Gilbert and Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera

Active status: 
Producing opera
Company Type: 
About Us: 

GASYLO’s special Yiddish satire and ‘Jewish’ humor preserve the lovely music and spirit of Gilbert and Sullivan. Woven into the original G&S plots are Jewish experiences and idioms, adding another dimension to the existing humor and wit. Audiences don’t have to know the Yiddish to enjoy Yiddish Gilbert and Sullivan. The universal appeal of all of our work truly touch the heart. 

GASYLO’s productions, with their beautiful costumes and bright, colorful sets, feature all the well-known characters singing and talking in a combination of Yiddish and English. For example, in ‘Pinafore’, Little Buttercup becomes ‘Kleyne Putershisl’, and the admiral Sir Joseph becomes ‘Reb Yosl Yitzkhak Nimitzbaum’ and ‘He is an Englishman’ translates to ‘Er iz a Guter Yid’. In DER YIDDISHER MIKADO, Poo Bah becomes ‘Shmir Mir’, the three Little Maids, once known as Yum-Yum, Pitti Sing, and Pee-Bo become ‘Tsipe-Tsviele, Yentele, and Rifkele’, Koko becomes ‘Chay Shpay’ and Pish Tush becomes Mish Mash’.


A Short History

The origins of the company’s Yiddish production dates back to 1952, when Kadimah Hadassah of Brooklyn mounted a Yiddish-language production of H.M.S. Pinafore at the local Jewish center. This innovative presentation was written by a committee headed by Miriam Walowit who was the production’s creative force. The show was a great success and a 78 rpm recording was made of 12 ‘hit’ songs.

In 1954, the Gilbert and Sullivan Light Opera Company of Long Island (GASLOCOLI) was founded, first as an adult learning program, then as a Gilbert and Sullivan workshop. This small group successfully produced G&S operettas adhering to the original; musical scores of dialogue in English, of course. Soon, the group was incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation performing standard Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire in New York and Long Island, often doing 30 to 40 performances a year.

There are several original members currently involved in our company performing Gilbert & Sullivan in English, as well as our Yiddish/English adaptation. Elaine Lerner has been members of GASLOCOLI for 30 years, as our producer and manager.

Many years ago, Al Grand, a retired New York City School teacher, an accomplished Yiddishist and a member of the G&S Company, transcribed the Walowit/Hadassah score of the ‘Pinafore’ songs into phonetic Yiddish, bringing it to the attention of the company. In 1980, the company put together a 35 minute presentation of a mini-Pinafore in Yiddish using the 12 original songs. Much to their amazement and joy, they received an overwhelming response to the show consisting of a mini Mikado in English and a mini Pinafore in Yiddish, and decided to peruse Yiddish productions.

About 1983, some members of the company learned that Miriam Walowit was living in Florida. Al Grand went to visit her on behalf of the company and to his delight discovered that she had written a complete libretto of ‘Mikado’. Because the Walowit productions were 3 ½ hours long and entirely in Yiddish, the company members edited it, and added new dialogue. Phil Gellis, the company’s musical director, did the adaptation, with Al Grand working on the Yiddish dialogue. The company copyrighted this new version of ‘DER YIDDISHER MIKADO’ since then there have been several revisions. The current production was staged in New York at the American Jewish Theater, February 3-15th of 1998.

With a complete Yiddish ‘Mikado in hand, many members split off from the original G&S repertory group and devoted themselves entirely to Yiddish productions.
Bob Tartell and Elaine Lerner became producer and manager of the new company, Sally Buckstone, one of the founders of the original company returned as director, Al Grand became language coach. They then devoted one year to auditioning, training, and rehearsing before embarking on their successful staging of ‘DER YIDDISHER MIKADO’ 

Because Bob Tartell believed that the company needed a second show, he conceived the idea of expanding the 12 original ‘Pinafore’ songs into a new production. Working with AL Grand, the revised the plot and added new songs, with Al writing the Yiddish lyrics and Bob providing the new dialogue. The underlying principal of this production was to use Yiddish words in common parlance, and repeat these words in English, so that an English-Speaking audience could always follow the meaning of the story. The new ‘H.M.S. Pinafore’ was copyrighted, with Bob Tartell and Al Grand credited as co-authors. Soon the company was expanding its activities to New Jersey, Connecticut, and Massachusetts.
Al Grand went on to write his own Yiddish version of the ‘Pirates of Penzance’, called ‘DI YAM GAZLONIM’. With the success of these productions, the group changed its name to ‘Gilbert and Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera Company’ and incorporated as a not-for-profit organization. These Yiddish versions were immediately and enthusiastically received. They gained wide attention, leading to engagements up and down the East Coast of the United States. The group traveled from New England to Miami. 

Internationally the company performed in London England at the invitation of the Spiro Institute, in Toronto by the Friends of Yiddish, and in Winnipeg by Canadian ORT. Today GASYLO performs at fundraising events, Yiddish culture programs, nursing homes and libraries.

The company has produced their own original cassettes and CDs of ‘DER YIDDISHER MIKADO, DER YIDDISHER PINAFORE, and DI YAM GAZLONIM (Pirates) which enjoy international distribution (see our store for details)

The Gilbert and Sullivan Yiddish Light Opera Company of Long Island
Central Islip, NY
United States