5 Questions With… James Mills of New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players

Enjoy this exclusive interview between Westport Country Playhouse artistic director Mark Shanahan and James Mills, Associate Artistic Director of New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players.

MARK: We’re so excited to have your company on our stage! What can audiences expect from your presentation of THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE IN ONE ACT- and the fun second act you have planned for us?

JAMES: We are bringing a zippy, abridged version of Pirates starring six of our most-skilled performers. In the fashion of a troupe of traveling players, we don hats and costumes playing multiple roles to bring the story to life. After we conclude the Pirates of Penzance, our singers return to the stage in elegant attire to sing some of the most popular songs in the G&S Canon. Never fear, should you miss your favorite song in the program you will still have the opportunity to ask for it in our highly popular audience request segment!

MARK: The work of Gilbert and Sullivan is well over a century old. And yet, their brand of musical theatre seems to find new fans every passing year. What is it about THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE specifically and Gilbert & Sullivan in general that continues to draw in audiences in the modern age?

JAMES: I have a love for all the works of Gilbert & Sullivan, yet The Pirates of Penzance seems to resonate more strongly with audiences across the country. The show is silly and well-paced with lots of lush costumes and fun dancing. And who doesn’t love a good Pirate story, am I right? Set sail for a theatrical adventure with The Pirates of Penzance!

MARK: The works you perform are extremely well known by casual fans and die hards alike. In what way do you add your own singular stamp on such classic works?

JAMES: I feel that our company takes these 150 year old gems and breathes new life into them. We take great pride in preserving the legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan while infusing a contemporary energy and sensibility that excites audiences both young and old.

MARK: How did you personally find your way into the world of G&S ? And further, how has your company grown over the years?

JAMES: I auditioned for HMS Pinafore at a community theatre in Albuquerque, NM when I was 18 years old. It was some of the most fun I’ve ever had onstage in the Sailor Chorus. Three summers later I did a college theatre program in Cape Cod called College Light Opera Company. We did 9 fully staged shows in 10 weeks, two of which were G&S comic operas. By that point I was hooked. I’ve been with NYGASP now for 18 seasons and I’ve watched many young, new talented singers join our ranks and develop a love for this timeless material.

MARK: The play is fun and frothy, but it takes a very skilled singer to handle this music. What’s it like to unleash your inner pirate while stinging such challenging music?

JAMES: I went to school for acting and came later to singing because I had a deep desire to be in musical comedies. Growing up, I was known as the funny guy who did characters and voices. With G&S I can do both! It’s great to go onstage as the Major-General, a comic patter-man role, where I can bring the music to life as a delightfully dotty old man.


MARK: I happen to love the movie “Topsy Turvy”- an hysterical film about the original productions of G&S. You are the true professionals, of course! Are you a fan of the film as well?

JAMES: Topsy-Turvy is a great film! While Mike Leigh certainly took some creative and historical liberties with the plot, the film is largely celebrated by all of us in the world of G&S. I think you get a fun peek “backstage” at the theatre in Victorian times. Also, I would highly recommend a film called The Story of Gilbert & Sullivan from 1953 starring Robert Morley and Maurice Evans. It’s fabulous, and much like Topsy-Turvey, you see glimpses of some of the original Gilbertian staging.

CLICK HERE or on the the graphics above to read more about both New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players and James Mills.

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