“Cox & Box – The Film”: A Christmas Special From The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players

Kurt Gänzl
Operetta Research Center
21 December, 2020

I’m an old conservative. I was ‘a little con-ser-va-tive’ (as opposed to a ‘little li-ber-al’) from the moment I was born alive, nearly three-quarters of a century ago. And from the day, very soon after, that I saw my first theatrical productions. New Zealand in the 1950s wasn’t the place and time for ‘creative’ stagings. The modern era of ‘director’s theatre’ hadn’t dawned.

The playbill for the 1869 production of "Cox and Box" at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.

The playbill for the 1869 production of “Cox and Box” at the Royal Gallery of Illustration.

The director aka stage manager was just the bloke who said ‘move left’, ‘move right’, ‘now hit him’. It was by the book or nothing. Let the play speak. I was (and am) all accord. Perhaps because I was (and am) a writer rather than an actor or a stage manager. My first experiences of Gilbert & Sullivan (and Burnand, Hood, German et al) were with my father’s productions at Wellington Technical College, NZ. I was bowled over. The words! The music! Dad got me The Savoy Operas. When I left (aged 22) for England to become an opera star (well, we all make mistakes) one of my big wishes was to see the definitive productions of those operas as played in London.

Operetta researcher Kurt Gänzl in Australia, were he spends the summers. (Photo: Private)

Operetta researcher Kurt Gänzl in Australia. (Photo: Private)

The truth? I was sorely disappointed. Oh, there was the occasional goodie – Yeomen of the Guard at the Tower of London – but mostly the stagings seemed sterile and thankless. To cut a long story by 99 percent, after a lifetime of G&S productions I still feel that the right balance between the impeccable text and music and a lively and understanding staging (with no supermarket trolleys, plastic bags or motorcycles) has been so rarely struck…

So, when this videoclip arrived on my desk this morning, I got a wee bit excited. This one seems to have the balance almost perfect … of course, we sha’n’t know until the whole thing ‘airs’ for Christmas … they might, braving my Jovial Thunders, have fiddled with the text or score, … but antici-tici-pation is in the air down here, next door to Antarctica.

What a brilliant idea: Cox and Box the film! (So much more attractive than ‘Titanic, the musical’, ‘Jekyll and Hyde, the musical’)…

I shall watch it while the kitties are having their annual gawp at White Christmas and The Sound of Music. Next year, Trial by Jury the film, for Easter? Punchinello the musical for Thanksgiving? The one-act comic-opera can relive …

For more information on Cox And Box, or The Long Lost Brothers, click here. And for more details about The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, click here.