Review: The Mikado

Originally reviewed for

I remember seeing a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 operetta The Mikado when I was a kid and thinking it was one of the most hilarious things I had ever seen. So, when I saw that, in this slow-as-usual January, the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players would be presenting it, I jumped at the opportunity to see it again.

Even though it’s set in a Japanese village, The Mikado is about as jolly British as you can get — I was also curious to see if it was more racist than I remember. Hardly! It’s far too briskly silly and willfully inauthentic to be taken as saying anything about Japan or the Japanese. Casting a few more Asian actors who could use the work might have been nice (I counted one), but Japan is an almost arbitrary setting that mostly justifies colorful costumes (which costumer designers Gail J. Wofford and Kayko Nakamura delivered in spades).

In the village of Titipu, beautiful school girl Yum-Yum loves the romantic minstrel Nanki-Poo but is engaged to Ko-Ko the executioner (who has a list of potential victims but is too sensitive to actually perform his duties). This romantic triangle is further entangled by the arrival of the fearsome Katisha, claiming Nanki-Poo as her “perjured lover,” and later the emperor, or “Mikado,” himself.

This production hits the right tone of silly fun but doesn’t go far enough with it. To my taste, the more The Mikado is done with barely controlled insanity, the better it is. While a handful of performers approach this — particularly Louis Dall’Ava as the comically corrupt bureaucrat Pooh-Bah — in general the humor in this production is too tame by half. It’s often half-hearted, but at least that half is in the right place.

There is nothing half-hearted about the musical side of this Mikado, though, and the principal pleasure here is hearing the score, one of the most glittering in all of operetta, done with such passion and dedication. This Mikado will not likely create any new lovers of operetta, but should satisfy the already converted.

For tickets, click here.

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