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A GILBERT and Sullivan operetta is like sex: everyone has his favorite way of doing it, and no other way quite satisfies him. Furthermore, watching other people do it has a way of being very boring. Until last night, I thought that my favorite way of doing the Mikado was the classic D'Oyly Carte Company production which starred Martyn Gree. Now, I'm not so sure.
The Harvard Gilbert and Sullivan Society's interpretation of Mikado is thoroughly inspired. The musicians, the singers, the staging, all capture the essence of Gilbert's wit and Sullivan's score as few local productions ever have. The producers have pooled some of the finest talents on the Harvard campus-members of the Band and the HRO as well as seasoned G and S personnel.
The Mikado is one of the more difficult G and S works to perform. Most directors play it either for slapstick or subtlety, but rarely for both. This time, music director John Posner and stage director Timothy Rush have managed to bring out all of the nuances of the work. The orchestra was strong and vibrant, with a full-bodied character in all the parts. The overture came off surprisingly well, especially during the oboc solo, which is as good as any I've heard. The chorus established itself firmly in the opening number. ( If you want to know who we are/We are gentlemen of Japan. ) and stayed vigorous throughout the evening. The pomposity of these Japanese bureaucrats rang as true today as it must have to the audiences at the Savoy in Queen Victoria's day. The blocking, the mannerisms, and the makeup contributed to a perfectly exaggerated G and S atmosphere.
The leads in this production were peculiarly excellent. Karl D'Challa Deirup seemed at first just a bit too mature as the callow youth, Nanki-Poo, but his first song ( A wandering minstrel I/a thing of shreds and patches... ) established Nanki-Poo as a totally different character from that of the traditional interpretations. Alan Abrams, as Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else, was marvelous as the proud but corrupt political hack. But the undisputed star of the show was Josh Rubins, as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Following the opulent train of reverent courtiers, he wore a ludicrous robe decorated with axe-heads and carried a headsman's axe several inches taller than he is. It was enough to bring down the house. His version of "As someday it may happen that a victim must be found" included some updated lines ( that singular anomaly, the strict constructionist ), and visual effects-pulling out a picture of Nixon while decrying unscrupulous politicians.
THE SAME craftsmanship extended to the female leads in the production. The role of Katasha, the aging, vindictive, bitchy noblewoman, requires a strong coloratura-type voice and a commanding stage presence, and Andrea Goodzeit provided both of these. Her voice had a pure yet vibrant timbre which eclipsed all of the other singers. She is a fine stage actress as well as a singer, and her demeanor was well suited to the role. similarly, Deborah Ward, as Yum-Yum, the child bride, had complete control of the character, although her voice was at times weak.
Warren Goldfarb as the Mikado seemed suited to reign over this ridiculous country, and made himself an integral part of the second act. The pacing never flagged, and the finale was strong and forceful. All told, it was a sterling performance of an old chestnut, one of the best this side of the Savoy.
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