Turning Japanese

The Mikado

Written by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan

Directed by Aline Shader

At the Agassiz Theater

I am delighted to report that the worst thing about the Gilbert and Sullivan Society's production of The Mikado is the lighting. House lights glow dimly throughout the performance (so viewers can watch each other, perhaps), and the stage is uniformly flooded with white light. Horrendous.


But that's the production's only flaw.

From overture to finale, Mikado is uniformly excellent. Orchestra problems, which traditionally plague the G&S, are conspicuously absent under the able baton of Jeff Tennessen.

The subject matter of The Mikado remains as pertinent today as a century ago. Crooked politicos and covert dealing abound. Ko-Ko (Steve Mooradian), sentenced to die for flirting, has managed to get himself promoted to the top of the criminal justice system--Lord High Executioner. All other functions of state fall under the aegis of the corrupt, sneering Pooh-Bah (Kenneth Bamberger). The regal Mikado (Anton Quist) makes certain that the "punishment fit the crime"--that ludicrous laws decapitate luckless lovers. Fortunately, palmgreasing and artful seduction prevent anyone from getting hurt.

The Mikado's son, Nanki-Poo (Colum Amory), enters incognito because he is to be beheaded for refusing to marry the eminently unattractive Katisha (Laurie Myers). Nanki-Poo was counting on the imminent execution of his rival, Ko-Ko, thus facilitating his elopement with the delectable Yum-Yum (Amy Daley). To his chagrin, Ko-Ko is executioner rather than executed, and is about to marry Yum-Yum that very afternoon. Happily, Nanki-Poo is able to strike a deal with the Executioner. The Mikado's demand for an execution has imperiled Ko-Ko's life (he being the only person on death row at the time), so Nanki-Poo bargains to be executed in a month in Ko-Ko's place in exchange for Yum-Yum's hand. This seems quite fair because he cannot live without Yum-Yum anyway. Every-body is happy.

Of course, this is not to be. Katisha barrels in to claim her bridegroom, and all back-room bargains become bogus.

To say more would spoil the surprise. Suffice it to say that this production offers many visual treats, from outstandingly silly dances to the Mikado's entrance, which can only be described as sidesplitting in its humorous effect.

Mooradian and Bamberger give humorous, tour de force performances. As the ineptly scheming Ko-Ko, Mooradian is an outrageously unctious dirty old man, ogling the school girls, or melting in paroxysms of fright when he finds himself imperiled or actually called upon to perform his duty as executioner.

Ko-Ko's delightful distress with his new-found rank is capably contrasted by Pooh-Bah's ridiculous revelling in his. "Born sneering," Bamberger struts, nose in the air, squeamishly shrinking from the touch of commoners ("Lower than the rank of stockbroker"), except when money is in the commoner's hand. He repeatedly reminds the audience of his nobility, tracing his lineage back to his "protoplasmic ancestor."

Myers waxes wildly as the lust-crazed Katisha. She draws peals of laughter with her incongrous teeth-gnashing and parody of a broken-hearted ingenue (overweight, arthritis-ridden, and eminently unsuitable for the adolescent Nanki-Poo).

Bald, bellowing and looking like Geoffrey Holder in the 7-Up commercials ("Crisp and clean, no caffeine, ha ha ha!"), Quist's Mikado is truly hilarious. His effervescent "Let the punishment fit the crime" is one of the funniest moments of the production.

Uniformly good singing graces this production. Peter Hopkins (Pish-Tush) stands out for his remarkable bass. Romantic leads Daley and Avery also offer excellent musical performances but could ham it up more.

Modern lyrics are inserted into the libretto, most notably in the Lord High Executioner's "They'll none of them be missed." Far from being distracting, these modifications are tremendously funny.

Aficionados of lighting effects might be a bit disappointed by the production. But between pertinent parody and near-perfect performance, The Mikado is definitely worth seeing.