The Mikado & The Yeoman of the Guard
Nobody would mistake the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players' productions of The Mikado and The Yeoman of the Guard for cutting edge theatre, even though both operettas feature ax-wielding executioners. No, for thirty-three seasons NYGASP has been charming audiences with mountings of G&S favorites performed in the traditional D'Oyly Carte style, but always energized with a modern sense of topsy-turvy. With stage and music direction by conductor, artistic director and set designer Albert Bergeret, both evenings feature lovely singing, delightful comedy and the sweet sounds of a twenty-five-piece orchestra.
First performed in 1885, The Mikado remains one of the English language's funniest and most sumptuously musical theatre pieces. Inspired by the British fascination with Japanese style and culture in the late 1800's, the operetta may be set in the fictitious town of Titipu in long-ago Japan, but it's clearly English manner and politics that W.S. Gilbert's libretto is spoofing. The story concerns a meek tailor named Ko-Ko who has been sentenced to be beheaded for the crime of flirting, but the people of Titipu decide instead to appoint him Lord High Executioner, figuring that since he's next in line to be executed, he can't cut off anyone else's head until he cuts his own off. Ko-Ko plans to marry his lovely ward Yum-Yum, but she's in love with the wandering minstrel named Nanki-Poo. When a dispatch from The Mikado of Japan advises that, since no one in Titipu has been executed for a year, somebody's head has to roll soon, otherwise well, heads will roll.
Some of the roles are double-cast in The Mikado. Stephen Quint, who I enjoyed immensely as Ko-Ko a year ago, once again displays a loveable and nimble flair for quips, patter and physical comedy. The excellent cast also includes NYGASP Mikado regulars Louis Dall'Ava as the enterprising Pooh-Bah (accomplishing some hilarious bits in an oversized fat suit), Keith Jurosko as a bloodthirsty Mikado, the powerfully-voiced Dianna Dollman as Katisha, a smarmy Edward Prostak as nobleman Pish-Tush and a daffy Melissa Attebury as Pitti-Sing. Daniel Lockwood and Elizabeth Hillebrand make for a spirited pair of lovers, Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum.
The Yeoman of the Guard is perhaps the most somber of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas, with its unsympathetic male romantic hero who shows no remorse for breaking the hearts of two people who helped save his life. But it's still packed with funny scenes and clever patters and its beautiful score features the popular madrigal, "I Have a Song to Sing, O!" Set in 16th Century England, it concerns Colonel Fairfax, an alchemist who is soon to be beheaded because a scheming relative who stands to inherit a fortune if Fairfax dies unmarried has charged him with sorcery. With only an hour left to live, Fairfax has a friend seek out any woman willing to marry him in exchange for 100 crowns. He finds Elsie Maynard, a strolling singer who entertains crowds with jester Jack Point, who is in love with Elsie and has been helping to take care of her sick mother. Elsie accepts the offer in order to save her mother's life, but they are unaware that Sergeant Meryll of the Yeoman of the Guard and his daughter Phoebe, who has fallen in love with the Colonel from afar, plan to rescue Fairfax, not knowing that doing so would leave Elsie legally wed to the escaped stranger.
Stephen Quint once again displays his comic expertise in the lead role of Jack Point, but this is a sweeter, gentler clowning assignment as an awkward suitor. His final tragic scene is beautifully touching. Erika Person and David Wannen provide the broader comedy highlights in this one, as the romantically starry-eyed Phoebe and the brutish Wilfred, the head jailor and assistant tormentor who courts her. David Root and Shana Farr (a last minute opening night replacement) have the unenviable task of trying to stir up emotions with the severely underwritten romantic roles of Fairfax and Elsie, but both sing attractively.
The Mikado and The Yeoman of the Guard are performed in repertory at City Center through January 14th. On January 11th, NYGASP will present a one-night engagement of the infrequently performed The Rose of Persia, with music by Sir Arthur Sullivan and a libretto by Basil Hood.
Photos by Carol Rosegg: Top: Laurelyn Watson Chase & Stephen Quint in The Mikado
Bottom: Louis Dall'Ava, Michael Scott Harris and Keith Jurosko in The Yeoman of the Guard