The Mikado | Opera Theatre of St. Louis

th_mikadoThis production would have easily succeeded, but the colorful costumes, fantastic singing, lively choreography, and the sheer spectacle of the show made sure that this Mikado was much more than "simply a comedy."





Directed by Ned Canty

By any definition of the word, Gilbert & Sullivan's operetta The Mikado is a comedy. The plot, characters, songs, costumes, and dialogue are all absurd and silly. Aristotle would deem the play a comedy because it ends with a wedding (actually two). Even Ned Canty, the director of this Opera Theatre of St. Louis rendition of The Mikado, goes out of his way to point out in the playbook that the operetta is not to be taken seriously: "However tempting it may be to view The Mikado as a searing indictment of capital punishment, the truth is that it is simply a comedy, in the most classic sense." In the most basic sense then, one can judge a staging of The Mikado as a comedy by how much they laughed during the performance. This production would have easily succeeded using these criteria, but the colorful costumes, fantastic singing, lively choreography, and the sheer spectacle of the show made sure that this Mikado was much more than "simply a comedy." Instead, the audience at the Loretto-Hilton Center was treated to an energetic and hilarious night of outlandish entertainment.

The Mikado's complicated plot revolves around a series of relationships and odd laws that govern these relationships. Noble and son of the Mikado (an equivalent to the country's king or president), Nanki-Poo arrives in the town of Titipu disguised as a street musician, looking to woo Yum-yum, a beautiful and free-spirited woman he saw a year ago. Though Yum-yum reciprocates his feelings, she is bound by law to be married to her guardian Ko-Ko, who was previously sentenced to death for flirting but has been let out on bail and appointed Lord High Executioner in order to spare his life. Ko-Ko soon receives a message from the Mikado saying that there have been too few executions since Ko-Ko has taken his post. Ko-Ko realizes that he is the most likely candidate for execution because of his flirting, so he jumps at the opportunity to have Nanki-Poo executed when Nanki-Poo expresses his desire to commit suicide because he cannot marry Yum-Yum. Further complicating things, Katisha is betrothed to Nanki-Poo and eventually finds him trying to woo Yum-Yum.

The plot is extremely convoluted on paper, but is easy to follow when watching The Mikado, especially when its songs emphasize plot points. Thus, the play is very accessible. W.S. Gilbert's writing has aged well, with the comedic situations the characters are thrust into bearing similarities to today's sitcoms. However, it wouldn't be entirely appropriate to say that the writing has aged, as many parts of the show have been updated to make topical references to today's culture. One of the better examples of this was found in Ko-Ko's song "The List", in which he describes the people he wouldn't mind executing. In this production, he sang something similar to, "The Democrats have funny names like Barrack and Hilary/ The Republicans are no better with Rudy, Newt, and Mitt/ But if you were to ask me who would win/ I couldn't give a… darn. They're all on the list." Sight gags were also apparent, as when the Mikado's orders for execution were sent to Ko-Ko via text messaging. These updates felt natural and helped accomplish the goal of making the audience laugh. It's worth noting that the show was updated as it went on in its original production, which helps explain why these updates worked. Sullivan's songs also remain relevant, simultaneously reflecting the mood of the character who sings them and being entertaining on their on terms. In short, The Mikado may not have an agenda beyond entertainment, but it easily accomplishes this goal.

Fortunately, Gilbert and Sullivan's popular play is put in good hands with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis. From Patrick Miller's dashing Elvis interpretation of Nanki-Poo, to Matt Boehler's effete portrayal of Pooh-Bah (the assistant to Ko-Ko), to Katherine Jolly's strong-willed embodiment of Yum-Yum, there is not a weak link to be found in the cast. Every actor and chorus performer played their part well and sang in fine voice, with great projection and hardly any off-key notes. David Kravitz in particular was outstanding as the well-meaning Ko-Ko; at one point he delivered a monologue so convincingly that the audience burst into applause upon its conclusion. In addition to the great cast, the sets were elaborate and colorful, which combined with the fantastically scripted and well-executed choreography to make for a visually pleasing night.

The night was not without its flaws. Screens around the stage displayed the words to the songs and made for a big distraction from the action on the stage. Though the screens may have benefited the mostly older audience, it made no sense to display the words to the songs but not the script. Also, the end of the play takes longer than necessary to reach its conclusion because most of the plot had to be wrapped up by song.

Nevertheless, The Mikado succeeded as a night of bombastic, joyous theatre. It did everything a musical is supposed to do: provide a night of great singing, dancing, acting, and fun. Despite a few flaws, The Opera Theatre of St. Louis provided its audience with a wonderful night of theatre that left its audience satisfied in nearly every respect. | Bob McMahon

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