PARENTS DON'T PILE their kids into the backs of station wagons any more. Too bad, because this Mikado is the perfect incentive. Pack them in, trundle them over to the Radcliffe Yard, and they'll stay tame and happily out of everyone's way for the better part of the afternoon. What's more, you might enjoy it too.
Your kids'll love the brightly-rendered numbers. They'll lap up the showy costumes, the stoogery, and the cake and cookies at intermission. You'll go for the minor liberties they've taken with the score--"a linnngering death: boiling oil or.... New Haven"--revel in its recollection of your own high school Nanki-Poo, and purr contentedly that the whole thing is confederate with your old, scratchy D'Oyly Carte recording.
Confederate, yes, but of course a far cry from it. First off, it's just too long. Even Derek Bok's kid was fidgeting alongside the old man as the show wearied into its third hour. And some of the choreography--the term may be too lofty--suggests John Travolta more than a Japanese noble. But the leads are all good. Donald Hovey's Nanki-Poo is bereft and expressive. Paul O'Neill's Pooh-Bah is engaging and suitably gorged, if a little stock. Dennis Crowley, as the Lord High Executioner is the spitting image of Alfred E. Neumann, and reacts to this madness just as the old man would, reeling off his "list" with pizazz. And Willis Emmons as Pish-Tush illuminates the show: of all the leads, he's most able to sing and act at the same time while compromising neither--the first requirement of a good G&S performance.
Of the female leads, the three little maids are endearing even within the limits of their parts. Patte Tuell (Yum-Yum) is coy and free of squelch, while Ellen Zachos' soprano is probably the show's best. Jacqueline Meily (Katisha) is a little below the rest of the cast, as she fails to belt out her ascerbic lines with the requisite spite.
WHEN BRIAN McCUE QUIT as director of this show, consensus held it would sink. Enter Shipley Munson. Under the guidance of producer Mark Stone, he patched it up, and then steered it to satire, while avoiding hack. His predictable cynicism--"let's poke a little fun at it as we go along"--creeps in here, but on the whole the calisthenics amuse the youngsters without alienating their chaperones.
The charm of Gilbert and Sullivan is, after all, Sullivan, and the orchestra for this performance bubbles. The members say that it works because they've played together for all the rehearsals and performances. Also because of the direction of John Posner, who's led the HGSP orchestra out of its mid-'70s doldrums. The theater walls are peeling a bit this year, but the Agassiz still drops this orchestra endearingly in the audience's lap. Too bad the players read the Sunday Times or Weber when they're not actually playing.
Gilbert and Sullivan always sells better than the rest of Harvard theater. Who goes to see these shows? Administrators and their kids. Faculty and their kids. Music teachers, who mouth all the words, and their adopted kids. And just plain unaffiliated parents and their's. Yes, these tricks are for kids, and this year they're good tricks, so if you don't have a station wagon put them all on bicycles and head over. You may even enjoy yourself.