In October of 2004, the Savoyaires proudly presented Kingsley Day's Thespis as our 40th annual production. After attending a performance, Chicago Reader critic Lawrence Bommer wrote, "Operetta fans can die happy now that the Savoyaires have 're-created' Gilbert & Sullivan's first collaboration. . . . The result is as exhilarating as if the music had been recovered." Now the recording, the video, and the vocal score of this brilliant version of Thespis can be yours. Click on one of the icons below to open an order form for these items. Further down the page you can read the story of this version of Thespis.

For a look at still photos from the 2004 production of Thespis, click here. If you are interested in obtaining a full orchestral score for the purposes of mounting your own production of Kingsley Day's Thespis, send email to info@savoyaires.org.

The Enigma of Thespis

In the Beginning...

The names of Gilbert and Sullivan were first linked together in December of 1871, when the result of their first collaboration opened at the Gaiety Theatre in the Strand in London. It was an operetta called Thespis, or the Gods Grown Old, which tells a typical Gilbertian topsy-turvy story of a theatrical troupe whose members take over the roles of the Greek gods. Although it was generally well-received by the critics, it was evidently under-rehearsed and not exactly to the taste of the Gaiety's patrons; as a result, it closed after only sixty-four performances. No vocal score was ever published and the manuscript score was somehow lost over the years. The result is that we have more or less the complete text of the work, but virtually none of the music is known with three exceptions: one ballad, "Little Maid of Arcadee," (published separately in a drawing-room setting for voice and piano), one chorus, "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain," (which was later incorporated into The Pirates of Penzance), and some ballet music that was unearthed in 1992 by two members of the Sullivan Society. So here was a witty script and a tantalizing collection of songs that practically begged to be sung, and a number of composers and arrangers tried to fill out the remainder of the score with either their own music (as in the case of Savoyaires founder Frank Miller, whose version was performed in 1973) or with music gleaned from other Sullivan works.

Enter Kingsley Day

When a Chicago theatrical company decided in 1982 to stage a revival of Thespis, a young local composer of musicals named Kingsley Day was called in to supply a score. In his own words:

“Pary Productions is doing Thespis and they don’t have a score. You should talk to them.”

That tip from Chicago theatre critic Jonathan Abarbanel late in 1981 should have raised an obvious question: Why would anyone schedule a production of Thespis without knowing what to use for a score? But when I took Jonathan’s advice and approached Pary—a small not-for-profit theatre company, now long since defunct—I must have been too polite to ask.

Of course I knew about Thespis—Gilbert and Sullivan’s first collaboration—and its famously missing score. And I knew that others had composed new music for it or had arranged other Sullivan music to fit the surviving libretto. I had never felt any burning desire to write my own Thespis score, but I had already composed several musicals that had been successfully produced in Chicago, and as a Gilbert and Sullivan fanatic I knew most of their shows backwards and forwards. So I figured that if anyone’s new version of Thespis was getting a Chicago production, it might as well be mine.

The folks at Pary agreed, and I was off and running. Auditions were only a month away, so I wrote my version of the score about as quickly as Sullivan wrote the original. I intentionally followed Sullivan’s typical practice of starting at the beginning of Act II, continuing to the end, and then going back to the top of Act I. I unintentionally followed Sullivan’s practice of initially writing out only the vocal parts, and for the same reason he did—so that rehearsals could get started while the accompaniment was still being notated. Then I wrote out a piano accompaniment, but no piano-vocal score.

Opening on March 18, 1982, at Theatre Building Chicago, Thespis was presented as a chamber production—performed with piano accompaniment by a cast of 13 playing the 16 named roles, so with neither chorus nor orchestra. The following year a short-lived Chicago group that performed all 14 Gilbert and Sullivan operettas in one season used my score for its opening double bill of Thespis and Trial by Jury, accompanied by piano and a few random instruments. The score attracted interest from a couple of professional light opera companies, but they were reluctant to schedule the show until it was orchestrated, and I was reluctant to undertake so mammoth a project without a guarantee that the result would actually get produced. Lost in this catch-22, the score languished for two decades.

By all accounts, this relegation of the score to obscurity was anything but a fitting end to the story. Contemporary reviews of the Thespis productions were glowing in their praise of Day's music:

“Day has written and arranged music that would do credit to the master himself. Thanks greatly to old Gilbert’s durable wit and young Day’s mastery of musical pastiche, this Thespis happily revives the Gilbert and Sullivan partnership and makes the show the genuine article.” —Richard Christiansen, Chicago Tribune

“The composer of the new show is obviously a Savoyard honors student. He has a merry ear for the pitter patter, a sly sense of the mix of snob and satire, and a wry understanding that life among the temples of Mount Olympus is sometimes less than heavenly.” —Glenna Syse, Chicago Sun-Times

“Composer Kingsley Day has done a delightful job of mimicking Sullivan’s style, creating a bouncy, brand-new Victorian score. [He’s] done such a delightful job that despite an indifferent production, Thespis is a lighter-than-air theatrical pleasantry. With luck, Day will get his score published—the show is a natural for small-theater and college productions.” —Bury St. Edmund, Chicago Reader

“The great delight of this production is Kingsley Day’s wittily reverent score. In patter songs like Mercury’s lament ‘Oh, I’m the Celestial Drudge’ and spirited finales like ‘While Mighty Jove Goes Down Below,’ he’s done Sullivan full musical justice, perhaps even improving on the original. A rollicking success, a latter-day wonder that’s true to the spirit of Sullivan, Thespis is a must-see for Gilbert and Sullivan fans; Day’s brilliant reconstruction is destined to be produced many times more both here and in England.”
—Lawrence Bommer, Gay Life

“Kingsley Day’s score is first-rate, with the proper Sullivan bounce, lilt, and personality. A love song, ‘Here Far Away from All the World,’ and a patter song, ‘I Once Knew a Chap,’ are the very best examples.”—Jonathan Abarbanel, River Clipper

“Day’s Thespis score [is] done in fine Sullivan style.” —Wynne Delacoma, Chicago Sun-Times

“Since most of the Thespis score is lost, Kingsley Day has written an inspired substitute in the Sullivan style.” —Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

Re-enter the Savoyaires

In 1998 Kingsley Day joined the Savoyaires to perform in our production of Patience, and in due course revealed the story of his music for Thespis. As a company which had already produced Frank Miller's version, we were immediately interested, and eventually decided to present Day's version of Thespis (which includes Sullivan's surviving music for two of the numbers) as our 40th annual production. Thanks to the efforts of company member Francis Lynch, a piano-vocal score was completed using music notation software, and Lynch and Day teamed up with music director Daniel Robinson to complete the orchestration. And after more than twenty years, composer Kingsley Day finally heard his music for Thespis in its first full-scale production with orchestra.

The Savoyaires P.O. Box 126 Evanston, IL 60204 info@savoyaires.org Phone: (847) 563-0155

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The Savoyaires are sponsored in part by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency