Topsy-Turvy (1999)
USA Entertainment
Cast: Allan Corduner, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville
Extras: Featurette, Photo Gallery, Trailer and TV Spots, Biographies, About Gilbert & Sullivan

The world of musical theater is a world of collaboration. Names like Rodgers and Hammerstein have become one item, just as Gilbert and Sullivan have, in the collective conscious. "Topsy-Turvy" is a movie that focuses on a point in the career of the infamous team Gilbert and Sullivan in the late 1800s when their career was in a depression and the long-time collaborators were about to disband. With a lot of charm, contemporary authenticity and a great cast, "Topsy-Turvy" turns out to be a colorful look behind the scenes of one of their most acclaimed piece of work. The creation of the musical "Mikado" and it has now found its way to DVD through USA Home Entertainment.

They had seen better times, composer Arthur Sullivan (Allan Corduner) and lyricist William Gilbert (Jim Broadbent). After years of working together for the Savoy Theater, a stage company in London’s West End, Sullivan is bored by the repetitiveness of the work and his partner’s inability to come up with new ideas for musical stories, making them increasingly burlesque. His unhappiness is increased by his frustration that writing music for musical theater just doesn’t give him the musical and dramatic freedom he seeks and he decides to write a grand opera! At the same time Gilbert is frustrated with the fact that the team seems to be unable to connect to previous successes they had and feels that he is running in circles with his increasingly predictable plots.

When it seems inevitable the two break apart, their friends and associates try to hold them together but after a heated argument, both walk away, ready to leave the Savoy stage company. Then, Mrs. Gilbert takes her husband to an exhibition of Japanese lifestyle and seeing, smelling, tasting and hearing this foreign culture, Gilbert suddenly lightens up. He has finally found the inspiration he so desperately needed. He begins drafting a story that is unlike any he has done before, and to everyone’s surprise it also hits the right note with Sullivan. Once again the two team up to collaborate on what should become one of their most successful stage musicals, "The Mikado." But the way to the success is long and arduous.

The term "Topsy-Turvy" relates to the whimsical storylines of William Gilbert, and is used frequently used in the context of the movie to describe the magic he manages to conjure up with his stories. And there is some magic in the movie as well. It is a wonderful film that is rich and colorful in its production, enchanting and captivating in its photography, dramatic and stylish in its direction, staggeringly colorful in its production design and superbly acted by the cast. It is a feast for the sense and the eyes that captivates the viewer from the first second and won’t let go until the very end by which time you won’t believe that the film had an actual running length of 160-minutes. Time just flew by!

Allan Corduner and Jim Broadbent do a marvelous job, bringing these icons of stage musical to life with their eccentricities, feelings and thoughts. Carefully, they allow the viewer to see behind the facade as gradually layers of their personality are peeled away to reveal the real men behind the music and the success. They are supported by an incredible ensemble cast that help bring this colorful Victorian period piece to life. It has a very authentic feel, which includes mistuned piano sounds in Sullivan’s home while he is working on ideas, to the colorful lifestyle of lust and vice.

The transfer of the movie that USA Home Entertainment is presenting here on this DVD is equally beautiful. Capturing the colorful production with an impressively high level of detail this <$16x9,16x9 enhanced> presentation gives you the opportunity to see the movie in its full 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> glory. Without noise or grain and virtually free of blemishes or defects in the source print, the presentation is rich and without distracting artifacts. Colors are absolutely faithfully rendered and powerfully leaping off the screen without ever being over-saturated. No <$chroma,chroma noise> is evident. Giving the image a nicely delineated and sharp quality, free of ringing artifacts or other problems that could hamper the presentation. The blacks in the film are restored very well without breaking up and always maintaining a good level of detail in the shadows. Skin tones are very faithfully rendered and look absolutely natural throughout. The compression of the transfer is without flaws and no compression artifacts are visible anywhere on this disc.

The DVD contains a <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> audio track, as well as a <$DS,Dolby surround> track in English. Both tracks are well produced and make good use of the surround channels, but the Dolby Digital track is noticeably more expansive. With a good bass extension and frequent use of the discrete surrounds, it manages to create a very lively and realistic sound filed for the movie. While aggressive surrounds are hardly found in the production, the rear channels are mostly used to create a good live atmosphere, especially during the theater segments. Dialogues are very well recorded and integrated in the mix. They are always balanced and understandable.
The film features a great music score that features original music by Gilbert and Sullivan, re-recorded for maximum quality. The result are very clear performances of the songs and the music that add so much to the actual film. Given the subject matter, these musical performances are of the utmost importance and it is great to see how the film allows you to listen to these great pieces – including the actual occasional playing inaccuracies, gracefully admonished by Sullivan in the movie.

The DVD also contains a photo gallery with still images from the movie, as well as a number of behind-the-scenes photos, theatrical trailers and TV Spots. Cast and crew biographies and a dedicated text section with information about Gilbert and Sullivan further add to this release. Another great addition is a 10-minute featurette that takes you behind the scenes of the film and features interviews with director Mike Leigh and many of the actors. It offers some nice insight how the project took shape and how everyone involved perceived the characters and the story.

This is a marvelous release by USA Home Entertainment and it took me quite a bit by surprise. It is a low-key film with an ensemble cast, yet it so excellently crafted that it is utterly entertaining. After all, that’s what the film about, entertainment and the show business, so I guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. USA Home Entertianment is delivering a solid DVD here, making the movie all the more enjoyable. Jump in and enjoy the miraculous Topsy-Turvy world of Gilbert and Sullivan. You won’t regret it.