Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Caractacus's Uniform

To give you an example of how long ago it was we saw a Broadway revival of 'The Pirates of Penzance' starring Linda Ronstadt and Kevin Kline, consider that the tickets we bought were $17.

It was the first Gilbert and Sullivan show I had ever seen. At the top of the curtain were two cameo shaped images of two men, who looked to me to be presidential candidates from the 1880s. Turns out the ovals were Gilbert and Sullivan. Who was on the left I couldn't tell you. Shows you what I knew.

The production we saw also featured George Rose, as the Major General. George Rose was famous for this part, which of course included the soliloquy, 'The Very Model of the Modern Major General,' an effort so lengthy and filled with screwball rhymes that an elephant's memory and a scuba tank full of air is required to get through it, that, when completed, is a guaranteed show stopper.

In the show we saw George Rose actually started to flub some lines. He knew he was in trouble, so he simply stopped and told the audience he was going to start again. This was met with applause, and even more applause when he got through it the second time. I mean, who doesn't like to hear it again?

Gilbert and Sullivan were famous for their patter songs. After the performance I bought several D'Oyly Carte CDs of their Gilbert and Sullivan shows and delighted in 'short, sharp, shocks."

All the references in 'The Very Model of the Modern Major General' can be looked up. There was a Caractacus.  Of course there was Aristophanes, and Heliogabalus, and all the other names that are rhymed with.

One stanza includes, ...and when I know precisely what is meant by a commissariat..." (There is such a word.)

So consider when I was reading about Bob Dylan's required lecture to the Swedish Academy for his Nobel Prize in Literature in yesterday's NYT and I came across the word commentariat that I couldn't help but think of commissariat, and therefore 'The Pirates of Penzance,'

The reporter Ben Sisario, used the word to describe the literary crowd and media who are still wrestling with the award and the recognition that song lyrics are literature. The endless summer. And just like commisariat, there really is a word commentariat.

And while we're playing with words that rhyme, how about secretariat, that administrative body within the U.N, and of course the 1973 winner of the Triple Crown.

And of course, one of my favorite "ariat" rhymes, Ogden Nash's homage to Will Rogers.

With gum and grim and lariat,
He entertained the proletariat.

If it weren't for Gilbert and Sullivan getting there first, Bob Dylan might have easily written 'The Very Model of the Modern Major General.'

1 comment:

  1. Was just thinking of Will Rogers today - his statue stands in the U.S. Capitol area and appears in the background every time a M.C. is interviewed on TV. Always liked the Doyly Carte rhymes and rhythms.