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The Mikado

Colorado Confections
March 3, 2014
Colorado Confections
by Charles Jernigan

On March 1, we drove down to Colorado Springs to catch the Opera Theater of the Rockies’ presentation of Leo Delibes’ rarely performed Lakmé. On Sunday, we drove back to Loveland in time to catch Loveland Opera Theater’s performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado.

...and now for something completely different: The Mikado

What a delightful lot of fun was Loveland Opera Theater’s Mikado.  We caught the last performance on March 2 and took along our daughter, her husband, our grandson and our friend Pamela.  There was a full house at the Rialto Theater for the matinee.  Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous operetta needs no erudite and over-long introduction from the likes of me for anyone who bothers to read this.  If you haven’t seen it, I recommend the entertaining movie Topsy-Turvy (1999), which centers around the creation of The Mikado and includes extensive excerpts from several G&S works.  

LOT’s simple unit set was enlivened with a variety of light effects and a truly rich array of costumes created for the show by Cathy Haldeman and Davis Sibley.  The orchestra, conducted by Peter Muller, got better and better as they went along, and the rich depth of locally based opera singers was demonstrated by the double casting of many roles.  At the Sunday matinee, we heard Teresa Castillo as Yum-Yum and Peter Farley as Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son in disguise as a street singer and second-trombone player.  Both were delightful.  Ms. Castillo injected the occasional high note when needed in ensembles and looked lovely in her wedding dress, and she was very fine in her prideful song, “The sun whose rays are all ablaze,” the original--but comic--“I feel pretty.”  Best of all was the comic characters, starting with the wonderfully funny Ko-Ko of Robert Hoch, and the equally hilarious Pooh-Bah of Greg Fischer.  Also notable were Joe Massman’s Mikado, Joyce Honea’s Katisha, Ryan Parker’s Pish-Tush, and Lindsey French’s Pitty-Sing.  In fact, it was such an ensemble production, that it is difficult to single out any particular singing actor: all were good.

And these views on this Mikado are not formed by local boosterism.  It really was a very professional, well acted, and extremely well-rehearsed show (stage direction by Timothy Kennedy).  The gags were clever and never too much.  Juliana Bishop Hoch and her company have brought us a show with far more than the amateur dramatics of many a G&S production.  We all laughed all the way through.  
If there was a weakness, it was in the diction of some of the singers.  W.S. Gilbert’s lines are among the cleverest in the English language, and in my opinion, they are at their best in The Mikado.  I want to hear every delicious rhyme, and when the lines are changed to reflect contemporary reality as in Ko-Ko’s “List” song or the Mikado’s song in Act II, I want to hear the new jokes.  I could hear funny ones about Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus or the Kardashians, but others escaped me.

In The Mikado, Gilbert uses the comic technique of trivialization.  That is, taking a very serious subject (death, execution, decapitation, torture, burial alive, etc.) and treating it as if it were a light-hearted matter.  No wonder Groucho Marx, the chief figure in Duck Soup, which uses the same technique to satirize war, loved The Mikado.  He even played Ko-Ko once in a TV production.  Gilbert was also sharply satirizing many contemporary British issues in the 1880’s, and he himself changed some of the lyrics for a revival in the early twentieth century to fit the new scandals and the new issues.  

We don’t need to know all that (unless you are a pedant like me), because the language, Sullivan’s unforgettable tunes and the classic comic technique of trivializing serious matter are universally appealing.  The Mikado has very little to do with Japan and everything to do with skewering the pompous and our preconceived attitudes.  Really!  A lover named Nanki-poo!  That’s baby talk for a hankie (‘Does baby need a nanki-poo?’).  And a heroine named “Yum-Yum”!  That’s just short of scandalous.  Gilbert is making fun of our romantic heroines and heroes.  And, Lord knows, every age has its pompous bureaucrats.  It just took. W.S. Gilbert to give us the perfect name for them: pooh-bahs.

Thank you, Loveland Opera Theater for reminding us just how delicious this confection is, and for backing it up with such professional élan.  Or to quote WSG, “Here’s a how-de-do!”  Indeed!

[The following review has been reprinted on the LOT website with the author's permission. It was first displayed on the Opera Pronto website at operapronto.info/journal.html.]
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