The Mikado by Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Robert Boland
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"A more humane Mikado never did (in Japan) exist..."
Men of the ensemble with Matt Passetto (4th from left) and Matt Barbas (far right)
Michael Woolf as Ko-Ko, Passetto as Nanki-Poo and Ann Marie Desautelle as Yum-Yum; photos provided
To end their 85th season of community theater in the Berkshires The Town Players has chosen the delectable warhorse by Gilbert and Sullivan, The Mikado. A crowd-pleaser with more memorable tunes than "My Fair Lady" this operetta has played a significant role in the musical education and awareness of Americans than most people realize. In 1879, in an attempt to protect their work from being pirated by unscrupulous American producers, Gilbert and Sullivan came to New York to present The Pirates of Penzance on the very same night it was premiered in London. They did this to protect their copyrights to their own material. When The Mikado became their next smash hit in England, they returned to New York surreptitiously in 1885 to again present the work themselves. For this piece they wrote a song for Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, "Iíve got a little list" which enumerated the various types of people who should be executed. Later in the operetta they gave the Mikado himself a song about his "object all sublime - to let the punishment fit the crime." Surely they were thinking about the constant theft of their best material by the American producers who were profiting from their activities.
In Robert Bolandís production none of this history is heavily emphasized. Instead the "object all sublime" is visual fun. He gently pokes at traditions here. Set in Japan, the cast eschew slanty eyes and black wigs. The traditional performances methods are put aside and a more modern, physical ease is substituted. Even the male chorus gets to play in an American style as they ask us if we know who they are, these "gentlemen of Japan." We donít. What we do know is they are our neighbors having a good time with a good-time piece.
There are some wonderful, enthusiastic and cherishable amateur performances on the stage at the Koussevitsky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College. Matt Passetto sings beautifully as the young hero, Nanki-Poo. His tenor voice is ideally suited to the role and even though he never receives a costume befitting his rank and station, he has a glorious time prancing about the stage in his oriental pajama. As his beloved, Yum-Yum (and who can hate a show where the heroine is a Yum Yum) Ann Marie Desautelle proves his equal. Her second act aria (read song) "The sun whose rays are all ablaze..." is performed with both grace and a sharpened tone that is truly beautiful.
The accidental mentor of their love, Ko-Ko, is played by Michael Woolf, complete with Japanese-style hair by Diane Oliver, and a slight snicker-snee, the smallest in recent memory. It is a joke, I am sure, of the designer, Robert Boland, signifying the characterís insignificance as a lover. When he draws it in Act Two, singing of the death of his rival, it is a clever visual analogy for the ineffectual nature of Ko-Ko. Later in the act he is forced to woo the villainess, Katisha, played and sung brilliantly by Kara Powers Demler. Only her makeup leaves something to be desired, especially when she describes herself as plain. This Katisha is a beauty.
Monica Bliss is a wonderful Pitti-Sing, particularly in the quartet "Brightly dawns our wedding day..." and Jessica A. Guzzo does a nice job as the mocking sister, Peep-Bo. Matt Barbas is a hysterically funny Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else. As the Mikado, himself, Walter Moore is almost perfection.
The sets by Robert Boland have an oriental simplicity that works nicely for this production. The two side stages could have been angled slightly to aid sight-lines, but thatís a small quibble for something as beautiful as his stage picture. The costumes by the same designer are exquisite. Thomas J. Blalock does a fine job lighting director Bolandís best stage moments.
As a fitting tribute to the 85 years of sometimes exquisite work by this community group, The Mikado is a lovely way to say goodbye to the season. Itís a pity that it only plays for four performances. After such a long history, for both show and company, it really should stick around for a while; the sum, after all, should be the equal of its parts.
The Mikado runs on The Robert Boland Stage at the Koussevitsky Arts Center at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield through June 17. Friday and Saturday performances at 8PM, Sunday at 2PM. Tickets are $18 ($15 for seniors, students and groups). For reservations call 413-443-9279.