Silliness and Satire about in The Mikado, Mostly Silliness
The Seattle Gilbert and Sullivan Society has mounted a superb production of “The Mikado, or the Town of Titipu”, at the Seattle Rep Bagley Wright Theatre. The beautiful voices, the familiar music, the dramatic scenery, the Japanese costumes and their accompanying fans (snapped loudly open or closed), the faux Japanese dances, all add up to a great theater experience.
Gilbert and Sullivan lived in London in Victorian times and were partners in producing comic operettas. All operettas were considered entertainment for the middle class who didn’t have the education or taste to appreciate high opera. W.R. Gilbert wrote the libretto and Arthur Sullivan composed the music. Although they had a scrappy relationship, with frequent tiffs over the worthiness of the subjects, they wrote very popular theatrical pieces.
Gilbert was a word smith and had a great sense of the absurdity of the aristocracy and the existing government, which he excoriates in the productions. Sullivan was a gifted musician who wanted to be recognized and respected as a composer and felt he was demeaning himself by working on these “cheap” operettas.
“The Mikado” was the ninth of their fourteen productions. It opened in 1885 in London and ran for 672 performances at the Savoy Theatre. Before the end of the year, 150 theaters in the US and the UK had mounted it. One of the beauties is that Gilbert and Sullivan used the current political situations as fodder for satirical remarks. This was continued through the ages.
The play first opens on a simple but very evocative stage by scenic designer Nathan Rodda. There are two, two-staired platforms with Asian design balustrades, painted in the vermillion color that Japanese artists mark their signature chop on their paintings and calligraphy. Behind those is a large Japanese screen with a country scene seemingly standing on pillars in the same design as the balustrades. For act two, the same stairs are used but arranged differently and an evening sky made with light is the backdrop, with branches of cherry blossom hang in the sky.
Act one opens with two Japanese gentlemen talking in the courtyard of Ko-Ko’s palace. Ko-Ko (John Brooks), formerly a cheap tailor who was sentenced to a beheading for flirting, is now the Lord High Executioner (Dave Ross), the most powerful rank in Titipu. Two big wigs, a noble, Lord Pish-Tush (William J. Darkow), and Poo-Bah, Lord High of Everything Else (Craig Cantley), are discussing the affairs of the day in the city of Titipu.
An itinerant musician, Nanki-Poo (Derek Sellers), actually the sole heir of the Mikado, is in love with Ko-Ko’s ward Yum Yum (Alexa Jarvis). She’s in love with Nanki-Poo but is betrothed to Ko-Ko. Yum-Yum and her sisters Pitti-Sing (Stacey Porter) and Peep-Bo (Miranda Troutt) conspire with Yum Yum to find a way to get out of marrying the much older Ko-Ko.
A continuous run of ridiculous events ensue, with all the participants wanting to keep their heads on their shoulders.
Since becoming the Lord High Executioner there have been no beheadings because of Ko-Kos is too tender hearted to countence killing someone. Ko-Ko may lose his post if there isn’t an execution within a month. If there’s no beheading, Ko-Ko is designated to die but how can he behead himself? Nanki-Poo agrees to be beheaded if he can marry Yum-Yum and stay married for a month; the bargain is struck.
At the beginning of the second act, the curtain opens with the lovely Yum-Yum displayed in a glass case similar to the ones that tourists bring home from Japan.
The Mikado is prompted to come to Titipu by Katisha (Christine Goff), an elderly, spiteful and lonely woman, who’s been bethrothed to Nanki-Poo and she’s determined to marry. She had her spies out to find him. That’s why Nanki-Poo ran away from the court. He met Yum-Yum while playing music in a village event. When daddy Mikado arrives, he gives a satiric discourse on the major problems and mistakes of digging the Big Bertha tunnel.
Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are already married and finally Ko-Ko agrees to marry Katisha. There is peace in Titipu and a rousing song follows.
The production is full of really funny slapstick and incongruences. Ko-Ko is actually a slight man, but when he wears his sword, the snickersnee, it’s about seven or eight feet long. You can imagine the swinging around possibilities and the hasty movements.
“The Mikado” has only one more day of performances, July 26: the matinee is at 2 p.m. and the evening performance is at 7:30. For information, go to the website www.pattersong.org and follow the link to buy tickets, or go directly to the ticket buying website.