"For He's Going to Marry Yum Yum": The Rise of the Operetta

"For He's Going to Marry Yum Yum": The Rise of the Operetta
Frances Cleveland: Education, Arts, Letters and Ideas

Skill: High School/College
Time Required: Two weeks


Prior to the announcement of the engagement of Grover Cleveland and Frances Folsom, there was much speculation about whether or not the two would actually marry.  Interestingly, much of the speculation revolved around Grover Cleveland and Frances’s mother!  The gossipers got it right, however, when, during a brief appearance by President Cleveland at a New York City Decoration Day parade less than a week before their actual wedding, bands played the current hit from Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado—“He’s Going to Marry Yum Yum.”


The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the musical theatre form of the operetta, as well as to introduce them to the idea of parody, by engaging them in an activity that requires them to parody songs from Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.

Materials Required:

Access to the Internet Access to any print materials available A Video or DVD (or sheet music) of a performance of The Mikado Paper and pens or pencils Or a word processor


1.  Begin the lesson by introducing the subject of the operetta as a musical form, one that both precedes and contributes to American musical comedy.  Explain that Gilbert and Sullivan, masters of the operetta form, often used their productions to make fun of current social and political events and ideas, much as the satirical group, The Capitol Steps, do today.

2.  Then, explain the definition of parody, and, using the websites below, let students explore the two Capitol Steps sites, playing some of the songs available.  Engage students in a discussion of some current social and/or political subjects that might be good subjects for parody.  These subjects might be related to national or local concerns, or
school issues of interest to the students.  Continue this conversation until five or six good topics are developed, and write them on the chalkboard.
3.  Show students a video or DVD of a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, providing students with copies of the lyrics so that they can follow along.  Remember that the emphasis in this lesson is on language, word use, and writing lyrics. 
4.  Tell students that the task before them is to write parodies of some of the songs in The Mikado.  Using the websites listed below, as well as any other websites that are helpful, students may work in small groups of three or four, each working with a different song and writing lyrics on a different subject.
5.  When the parodies are completed, each group should perform their song, sharing the lyrics with the class in printed form.

Extending the Lesson:

This lesson might be extended by writing a complete parody of The Mikado (see MaKiddo, below).

Sources & Resources:

Edwards, Rebecca.  “Frances Clara Folsom Cleveland,” in Lewis L. Gould, ed., America’s First Ladies: Their Lives and Their Legacy. New York: Routledge, 2001.


Operetta on Wikipedia 
History of the Operetta 
European Operetta 

Resources for Writing

The Mikado  
Parody (definition) 
MaKiddo (a parody) 
The Capitol Steps 
Capitol Steps on NPR 
This lesson was developed by Averil McClelland, Kent State University.