Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian era partnership of librettist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900). The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are among the best known.
Gilbert, who wrote the words, created fanciful "topsy-turvy" worlds for these operas, where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion—fairies rub elbows with British lords, flirting is a capital offence, gondoliers ascend to the monarchy, and pirates turn out to be noblemen who have gone wrong. Sullivan, six years Gilbert's junior, composed the music, contributing memorable melodies that could convey both humour and pathos.
The Muppet Show
Songs from The Pirates of Penzance have been performed several times by the Muppets, including a memorable Pirates medley performed on The Muppet Show by Gilda Radner and a Seven-foot-tall Talking Carrot.
One of the five "Numerical Correspondence" Muppets, a Fat Blue character in a Pirates-inspired costume, returned to the show years later, paired with another Fat Blue Muppet in a top hat as "Gilbert and Sullivan." They were recurring characters in the 1980s, occasionally visiting Oscar the Grouch to sing him a song about the topic of the day, aided by the human cast.
Which character was which was subject to discrepancy over the years. When they first appeared in season 12, the admiral puppet, who was performed here by Brian Muehl, introduced himself as "Gilbert," while his top-hatted partner, performed by Michael Earl, was "Sullivan." However, later, in at least two other songs, the singers switched names. Also, in these cases, Gilbert was performed by Richard Hunt, Sullivan by Martin P. Robinson.
Their songs include:
- "You Are What You Eat" (First: Episode 1452)
- "The Letter B" (EKA: Episode 1845)
- "At Your Library" (EKA: Episode 2342)
- "Listen" (First: Episode 2636)
- "Before and After"
In a mock break-out quote on the back of the 1977 Sesame Street album Big Bird Leads the Band, W. S. Gilbird and A. S. Gullivan (lyricist and composer of HMS Pinfeather) provide a rhyming tribute: "Bird, thou never wert/we do assert/so musical/as on this al-/bum."
In The Muppet Show Comic Book: The Treasure of Peg-Leg Wilson, the Muppets perform a "H.M.S. Pinafore" finale for the show.