“Rare performances from the Golden Age of Television.”
When Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan teamed up to compose music, little did they know their works would have resonance more than a century after their deaths. They wrote fourteen musical works, operas and operettas alike. Their most famous works are arguably “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado,” and “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
Gilbert & Sullivan: Greatest Hits is a compilation of television performances of some of the duo’s most famous songs, which were broadcast between 1957 and 1963. It is comprised of six parts.
The first part is one of two excerpts from “The Tennessee Ford Hour”, during which selections from “The Mikado” are performed. It was 1959 and “Tennessee” Ernie Ford (I Love Lucy) was well known as a country singer, but he had classical training. He decided to bring his appreciation for musicals, and Gilbert and Sullivan in particular, to a wider audience through the power of television. He really lays the country on thick, talking about things being “purty” and how the two lovers gaze at each other “like two treed possums.” But he gets the job done.
The next part is selections from the first of three segments from The Bell Telephone Hour which featured made-for-TV presentations of some of the most popular Broadway compositions. In this case, songs from the 1963 broadcast of “H.M.S. Pinafore.” The featured performer is Martyn Green (The Iceman Cometh). Following that is a 1962 telecast of a Gilbert and Sullivan Medley featuring Martyn Green and Cyril Ritchard (The Hobbit).
Up next are excerpts from Hallmark Hall of Fame’s 1957 presentation of The Yeoman of the Guard. That’s followed by selections from the 1960 airing of “The Mikado.”
Gilbert & Sullivan: Greatest Hits is rounded out by the final offering from The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show, choices from the 1960 telecast of “H.M.S. Pinafore.”
Gilbert & Sullivan: Greatest Hits is a very fast-paced compendium with Tennessee Ford providing the only narration, otherwise it’s all music all the time. Watching this made me want to seek out full productions of the works, many some of which are offered by VAI. In fact you’ll see a brief graphic indicating which ones after the performance has ended.
The video quality varies as is to be expected, though the one tie that binds them all together is they’re all viewed best on as small a screen as you can stand, which compresses the video so as to hide many of the flaws. There’s haloing, digital artefacting and the occasional scratches. Shown in both color and black and white, the palette varies but never approaches HD levels in saturation or anything else. Though I wish the audio had been remastered to Dolby 5.1 at least the songs are surprisingly clear.
The only special feature is a commercial. But this commercial was a musical in the style of Gilbert and Sullivan for Ford vehicles which ran during the January, 1960 Ford Show telecast.
If you’re a fan, Gilbert & Sullivan: Greatest Hits is a no-brainer. Lovers of musicals in general will also find the disc a worthy overview of the works of one of musical theater’s most enduring duos.