The Savoyaires production of “Thespis” opens this weekend directed by Dominic Missimi, a two-time Jeff Award winner and 17-time Jeff nominee for best director of a musical.
Gilbert & Sullivan’s “lost” operetta, also known as “The Gods Grown Old,” will have its fourth Chicago-area production using Kingsley Day’s critically acclaimed score, and Day himself will make his 17th and last Savoyaires stage appearance in the title role.
Missimi has directed for such companies as Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Chicago Opera Theater, and Drury Lane Theater, in addition to 36 productions — including Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance — at the Marriott Theater in Lincolnshire.
Joining him are music director Timothy Semanik, conductor of the Salt Creek Chamber Orchestra and the Bradley University Orchestra, returning for his ninth consecutive Savoyaires show; set designer Alan Donahue, a multiple Jeff winner with numerous credits at Chicago’s Lifeline Theatre, who designed the Savoyaires’ 2013 Mikado; Jeff-winning costume designer Tom Kieffer, returning for his third consecutive Savoyaires production, who has designed for such companies as Writers Theater, Peninsula Players, and City Lit; producer Laima Day, back for her 16th consecutive Savoyaires production; and lighting designer Tom Rusnak, returning for his seventh show with the company.
The very first of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 14 collaborations, Thespis is rarely performed because most of Sullivan’s original music is lost. Kingsley Day’s Thespis score — previously performed by Pary Productions at Stage 773 in 1982, by the Chicago Gilbert & Sullivan Series in 1983, and by the Savoyaires in 2004 — has been hailed by critics as “an inspired substitute in the Sullivan style” (Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune), “as exhilarating as if the music had been recovered” (Lawrence Bommer, Chicago Reader), “music that would do credit to the master himself” (Richard Christiansen, Chicago Tribune), and “first-rate, with the proper Sullivan bounce, lilt, and personality” (critic Jonathan Abarbanel).
The Savoyaires’ 2004 production premiered the score’s orchestration by Francis Lynch, Daniel Robinson, and Day. Playing the title role this fall, Day is appearing for the first time in Thespis and for the last time with the Savoyaires, where as of this production he will have played the patter baritone lead in all 14 Gilbert & Sullivan operettas.
The Savoyaires’ Thespis production will receive national attention as the centerpiece of the second biennial Gilbert & Sullivan Summit, a conference of G&S companies from across the country. Running Oct. 14–15, this year’s conference is cosponsored by the Savoyaires and Hyde Park’s Gilbert & Sullivan Opera Company. An Oct. 14 conference session will focus on Thespis.
In Gilbert’s hilarious Thespis script, the gods on Mount Olympus have grown old and tired. To find out what they’ve been missing, they go down to earth incognito, leaving a troupe of actor — led by Thespis — to run the world in their absence.
Naturally, topsy-turvydom ensues. The score includes “Climbing Over Rocky Mountain,” a number that G & S recycled in Pirates of Penzance, here sung as originally conceived—by full mixed chorus, rather than only women as in Pirates.
This fall’s show will be the Savoyaires’ 52nd annual Gilbert & Sullivan production and the company’s third production of Thespis. In addition to performing Day’s version in 2004, the Savoyaires produced company cofounder Frank Miller’s score in 1973.
Performances will be held at Chute Auditorium, 1400 Oakton St. in Evanston, on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 7 and 8, at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, Oct. 9, at 3 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, Oct. 14 – 15, at 7:30 p.m.; and Sunday, Oct. 16, at 3 p.m.
Tickets are $27/22/17 ($22/17/12 for ages 12 and under) and may be purchased by phone at 847-563-0155, online or by mail from Savoyaires, P.O. Box 126, Evanston, IL 60204.