'The Mikado' Makes For Good Fun

Keito Uchiyama

From left to right, Adam Goldenberg ’08, Brian C. Polk ’09, and Philipp W. Grimm ’11 play Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko, and Pish-Tush in the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ “The Mikado.”

For a play in which the characters’ primary goal is to escape with their heads attached to their bodies, “The Mikado, or the Town of Titipu” is a surprisingly lighthearted affair. Of course, it’s a Gilbert and Sullivan affair, so serious dramatics would be out of place. The essence of “G&S” is lighthearted entertainment with a side of spectacle, and the Harvard-Radcliffe Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ (HRGSP) rendition of it—running through Dec. 15 at the Agassiz Theatre—delivers amply.

Productions by the HRGSP are unusual in that they require both a large cast, here directed (perhaps “wrangled” would be a better word) by Anna M. Resnick ’09, and a full orchestra (this time around, under the direction of Eric W. Lin ’09, who is also a Crimson Arts staff writer). This combination creates a sensory overload that is usually quite pleasant—it’s hard to get bored when there’s so much to look at—as well as an ambience of old-fashioned theatricality.

In fact, the show (produced by David S. Jewett ’08, Roy A. Kimmey III ’09, and Mary Eleanor Stebbins ’08) cultivates an anachronistic air throughout all its aspects, starting with the solemn playing of the British national anthem at the show’s beginning. Getting into this late-19th-century mindset is perhaps advisable if one wants to comfortably enjoy a musical whose Japanese characters have names such as Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum.

Once you reach that politically-incorrect mindset, the play is a delight. The story concerns a young man of the Japanese town Titipu, Nanki-Poo (Jonas A. Budris ’06), who tries to woo Yum-Yum (Annie E. Levine ’08) away from her fiancé Ko-Ko (W. Brian C. Polk ’09). Rather inconveniently, Ko-Ko also happens to be both Yum-Yum’s guardian and the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, with a quota to meet.

The plot thickens when... actually, it doesn’t really matter. Yes, things get complicated with the entrances of the Mikado (Jonathan M. Roberts ’09), ruler of Japan, and Nanki-Poo’s previous fiancée Katisha (Francesca S. Serritella ’08). But for the most part, the plot is just an excuse for a series of songs that serve as the show’s real centerpiece. The show devotes more energy to introducing a bevy of singing schoolgirls than in settling the fates of the characters.

On the whole, the songs are extremely witty. The main cast and the ensemble perform them with aplomb, albeit with a style that is slightly over-dependent on kick-line dancing. A particular standout is Polk’s Ko-Ko, whose every emotion plays itself out exaggeratedly across his face in complete keeping with the play’s nature. Also fantastic is Adam Goldenberg ’08 (who is also a Crimson columnist) as the haughty, money-grubbing official Pooh-Bah. As befits the character, he manages to seem both dignified and pathetic in each scene. The interactions between Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah are easily the funniest parts of the show.

The characters involved in the central love story seem too busy in their roles as plot devices to be terribly interesting, although Budris and Levine have an entertaining duet in which they demonstrate what, exactly, the draconian laws of the Mikado forbid them to do. Yum-Yum eventually reveals some personality in a song about her own earth-shattering beauty.

The non-acting elements of the production are uniformly excellent. The orchestra is wonderful, giving each song a unique energy that does not overwhelm the action on stage—something that has been a challenge for Harvard opera in the past.

Head costumer Sammi K. Biegler ’08 puts the ensemble in simple kimonos and the higher-ranking characters in increasingly elaborate get-ups (with larger and larger fans to match). As artistic designer and master painter, the always-impressive Courtney E. Thompson ’09 presents a beautiful, uncomplicated set design of a simple Japanese courtyard.

“The Mikado” is not particularly deep or meaningful, but it is highly enjoyable and a welcome dose of sheer silly fun. It’s a perfect antidote for cold weather and late-semester papers.

—Crimson reviewer Elisabeth J. Bloomberg can be reached at bloomber@fas.harvard.edu.