Gilbert & Sullivan, Greatest Hits

More Gilbert and Sullivan from Vintage Television

A-VAI-G and S Greatest Hits

VAI DVDs clearly demonstrate that Gilbert and Sullivan were not entirely neglected by American television in the 1950s by issuing the complete broadcasts of abridged performances of “The Mikado” (with Groucho Marx) and “The Yeomen of the Guard” (with Alfred Drake). The former includes 12 minutes of Martyn Green as Sir Joseph Porter in selections from “HMS Pinafore.”

I was taken by surprise by the arrival of yet another VAI disc, titled “Gilbert & Sullivan, Greatest Hits.” It includes four selections from the earlier “Yeomen” and three from “The Mikado” sets, as well as the Martyn Green “Pinafore” excerpts. So much for mild duplication.

There is also a delightful “Gilbert and Sullivan Medley” in which Martyn Green and Cyril Richard share fairly complete versions of six songs from four of the G&S works as they change hats and wigs.

But what makes this set a treasure are the opening and closing sequences taken from “The Ford Show” in which…

Mr. Ford, an unlikely casting bet for Ko-Ko

Well, let me start again. Thimble Theatre versions of “The Mikado” are given from a 1959 telecast and “HMS Pinafore” from a 1960 telecast. Running a breathless 25 minutes each, both are hosted and narrated by—okay, let me say it, Tennessee Ernie Ford! And not only that, he sings the comic leads in both!

As for his narratives, who else would describe a tenor being “as happy as a woodpecker in a furniture store” when he meets his soprano? I leave all the other folksy examples to those who purchase this DVD. As for his singing, he did start as a classically trained baritone before he turned to another style of singing. In fact, most of the singing of the other roles is quite good, and Ford manages to keep up nicely.

As for his acting, his Ko-Ko lacks character but his Sir Joseph Porter is quite good, especially when he sings a refrain in that stuffed-shirt upper-class British accent that works so well in farce. In fact, Ford is far better than Green, who seems to sleepwalk through his “Pinafore” songs.

I only wish VAI had come up with a better title. The one chosen has been attached to at least two CDs to my knowledge and possibly to a DVD. And not all the songs heard here could be counted among Gilbert and Sullivan’s “greatest” hits. But the contents are such a pleasure, why quibble with the title?

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