Jack Quinn

Victor Gluck

Chip Deffaa

The Mikado
By: Victor Gluck
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Sarah Caldwell Smith, Daniel Greenwood and David Macaluso in a scene from
The Mikado
(Photo credit: William Reynolds)

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players made a triumphant return to New York City Center with a world class performance of G&S’s The Mikado, the most frequently performed of the Savoy operettas. In its 38th winter season which will also include performances of H.M.S. Pinafore and The Yeomen of the Guard this month, artistic and music director Albert Bergeret led a delightful and assured performance from the lilting bars of the Overture to the final bars of the closing chorus (“For he’s gone and married Yum-Yum” and “The threatened cloud has passed away”). Aside from the excellent musical performances, this Mikado was also a treat for the eye from the rainbow-like array of colorful costumes by Gail J. Wofford and Kayko Nakamura to the attractive setting by Albère which resembled Japanese watercolor prints.

The ninth of G&S’s 14 collaborations, The Mikado is set in a fictional Japan that allowed librettist W.S. Gilbert to satirize British political institutions without fear of England’s strict libel laws. Set in the made-up town of Titipu, The Mikado introduces us to a hotbed of domestic and political intrigue. Beautiful school girl Yum-Yum is in love with the handsome minstrel Nanki-Poo, but unfortunately she is engaged to the older Ko-Ko, the newly appointed Lord High Executioner. In fact, Nanki-Poo is the disguised son and heir of Japan’s emperor, the Mikado, and has run away from court in order not to have to marry the unattractive and middle-aged Katisha. When it is announced that the Mikado is about to make a visit, Ko-Ko is thrown into a panic as he has not executed anyone while in office as the emperor expected, and Nanki-Poo does not want to see Katisha while he is still unmarried. How this is all resolved satisfactorily for almost all of the major characters is the story of the operetta.

Amy Maude Helfer, Sarah Caldwell Smith and Rebecca O’Sullivan (center) and
the ladies of the NYGASP ensemble in a scene from The Mikado
(Photo credit: William Reynolds)

Directed by Bergeret and David Auxier, the production makes the most of Gilbert’s diverting humor as well as Sir Arthur Sullivan’s cheerful melodies. As the young lovers, Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo, soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith and tenor Daniel Greenwood make lovely music from their solos, “A Wandering Minstrel” (Greenwood) and “The Sun Whose Rays Are All Ablaze” (Smith) to their duets and trios. David Macaluso as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, beset by many problems, has a great time with his famous patter song, “I’ve Got a Little List” with NYGASP’s wittily interpolted updates that received much audience approval, as well as his difficulty carting round his huge axe until he appears with it on roller skates. His beautiful rendition of the aria, “Willow, Tit Willow,” was also memorable.

Quinto Ott (alternating with David Wannen as the Emperor) applied his resonant bass to “A More Humane Mikado,” in which he amusingly states his philosophy of life as ruler of Japan, complete with contemporary additions. As the elderly, self-deceived Katisha, Cáitlín Burke added her ravishing alto to the mix. As Yum-Yum’s sister and adviser, Erika Person was charming as Pitti-Sing. Only Louis Dall’Ava as the over-the-top Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else, who played all his satire extremely broadly seemed to need to be reined in. The diction of the entire company was extremely clear, making it a pleasure to listen to Gilbert’s droll and literate lyrics. However, the other fly in the ointment was Brian Presti’s lighting design which seemed a bit self-conscious when it dimmed the lights for certain of the musical numbers in an attempt at some expressionistic touches.

Angela Christine Smith as Katisha and David Wannen as
The Emperor of Japan in a scene from The Mikado
(Photo credit: William Reynolds)

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players’ revival of The Mikado, first performed in 1885, proves that this operetta is timeless as it satirizes eternal human foibles in the same way that Shakespeare and Moliere did. The superb production with its nearly perfect singing bodes well for the rest of NYGASP’s winter season which continues with four performances each of G&S’s equally enduring H.M.S. Pinafore and The Yeomen of the Guard in the coming weeks.

New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players: G&S Fest 2012-13
The Mikado (January 4-6, 2013)
H.M.S. Pinafore (January 11-13, 2013)
The Yeomen of the Guard (January 18–20, 2013)
New York City Center, 131 W. 55th Street, in Manhattan
For tickets, call 212-581-1212 or visit http://www.nycitycenter.org

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