The Marilyn Horne Museum and Exhibit Center will present a free screening of the Academy Award-winning film “Topsy-Turvy” on Friday, January 20. Directed by Mike Leigh, “Topsy-Turvy” is a lavish feast of costumes, music, and set design. Taking place in London in the 1880s, the story follows the creation and production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado,” the most internationally successful production ever created by the famous duo. The film stars Jim Broadbent, Allan Corduner, Lesley Manville, and Timothy Spall.
Arthur Sullivan and William S. Gilbert collaborated on fourteen comic operatic productions during their career. Their operas were known for veiled political and social critiques. Parody and absurdism were stapes of Gilbert’s plots, and Sullivan was known for his melodies that could be both humorous and touching. Gilbert and Sullivan worked almost exclusively with producer Richard D’Oyly Carte. Carte built London’s famous Savoy Theater and founded the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company which performed Gilbert and Sullivan’s operas for over a century.
“The Mikado” originally opened in London on March 14, 1885 and was an immediate success running for 672 performances. Originally falling into the category of “operetta” or light opera, the production would go on to become part of mainstream opera repertoire. Its popularity in England and America has been due in large part to the lyrics being performed in English, making it more accessible to broader audiences. “The Mikado” is a fictional story of a small town in Japan that is thrown into chaos with the arrival of an itinerant stranger who is sentenced to death for flirting but turns out to be the son of the Mikado, the Emperor of Japan.
On its surface, “Topsy-Turvy” is a witty, sometimes comical Victorian costume drama. But the film also delves into the social, sexual, and political attitudes of the Victorian era. Scenes are at times bawdy and the script includes cultural references that some may find offensive. The story of “The Mikado” itself raises questions about cultural stereotypes in the West. Overall, the film is not only an exploration and celebration of life in the theater but a detailed look into themes that provoke thought and discussion.
“Topsy-Turvy” was nominated for four Academy Awards and won Oscars for best costume design and best make-up. It is a beautiful film to watch, and the inclusion of many songs from various Gilbert and Sullivan productions makes it almost an operetta in itself. Museum director Matthew Hileman said, “Film is one of the most powerful tools for introducing people to new art forms and new ideas. For people who have already seen Topsy-Turvy, this event will be a treat to see it again on a big screen. More importantly, this is an opportunity to introduce the film to new audiences as it has now been nearly 25 years since it first premiered.”
The screening will take place on January 20 at 7 p.m. in the Bromeley Family Theater in Blaisdell Hall on the campus of Pitt-Bradford. Admission is free and seating is open. No tickets or reservations are required. The run time is 2 hours 40 minutes. The film is rated R and contains scenes that include substance abuse, nudity, antiquated cultural references, and adult themes. Viewer discretion is advised. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m. Museum director Matthew Hileman will give a brief introduction before the film begins. This film is being presented with permission from The Criterion Collection and Janus Films.