BWW Review: A Melange of Musical Theatre and Opera in THE MIKADO
Music by Arthur Sullivan, Libretto by W. S. Gilbert, Directed and Staged by Spiro Veloudos; Music Director, Jonathan Goldberg; Additional Lyrics by Deb Poppel, Bob Jolly, Jonathan Goldberg; Orchestrations by Jonathan Goldberg; Scenic Design, Janie Howland; Costume Design, Rafael Jaen; Lighting Design, Karen Perlow; Production Stage Manager, Robin Grady; Assistant Stage Manager, Nerys Powell
CAST: Leigh Barrett, Rishi Basu, Teresa Winner Blume, Christina English, Stephanie Granade, Bob Jolly, David Kravitz, Joelle Kross, Kathryn McKellar, Brandon Milardo, Davron S. Monroe, Brian Richard Robinson, Timothy John Smith, Matt Spano, Erica Spyres
Let the word go forth that the Boston musical theatre and opera communities are a wellspring of vocal talent, and fifteen of these individuals are gathering nightly at the Lyric Stage Company for an energetic and virtuosic production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado under the direction of Artistic Director Spiro Veloudos. By his side is maestro Jonathan Goldberg as Music Director, Orchestrator, and Keyboard 1 in the five-piece orchestra that vibrantly brings the fictional Japanese town of Titipu to life in song.
One of the most popular and successful of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operettas, The Mikado is the story of a beautiful young schoolgirl, Yum-Yum (a truly effervescent Erica Spyres) who is betrothed to Ko-Ko (Bob Jolly), the Lord High Executioner, but her heart belongs to a wandering minstrel, Nanki-Poo (Davron S. Monroe). Unbeknownst to the villagers, Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado or Emperor (Timothy John Smith) and traveling in disguise to evade the elderly and unattractive Katisha (Leigh Barrett) who has a claim on him. Are you with me so far?
Meanwhile, the pressure is on Ko-Ko to behead someone, anyone, to satisfy the blood lust of the Mikado, and he consults with Pooh-Bah (David Kravitz), aka the Lord High Everything Else, Pish-Tush (Rishi Basu), and the other Noblemen of Titipu (Brando Milardo, Brian Richard Robinson, and Matt Spano) to make the right selection (“I’ve Got a Little List”). Jolly is at his comedic best rattling off all the categories of people who would not be missed should their heads fall victim to his sword. Deb Poppel, Jolly, and Goldberg collaborated on changes to the book and lyrics to connect the Lyric Stage’s version to present day social and political circumstances and make it feel fresh.
It is no surprise that Veloudos hits the satire out of the park, but he also gets credit for staging, which might best be defined as movement to music. It’s not intricate choreography, but everyone moves well and keeps the songs from feeling static. The team of designers provides the audience with a sumptuous visual palette. Janie Howland’s set of simple screens and platforms is framed by boughs of cherry blossoms, accented by Karen Perlow’s lighting design. Rafael Jaen costumes the actors in a diverse array of kimonos, using pastels and floral patterns for the Schoolgirls, regal red and purple for the Mikado, darker tones for the Noblemen, and virginAl White for Yum-Yum on her wedding day.
It’s a toss-up as to which is more absurd – the characters or the mores of Titipu. Ko-Ko was to be beheaded for flirting, only to win a last-minute reprieve and get appointed to the important job of executioner, notwithstanding the fact that he’s never attempted the skill. His right hand man Pooh-bah wears as many titles as he possibly can, from Chief of Staff, to Chief Justice, to Secretary of the Treasury, etc., and is often seen advising Ko-Ko with several conflicting opinions on the same subject. Among the many little-known laws and customs, when a man is beheaded, his wife must be buried alive. This unpleasant news puts a damper on the impending wedding plans of Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo as he has volunteered to be Ko-Ko’s first victim after one month of marriage. The bride reconsiders her options - true love only goes so far – but cooler heads prevail to find a workable solution to all of the problems.
Veloudos definitely found the solution to the biggest challenge of staging The Mikado as every member of the ensemble sings the hell out of the almost entirely sung score. Most of the principals have performed at the Lyric Stage before, but nearly half of the cast are making their debuts, although they have impressive credits in both opera and theatre elsewhere. Barrett parades good comic skills and is in fine voice, and Smith, in keeping with his character, is over the top. Kravitz, Basu, Spyres, and Monroe all stand out vocally. At times, the book of The Mikado is a little too silly for my taste, but the music and presentation here make it a delight.