Thespis, Lost G&S Operetta, Gets New Score by Thomas Z. Shepard

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28 May 2008

Grammy Award winner Thomas Z. Shepard — famous as a producer of legendary Broadway musical cast albums — will hear the concert world premiere of the new score he composed for Thespis, the Gilbert and Sullivan burlesque that is obscure today because the original Arthur Sullivan music was lost.

Blue Hill Troupe, whose mission includes the goal of producing all the work of Gilbert and Sullivan, will present a semi-staged concert June 16 in Manhattan. Composer Shepard approached Blue Hill with his version of the 1871 comic opera Thespis, or The Gods Grown Old, about a troupe of hapless actors who trade places with world-weary gods. The Blue Hill membership was intrigued.

The score is not imitation Sullivan, member Joanne Lessner told Playbill.com, but "it does include a couple of rip-snorting patter songs."

F. Paul Driscoll stages the concert, sweetened by two pianos. Musical direction is by Matthew Rupcich. Pianists are Amy Duran and Jeff Harris.

According to BHT, Thespis was G&S's first collaboration in 1871, but Sullivan's music was lost with his effects and only two songs endured: "Little Maid of Arcadee," a hit single of the day, and "Climbing Over Rocky Mountain," which was recycled in The Pirates of Penzance.



The June 16 concert presentation in Manhattan uses Gilbert's opening-night libretto and retains the two surviving tunes by Sullivan.

Shepard has produced numerous beloved original Broadway cast albums, including Sweeney Todd, 42nd Street, La Cage aux Folles and Sunday in the Park With George. The composer of several musicals and operas, Shepard received two Emmy Award nominations for songs he composed for the PBS television show "Between the Lions." He was commissioned by the Carnegie Hall Explorers Division to write "The Children's Symphony" to teach the instruments of the orchestra to second and third graders. He is also a producer of live concert events, including the New York Philharmonic concerts of Follies, My Fair Lady and the recent Camelot with Gabriel Byrne, Marin Mazzie and Nathan Gunn.

Thespis is not the Blue Hill Troupe's first attempt at polishing up the rarer gems of G & S. In August 2005 the BHT presented its revised edition of the Gilbert and Sullivan rarity The Grand Duke at the 12th Annual International Gilbert & Sullivan Festival in Buxton, England, where it received awards for Best Male Performer, Best Female Performer and Best Musical Direction.

The cast of Thespis includes Alan Abrams, Scott Benedict, Tracy Bidleman, Jane Brendler Buchi, Jim Busterud, Erik Hanson, Matt Hughes, Joanne Lessner, Rich Miller, Kevin Murray, Amanda Smith, and Bill Tost, plus an ensemble of 16.

The Blue Hill Troupe performance of Thespis is 8 PM June 16 at Teatro Heckscher of El Museo del Barrio, 1230 Fifth Avenue at 104th Street.

Tickets are $20 and will be available at the door. They can be purchased in advance by calling (866) 811-4111.

For more information about Blue Hill Troupe, visit www.bht.org.

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Now in its 84th season, the internationally recognized Blue Hill Troupe supports local charities through its highly acclaimed annual productions.

The 2007-08 productions of Princess Ida and Mame raised money for Covenant House New York Infant/Toddler Center.

In addition to producing a large-scale Gilbert & Sullivan operetta every spring and a more intimate musical in the fall, the Blue Hill Troupe offers winter concerts that have included the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Concerts and Lectures series for 14 years. They have been featured on "CBS Sunday Morning" and appeared twice with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall.