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Gilbert and Sullivan: Trendsetters

February 2, 2023

by Sarah Durham

The operettas of Gilbert and Sullivan have inspired and influenced entertainment and the arts around the world since the late 19th century, from the big-screen to the small-screen, and from page to stage. Even if you think you’ve never heard of Gilbert and Sullivan, chances are, you probably have. Here are several examples of the pair’s staying power in popular culture:

The comedy and satire of Gilbert and Sullivan have influenced comedy legends like The Smothers Brothers, who would occasionally perform a parody version of “Poor Wand’ring One” from Pirates of Penzance. On Saturday Night Live, David Hyde Pierce’s monologue was a parody of “I Am The Very Model of A Modern Major-General,” also from Pirates of Penzance.

“A British Tar,” a song from H.M.S. Pinafore makes an appearance in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark as well as Star Trek: Insurrection.

In Kate and Leopold, Hugh Jackman sings “I Am The Very Model of A Modern Major-General” from Pirates of Penzance while accompanying himself on the piano.

Gilbert and Sullivan have even made their way into children’s education and entertainment. From Disney to Sesame Street to The Muppet Show, you can hear references to the famous duo. Songs from their famous operetta Pirates of Penzance can also be found in An American Tale and the Despicable Me franchise.

The influence of Gilbert and Sullivan can be found in literature such as the Sherlock Holmes novella Pirate King featuring the creation of a silent film that is based on Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. In Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, one of the characters had a starring role in a high school production of Pirates of Penzance.