Utopia, Limited

An Un-Utopian Utopia

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company was founded with the intention to produce all of the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, including the lesser known and rarely performed Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke. 

While members of the company understood that there were reputed problems with Utopia, Limited, the company still decided to produce the work in 1988.

Early in the rehearsal process, however, the company began to understand why Utopia, Limited had a reputation for being problematic and why it was so seldom performed.  The operetta’s dialogue is overwritten, it includes some poor music, contains unfinished plot lines and is simply too long.  Zoe Kuester, the production’s Stage Director, and Wendy Evans, the Artistic Director, did what they could to make the piece performable by cutting some lines of the excessive dialogue and trimming a third verse from two or three songs.  Unfortunately, their well-intended efforts were “too little, too late.”

The company produced Utopia, Limited and it was politely received, but the company members fully understood that the piece was substantially inferior to the other Gilbert and Sullivan operettas that the company had produced and there was little desire ever to do it again.

A Lesson Learned

When the company decided to produce The Grand Duke, Gilbert and Sullivan’s other “problematic” operetta, in 1991, it had learned from its experience with Utopia, Limited.  The company had come to understood that neither of these operettas could be produced successfully unless they were first edited, rewritten and revised.  A committee of company members was formed to do that work on The Grand Duke.  The result was a revised libretto that resulted in a successful, very well received production of the operetta.  It was so successful that the company chose to produce The Grand Duke again in 2003 and did so for a third time in 2014.

Revising Utopia, Limited

Eventually, the company felt that it should make another attempt to produce Utopia, Limited.  Before doing so and in light of its experience with The Grand Duke, however, the company understood that the operetta needed to be edited, rewritten and revised.  During the summer of 2007, the company assembled a “rewrite committee” to take on the project.  The committee included Stephen Hage, Dean Laurance, Holly Windle, and Lesley Hendrickson, who was slated to direct the upcoming production.

The revision of Utopia, Limited began with editing of the text.  As noted above, the operetta’s dialogue is overwritten and the task of deleting a significant amount of the excessive text, along with making some minor textual revisions, was the obvious first step. 

The committee deleted only one song, King Paramount’s, “First You’re Born” considering it a poorly written number that didn’t further the plot.

After these simpler choices were made, the committee made some more radical revisions to the operetta.

The character of Calynx was cut.  Calynx served only as a source of exposition at the beginning of the operetta.  His dialogue was easily rewritten and given to Salata, Melene and Phylla, the Utopian maiden characters who were already on stage in the opening scene.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, pages 2 – 3)

More significantly, the character of Lord Dramaleigh was cut, as was his introductory music in the Act I Finale.  One of the significant problems with Utopia, Limited is that there are six “Flowers of Progress” whom it takes an excessively very long time to introduce.  Of the six “Flowers of Progress,” this character, whose societal role included censoring theatrical productions, was clearly the one who would be the least missed!  Cutting Lord Dramaleigh shortened the excessively long Act I Finale, by cutting one of two verses of a song shared with Blushington.  As a result, while a verse of the song was cut, no actual music was lost.  Lord Dramaleigh also had dialogue and music in the operetta’s Act II.  These were reassigned to the character of Sir Bailey Barre.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, pages 33-34, 41 – 45)

Perhaps the most interesting change for a character was not a cut, but a “sex change!”  The committee decided that Mr. Blushington, the County Counselor responsible for national health and sanitation, should become Mrs. Blushington.  The result was the creation of another leading role for a woman in an operetta that is extraordinarily male dominated.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, pages 26 – 28)  Another small advantage to having another leading woman in the cast is that, while three of the “Flowers of Progress” are paired with the three Princesses at the end of the show, the creation of Mrs. Blushington provides an Act II Finale partner for Captain Corcoran.

One of the most significant unfinished plot lines of Utopia, Limited was Phantis’ year’s long infatuation with Princess Zara, which results in a “to the death” rivalry with Scaphio, before the idea is dropped entirely without explanation.  Lesley Hendrickson, one of the committee members, rewrote the scene to make Phantis’ interest in marrying Princess Zara nothing more than a plot to gain her loyalty as a compliant, dutiful wife.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, pages 5 – 6)  In a subsequent scene, Phantis, Scaphio, Captain Fitzbattleaxe and Princess Zara all sing, “It’s Understood, I Think, All Round,” after which the scene was blocked so that it’s obvious Phantis and Scaphio realize that their plot has been foiled by Captain Fitzbattleaxe and Princess Zara’s obvious affection for each other.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, pages 20 – 22)

One of the most challenging scenes in Utopia, Limited is the long “drawing room scene” which concludes with “Eagle High,” in the middle of Act II.  While the scene might have been mildly interesting to the operetta’s original Victorian British audience, in its attempt to accurately recreate the pageantry of a British royal drawing room, the scene is little more than a long costume parade that does nothing to further the plot.  It is, in effect, an expensive waste of time.  The simplest response would be to delete the scene entirely.  Unfortunately, that would mean the loss of “Eagle High,” a lovely hymn which is frequently compared to The Pirates of Penzance’ “Hail Poetry.”  The rewrite committee’s solution was to cut the scene, but also to retain the song, moving it to the opening of Act II.  With that placement, the song becomes an anthem celebrating Utopia’s ongoing progress towards becoming “Anglicized completely.”  The full company exits after the song and the operetta continues with Captain Fitzbattleaxe’s original Act II opening recitative, “Oh, Zara, My Beloved One,” as written.  (GSVLOC Revised Libretto, page 31)

Utopian Success!

After several months of work, the committee produced a revised libretto which was used in a very successful production of Utopia, Limited in the spring 2008.  When the operetta “comes ‘round in the rotation” again, in approximately 2020, the company will have no hesitation in producing Utopia, Limited again.

Sharing Our Revision of Utopia, Limited

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company is very proud of its successfully produced revision of Utopia, Limited.  As a part of its mission to encourage the sharing of the wonderful works of Gilbert and Sullivan with new audiences, wherever they may be, the company invites other companies to use its rewritten version of Utopia, Limited if they are interested in producing the operetta.

Utopia, Limited as revised by The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company (Adobe PDF document – 50 pages)

The company’s only requests are to be notified that its revised script is going to be used in a production and that there be an acknowledgement of The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company in the show program and website.

Utopia, Limited … The Rewrite, Celebrated in Song

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s rewrite of Utopia, Limited was celebrated in an Alternate Lyric song, written by Holly Windle.  Sung to the tune of “Society Has Quite Forsaken All Its Wicked Courses,” it was performed at the 2008 production’s final cast party by Waldyn Benbenek as King Paramount, accompanied by a chorus which included Jim Ahrens, Jim Brooks, Dave Ekenrode, Stephen Hage, Timothy James, Richard Rames, Victoria Valencour and Isaiah Waid.

It should be noted that the song makes passing reference to Lesley Hendrickson, the Stage Director and Marina Liadova, the Music Director for the 2008 production, as well as a reference to the company’s pending 2009 production of Ruddigore

King Paramount:

Society has not forgotten Pirates or Mikado,
And grade schools tackle Pinafore with laudable bravado.

Chorus:

But very few have taken on Utopia.

King Paramount:

We did it twenty years ago; it wasn’t quite successful.
Some tunes we loved, but on the whole, long-winded and too stressful.

Chorus:

It’s a problem with unwieldy old Utopia.

King Paramount:

The Company continued to produce the shows selected,
But one in the rotation was avoided and neglected,
Until we faced the problem and addressed the script concretely.

Chorus:

In short, the rewrite process has transformed the show completely
    Completely, completely.
It really is surprising
What revising and excising
Can accomplish: our Utopia’s quite another show.
In her fascinating sections,
You can see the fine corrections
We have beautifully crafted for the world to know.

King Paramount:

We set about it logic’ly, not slashing willy-nilly.
A song of Paramount’s was cut – unpleasant, poor and silly.

Chorus:

No silliness allowed in our Utopia.

King Paramount:

The long first act finale we have suitably bombarded,
For Blushington’s a woman now and Dramaleigh discarded.

Chorus:

That’s progress for our “Flowers” in Utopia.

King Paramount:

The work of clever editing was handled by committee,
Who cut a lot but also added lines succinct and witty.
So doing the original means singing obsoletely.

Chorus:

In short, the rewrite process has transformed the show completely
    Completely, completely.
It really is surprising
What revising and excising
Can accomplish: our Utopia’s quite another show.
In her fascinating sections,
You can see the fine corrections
We have beautifully crafted for the world to know.

King Paramount:

We rearranged the second act, which used to rather bore us,
And started off with something that’s delightful for the chorus.

Chorus:

And Lesley helped a bit with the direction.

King Paramount:

The score revised, we labored then to print it and prepared it.
The orchestra and cast performed with noticeable merit.

Chorus:

And Marina strived to bring it to perfection.

King Paramount:

And Lesley kept us all in line.  She says, “You little dickens!”
Whenever we display our not-so-intellectual chickens.
If one appears in Ruddigore, it better be discreetly.

Chorus:

In short, the rewrite process has transformed the show completely
    Completely, completely.
It really is surprising
What revising and excising
Can accomplish: our Utopia’s quite another show.
In her fascinating sections,
You can see the fine corrections
We have beautifully crafted for the world to know.