (though perhaps only for someone's private amusement). All I remember of the lyric is "Vladimir Nabokov, Brigitte Bardot! Ahhhhhh......" Of course, that sums up the 1950's perfectly by itself.

SAMUEL M. SILVERS: Several years ago, at an annual meeting of the Blue Hill Troupe, Savoynetter Alan Abrams sang a hilarious version of the Colonel's song with entirely rewritten lyrics giving acknowledgement to everyone who had participated in the previous year's production (and at Blue Hill there are about 100 committee heads, alone!!!)

Alan did not write the lyrics, I believe, but he sure did sing 'em!!

IAN HOLLAMBY: A few years ago I played Bunthorne in a production put into a sort of modern hippy idiom by the director, who also wrote new words for this song.

Instead of a list of Victorian worthies, he came up with a list based on the mannerisms of various great players of Cricket, (the greatest, finest and most noble game in the entire world). As I recall, the scansion was perfect, and the wit (to Brits at least!) was in there batting at the other end with WSG.

DANIEL KRAVETZ: I see no reason to rewrite the Colonel's song, the majority of whose references are not outdated. There's even less outdated material in the "Little List", although rewriting to avoid the word "nigger" is called for because of the audience's sensibilities, not because the meaning is unclear.

What is the purpose of presenting a new "Heavy dragoon" in place of the original? Are people seeing Patience for the first time likely to become upset and walk out on hearing the song? Is there anyone here who advocates a rewrite because their first exposure to the song was in updated form and they appreciated it so much for the increased "accessibility?" If my own first exposure to the opera had included the Colonel singing about Madonna or whomever, I would have felt cheated of the chance to hear that much more of Gilbert's work, and I would have resented the person(s) who had decided that I couldn't handle the original. I've heard some very clever rewritten versions of the song, but the people who seem to enjoy them most are the ones who already know Gilbert's version and like the extra fun involved in the rewriting, while not necessarily feeling that the opera has to be "fixed" for public exposure.

BARCLAY GORDON: I am of two minds on the question of updating the Colonel's heavy dragoon song. I suppose if you are doing a sharply updated Patience, then you have little choice but to rewrite these lyrics and many others. But if you are doing Gilbert's Patience, the Colonel's song needs little or no refreshment.

The many obscure references add a measure of ironic fun, a perhaps inadvertent comment on the fleeting nature of fame. Could any of us hum a single bar by that eminent musico Jullien? I can't. And because I can't, the line is more fun to me than if Gilbert had mentioned Handel or Mozart instead.

As the decades roll along, and as more and more of these 19th century luminaries disappear from our rearview mirrors, will it seem more important to update? I hope not. Those who clamor most loudly for "relevance" may sometimes forget that one of the reasons we revive these Victorian pieces is to rediscover just what it was that made our grandparents and greatgrandparents laugh, sigh, or kick up their heels with delight. A little bridge to our past? I guess so and if we meet a few strangers as we cross (Sir Garnet, say, and good Dr. Sacheverell), are we not in some small way more enriched than if we met only familiar, late20th century contemporaries?

TOM SHEPARD: I can't speak for what is "right" or not, but I do tend to agree with you. At least for me, personally, the Victorian references are part of the fun, the nostalgia, the sense of history. It's one thing to play with an occasional substitution, like "Lady novelist / prohibitionist " etc., but it's quite another thing to turn Captain Shaw into Tim McVeigh.

UPDATED VERSIONS OF "HEAVY DRAGOON"

[See also a German Translation of the song]

ED GLAZIER: This version of the Colonel's song was included in the Stanford Savoyards production of Patience, November 8-17, 1991.

It was very much a joint effort by W.S. Gilbert, Rita Taylor (Savoyard Executive Producer and also stage director for this production), Ed Glazier (playing Bunthorne), and Robert Bergman, who played the Colonel and did the final editorial revisions, since he was singing the song:

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery,
Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon,
Take all the remarkable people in history,
Rattle them off to a popular tune.

The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory,
Genius of Schwarzkopf devising a plan,
The humor of Chekhov (which sounds contradictory),
Lee Iacocca denouncing Japan.

The voice of Domingo, the Spaniard from Aragon,
Wit of Mark Phillips (who wed Princess Anne),
The nose of Durante (if ever you're wanting one),
Style of a Rubenstein playing Chopin.

The dash of a Keating, divested of quackery,
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackery,
Eleanor Roosevelt, peakclimbing Hilary,
General Patton with heavy artillery,

Rodgers & Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe,
Andrew Lloyd Webber, Inspector Clouseau.

Take of these elements all that is fusible,
Melt 'em all down in a pipkin or crucible,
Se 'em to simmer and take off the scum,
And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum.

If you want a receipt for that soldierlike paragon,
Get at the wealth of Don Trump (if you can),
The galloping gourmet in search of some tarragon,
Force of Ralph Nader, pronouncing a ban.

A smack of a Shumway, replacing an artery,
Swagger of Getty and all of his clan,
General Stanley, while learning to "satagee",
Grace of Madonna upon a divan.

The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal,
Gorbachev planning the wholly unplannable,
Flavor of Hamlet, The Shadow, a touch of him,
Some of Rhett Butler (but not very much of him),

BD & Doonesbury, Gary Trudeau,
Gilbert & Sullivan, on with the show.

Take of these elements all that is fusible,
Melt 'em all down in a pipkin or crucible,
Set 'em to simmer and take off the scum,
And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum.

(Copyright 1991 Stanford Savoyards)

LARRY T. GARVIN: A number of us have chimed in on whether it is advisable to amend the lyrics of the Colonel's song. If I remember aright, Gilbert himself did so in Songs of a Savoyard, changing Jullien to Mozart (though not very neatly). In this vein, I append a revised version that I did (with helpful interpolations by Mark Myers) for the Yale G&S Society production in 1989.

(The director announced that the lyric would be rewritten, so I agreed to do it in hopes of lessening the damage. Damage? Well, he also redid Grosvenor's poetry.) Some of the references are a bit dated, and others may be obscure to nonYanks. To anticipate one very obscure reference: Benno, in verse one, is Benno Schmidt, then President of Yale (and rather a stuffy fellow). And Bart Giamatti, a former President of Yale, was then Commissioner of Baseball.

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery
Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon,
Take all the remarkable people in history,
Rattle them off to a popular tune:
The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory
Genius of Marshall devising his plan
The humour of Benno (which sounds contradictory)
Coolness of YumYum unfurling her fan.
A bit of Bruce Lee, who's the king of karate
The charm of Dukakis upon his campaign
The brilliance in baseball of Bart Giamatti
The five incarnations of Shirley MacLaine.
The speed of Orestes, pursued by Eumenides
Family pride of the Windsors or Kennedys
Franklin D. Roosevelt Mikhail Gorbachev
Thomas Aquinas and N. RimskyKorsakov
Ludwig van Beethoven, Madame Tussaud,
Princess Diana and Garry Trudeau! Oh!
Take of these elements, etc.

If you want a receipt for this soldierly prototype,
Get at the wealth of the Trumps (if you can)
Discreet derringdo of the Bilbo or Frodotype
Force of Khomeini pronouncing a ban.
The technical prowess of Thomas A. Edison
Comic invention of Ollie and Stan
Some Jonas A. Salk and his polio medicine
Zeal of a yuppie pursuing a tan.
The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal
Skill of Ralph Nader in banning what's bannable
Flavour of Hamlet Mort Downey, a touch of him
Little of Quayle (but not very much of him)
Gilbert and Sullivan, Henry Thoreau,
President Bush and Inspector Clouseau! Oh!
Take of these elements, etc.

And there you have it.

NEIL ELLENOFF: I think this is very good indeed. Some parts of it are really inspired.

ANDREW TAINES: I enjoyed Larry Garvin's and Ed Glazier's revisions of the Colonel's song. Both were quite well done. The only adjustment that popped out at me was in the line:

President Bush and Inspector Clouseau! Oh!

I would change to President Ford for the obvious juxtaposition.

I have been against the idea of rewriting the Colonel's song, but seeing these versions makes me think that it is possible to do and makes it akin to rewriting the "Little List", which is one of the few instances where I think it can be done legitimately

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