Johannes Hjorth

Bathed in resplendent golden tones and palliative blues, draped floor to ceiling with silky red and grey banners, and drenched in silvery fog: the finely curated colorful and musical splendor of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s The Mikado was an exquisite feast for the eyes and ears.  

"What ensues is a slew of amusing antics, intertwining the group in droll deception."

With music by Arthur Sullivan and libretto by W. S. Gilbert, The Mikado is often referred to as one of the most seminally popular pieces of operatic musical comedy of all time-- and, oftentimes, one that has been noted as equally contentious. Originating at London’s Savoy Theatre in 1885, The Mikado tells the tale of a Japanese village under the rule of the emperor the Mikado (Luke Thomas), recently having given the position of high executioner (undeservingly so) to Ko-Ko (Joseph Dutton). Then appears Nanki-Poo (Fraser Rosser-Smyth) in search of his lost love, Yum-Yum (Sophie Ellis)-- but she is already bequeathed to Ko-Ko. What ensues is a slew of amusing antics, intertwining the group in droll deception.

Set in Japan, yet historically played by an all-white British cast, this displacement is meant to allow for a dislocated commentary on the British government in a disparate setting. However, today this context can rightly seem problematic when performed to its full, originating extent-- as observed unfortunately in a recent 2014 Seattle production -- so director Eleanor Burke opted for a full contextual reimagining.

This Mikado was instead placed in 1920s in Brooklyn, the scene set at a Vaudeville theatre-- the Mikado becoming the theatre owner, Ko-Ko, running operations in his absence, and Pooh-Bah (Rory Russell), becoming the theatre’s director, stage manager, producer, concert pianist, and whatever else you might think of, and the rest varied performers, including Yum-Yum, looking to make their break with their act at the theatre. Without help of the show’s program, this dramaturgical interpretation was unfortunately ambiguous. Different cultural elements often times seemed antithetically juxtaposed-- whether they be the accentuated British accents, alongside flapper-esque costuming --- all well-executed in their own right, yet a bit awkwardly placed next to both each other and the overtly stereotypical Japanese nomenclature.

There were, however, various changes to the libretto that gave the performance a modernized feel. The number “"I've Got a Little List"-- often times performed with contemporary lyrics, as been reimagined by Monty Python’s Eric Idle or Family Guy -- this time noting offenders suit for execution that caused Brexit or wore socks with sandals. These fit finely with repeated comic meta-theatrical commentary that emerged throughout the show, such as Ko-Ko noting at one point in exasperation, after being interrupted: “Can’t you see I’m trying to soliloquize?”

Principals Ellis as Yum-Yum and Rosser-Smyth as Nanki-Poo both gave excellently sung performances, with equally touching chemistry and comic charm.  Pitti-Sing (Harriet Spring) and Peep-Bo (Louisa Stuart-Smith) rounded out the trio of maidens, giving sprightly performances as a charming trio. In-show directorical duo Russell and Lara Cosmetatos (in a well-conceived gender-swapped role) as Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush with Dutton’s Ko-Ko made for a delightful comic triangle, equal parts silly, dryly sardonic, and physically droll. Thomas’ late appearance as the Mikado was entirely suave, and with the constant presence of the dynamic chorus, provided a firm backbone to the performance.

Designed elements of the show shone at the forefront with visible prowess: the aforementioned work by set designer James Ireland was aptly extravagant, imbued with creative and varied lighting by designer Dyland Phelps. And costumes by Victoria Olphin and Clarissa Hard best informed the show’s1920s interpretation: with sparkling flapper garbs, dripping pearls, a golden and bronze-clothed ensemble, and the Mikado, sharply donning the distinct suit of a mobster.  


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All in all, The Mikado was a complicated conglomerate of interpretation, grand vocals and elegant design and provided an impressive night of operetta on the West Road stage.