The Story of Gilbert and Sullivan
The famous British comic opera partnership is portrayed as highlights from their songs are performed.
In 1875 composer Arthur Sullivan (Maurice Evans) conducts his music while William S. Gilbert (Robert Morley) falls asleep during the concert. Sullivan asks Grace Marston (Dinah Sheridan) to marry him. She tries to talk him out of working with Gilbert for the D’Oyly Carte company. Mr. Marston (Wilfrid Hyde-White) asks Sullivan how much he needs to be making to marry his daughter. Sullivan hears Richard D’Oyly Carte (Peter Finch) singing a song with words by Gilbert. Sullivan learns that Offenbach makes more than a thousand a year.
A company performs Trial by Jury with the judge singing a comic song. A bride enters and sings. The judge sings that he will marry her himself. After the show Sullivan calls on Grace and asks why she left. She is embarrassed that he liked the adulation. Mr. Marston gets wine and drinks with Sullivan; he is glad about Sullivan’s success, but Grace won’t have him.
Gilbert and Sullivan sign a contract. The Sorcerer is performed, followed by H.M.S. Pinafore. Their music is played in various places. D’Oyly Carte’s Opera Company is going to tour America. Gilbert and Sullivan go on stage and talk about the tour. The Pirates of Penzance is performed in New York.
Richard D’Oyly Carte tells women that they are going to have their own Savoy Theater. Gilbert tells his worries to Mrs. Gilbert (Isabel Dean) as they get ready. D’Oyly Carte introduces the play and says this is the first time they have used electric lighting. Gilbert goes for a walk, and Sullivan conducts. On stage a chancellor sings. Gilbert comes back to the bar and imagines a nightmare. He walks by the river and takes a cab. He returns and hears a call for the author. He and Sullivan take bows. Sullivan feels dizzy and leaves.
Sullivan writes a letter to Gilbert that he does not like his latest story, but he is going to do a poem by Longfellow adapted by Joseph Bennett (Lloyd Lamble). After Gilbert reads the letter, he calls Sullivan and tells him they are going to Japan.
Three women sing “Three Little Maids” as Sullivan plays piano. Bennett tells Sullivan that the Queen is going to attend his Longfellow opera.
The Mikado is being rehearsed. Gilbert says he will get Sullivan to complete the needed songs. A choir sings. Queen Victoria (Muriel Aked) knights Sullivan and asks him to write a grand opera.
The D’Oyly Carte company goes on a picnic on the Thames, and they sing on the boat. Sullivan asks Gilbert if they should do a grand opera. Sullivan says he does not want his music to take second place to Gilbert’s words, and they quarrel.
Ruddigore is rehearsing, and Sullivan comes in late. A man in black sings, “Beware.” Some of the audience boos the performance. Sullivan goes to France to gamble, and he sees Helen D’Oyly Carte (Eileen Herlie). He says he wants to write serious music, and she asks him to write a grand opera for a new opera house. She says Gilbert has written another comic opera. Gilbert writes The Gondoliers, and it is performed.
Gilbert is back from India and is suffering from gout. He and his wife learn that the Cartes and Sullivan are at the new opera house. Gilbert goes there and complains that money was deducted from his profits for expenses. Carte does not want to listen, and Gilbert says he will write no more for the Savoy. Helen asks them to listen to their song about calming passion. Gilbert and Sullivan quarrel, and Gilbert walks out.
Sullivan dedicates his Ivanhoe opera to Queen Victoria and gives her a copy. She asks for a performance of The Gondoliers at Windsor. Sullivan realizes he should stick to what he does well. The Cartes toast the new century and talk about Gilbert and Sullivan not being on speaking terms. The Yeoman of the Guard is rehearsing. Gilbert comes in and coaches the actress. Helen talks with him and says Sullivan is back in London. Sullivan appears in a wheelchair and suggests they bury the hatchet. Gilbert agrees, and they plan to appear at an opening in wheelchairs with Carte.
Gilbert and Carte get a letter from Sullivan, who is too ill to come. Gilbert mourns the loss of Sullivan and is knighted by the King.
This biography accurately conveys the careers of Gilbert and Sullivan while entertaining the audience with their humorous songs. Sullivan learns that he does not have to write “serious” music to be a great composer who delights audiences.