Cox and Box; or, The Long-Lost Brothers, is a one-act opera with a libretto by F. C. Burnand and music by Arthur Sullivan. It premiered in 1866 as a full one act, five years before Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert’s first of many collaborative efforts. An abridged "Savoy version" of Cox and Box was used frequently by the D’Oyly Carte Opera company as a curtain raiser for shorter Gilbert and Sullivan operas.
Sergeant Bouncer, an old soldier, has a scheme to get double rent from a single room. By day he lets it to Mr. Box (a printer who is out all night) and by night to Mr. Cox (a hatter who works all day). Whenever either of them asks any awkward questions he sings at length about his days in the militia.
His plan works well until Mr. Cox is, unexpectedly, given a day’s holiday and the two lodgers meet. Left alone while Bouncer sorts out another room, they discover they share more than the same bed. Cox is engaged to the widow Penelope Ann Wiggins – a fate that Box escaped by pretending to commit suicide.
Realizing that they both would rather feign death than commit themselves in matrimony to Penelope Ann, each tries to persuade the other to take her. They are about to come to blows in their effort to make the other gentleman marry Penelope Ann when a letter arrives from the young woman herself stating that she intends to marry a Mr. Knox! Relieved, Cox and Box swear eternal friendship and discover, curiously enough, that they are long-lost brothers.
In an interesting twist, W. S. Gilbert himself reviewed the piece in Fun magazine, saying, in part, "…Mr. Sullivan’s music is, in many places, of too high a class for the grotesquely absurd plot to which it is wedded. It is very funny, here and there, and grand or graceful where it is not funny; but the grand and the graceful have, we think, too large a share of the honours to themselves."
Cox and Box can be performed in conjunction with other single acts, such as Trial By Jury, The Zoo, or a one-act highlights production. We can perform it in its original full one-act length, or as the Savoy version, which runs about 40 minutes.
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