When I began interviewing actors and actresses regarding their experiences in The Pirates of Penzance, I never once considered the possibility that I would have to address their passing before the release of my album. One remarkable quality of all those I’ve conversed with is that they remain active. They are always working on something that excites them, that gives them a reason to wake up in morning. This characteristic shines through their behaviors, their voices, and their interests in music and in life. Unfortunately, however, regardless of who we are, none of us are above our mortal existence and we will all at some point in the future be required to take that final, immortalizing step into the hereafter, whatever that may be for us.
This afternoon, I was informed that George S. Irving—the man who replaced George Rose as the Modern Major General on Broadway in the 1980s—passed away yesterday, the day after Christmas, at the age of ninety-four. Irving was a paragon of the stage, radio, television, and film. He appeared in countless productions in all mediums, and is revered by the old guard of acting as well as by younger audiences who came to know him through the classic animated Christmas films such as The Year Without Santa Claus. Just three days ago, my mom and I were watching one of Mr. Irving’s movies for the first time, just as I was polishing up my interview with him. Now here I am, on the day I intended to share our cheerful interaction, having to posthumously publish and earmark our conversation with a tinge of unanticipated grief.
Although I didn’t know him well, Mr. Irving and I became musical acquaintances, if you wish to call it that. I admired his talent and he seemed glad to know that someone was working on The Pirates of Penzance again. I reached out to him in the fall to schedule a possible interview date with him to talk about The Pirates. He was quick to accept the request; however, he declined to a telephone conversation stating: “My health has worsened and I am not up to a talk session. If you can think up some questions that would work for you, I’ll try to answer them…Best wishes, GSI.”
I typed up my questions, sent them along, and he replied. We corresponded a little more after that to discuss details of my project, and that led to today, the day I heard the news of his passing.
Well, Mr. Irving, all I can say is thank you. Thank you for your kindness, interest, and generosity of time you invested in my project. I wish we could have met in person, but it seems that was never destined to happen. I am blessed beyond measure to be able to share our interview with your fans and with fans of music all over the world. Thank you for never stopping the music. Thank you for keeping songs in your heart, as well as in ours, every day of your life. We tip our hats to you tonight and to bid you adieu. I hope to meet you again one day. Until then, may you rest in peace.
And now, the interview:
ADRIAN D. HOLMES: How did you first become involved with Joseph Papp's Pirates of Penzance?
GEORGE S. IRVING: Dear Charlie Durning recommended me to Joe, and I sang for him, and was hired.
ADH: Had you ever performed in a Gilbert & Sullivan production before?
GSI: I did the Captain in Pinafore while in dramatic school.
ADH: What are your impressions of the music from the show? Did you have any favorite songs?
GSI: Certainly, the Major General’s opening number was wonderful—once I'd mastered it. Every actor I know who's played it was at the point of collapse on opening night. I'm told that George Rose, on his opening [night], had to quit in the middle and start over. But, a masterpiece you take on its own terms.
Another song I liked was “Sighing Softly to the River.” It was pretty, and [within] my voice [range], and I sat on the orchestra rail right in their laps.
ADH: What were your impressions of the cast?
GSI: The cast was first rate. The Pirate King was the son of Shirley Jones. I worked with her in the old Rodgers & Hammerstein days.
ADH: Are there any outstanding memories you have from the show? Any bloopers or on-stage gaffes that stand out?
GSI: None. Thank Heaven.
ADH: Would you recommend this show to the new generation of people that are growing up?
GSI: I would make it compulsory in schools simply as an exercise in the English language.
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