Review: THE MIKADO Presented as a Thoroughly Entertaining Hip Update of Gilbert and Sullivan's Classic Spoof of British Nobility and Politics
Pacific Opera Projecta?? (POP) was founded in July of 2011 with the purpose of bringing accessible, affordable, and entertaining opera to audiences across Los Angeles at venues that are geographically convenient for communities with historically limited exposure to opera. Productions are incredibly modern in format, performed with traditional music although on occasion POP has been known to change a few lyrics to reflect our current society.
Such was the case in their reprise of its popular 2013 production of Gilbert and Sullivan's a??THE MIKADO a??at a??The Highland Park Ebell Club. I was in the audience on closing night along with a very appreciative packed house, enjoying POP's colorful production, called "about the most fun one can have in a Los Angeles theater right now," with cleverly modernized Harajuku costumes for the 28 singers designed by Maggie Green, inspired by the district of Tokyo famous for its wild mix of eye-popping colors and styles.
Directed by POP's Artistic Director a??Josh Shawa?? and Music Director a??Parisa Zaeri who a??leads the onstage chamber orchestra. THE MIKADO was presented with cleverly intricate fan choreography and zany antics, updated with a signature POP twist which included a reworked libretto, originally a thinly-veiled skewering of British nobility and politics, revamped to poke fun at current people and issues. The cast features a??the amazing talents of E. Scott Levin a??(Ko-Ko),a?? Phil Meyera?? (Pooh-bah),a?? Charlie Kim a??(Nanki-poo), Janet Todd a??(Yum-Yum), a??Matthew Welch a??(Mikado), a??Abbe Drake a??(Pitty-Sing), a??Tiffany Hoa?? (Peep-Bo), and a??Adelaide Sinclaira?? (Katisha).
Taking place in the fictitious town of Titipu, Japan, the story begins when a "Wandering Minstrel" named Nanki-Poo (in a Prince symbol t-shirt, no less!) arrives in search of his girlfriend, Yum-Yum, who is a ward of Ko-Ko, now the town's Lord High Executioner. But with no executions ever taking place in the town, all but one of the city officials serving under the command of Ko-Ko have been let go: a poor ex-tailor named Pooh-Bah, who takes delight in the resignation of his colleagues because he gets to collect their salaries. When asked about Yum-Yum (who records her every moment with selfies), Pooh-Bah reveals that she is supposed to be marrying Ko-Ko soon, resulting in the heartbroken Nanki-Poo accelerating his search for her.
Soon after he leaves, Yum-Yum enters along with Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, both of whom are also wards of Ko-Ko. Their ultra-cute trio "Three Little Maids Are We" was a real hit with the audience, infused with a very modern take on the power women have over men. Nanki-Poo comes in and meets with Ko-Ko, telling him that he and Yum-Yum are very much in love, but Ko-Ko quickly dismisses him.
So, of course Nanki-Poo discreetly makes his way over to Yum-Yum and tells her that he is actually the son and heir of the Mikado. He has been living a life in disguise because an older woman named Katisha in his father's court has been trying to marry him. Thus the plot is set in place to bring the two lovers together at the expense of Ko-Ko. And hilarity ensues!
Ensuring the fun is POP's signature audience request to raise their glasses and take a drink each time the word "Mikado" is spoken and the gong onstage is sounded. Actors pause the action to perform a short dance of respect as audience members partake of whatever adult beverage happens to be in their possession, increasingly the overall immersive quality of the production.
But the production really hit its high note with the arrival of Matthew Welch as The Mikado, dressed to the hilt as a German military officer who takes great pleasure in flaunting his hold over the people of Titipu by demanding they bow down to him as he struts his stuff around the stage. And when he discovers his missing son is there, soon to be executed by Ko-Ko, and Katisha arrives claiming she is already the wife of Nanki-Poo, you can guess what hits the fan! But it all done in good fun with tons of laughter filling the house!
POP's cleverly modernized productions are a real treat for opera and non-opera fans alike, with their sheer inventiveness in updating storylines to feature modern references a real laugh-fest for all. And don't miss POP's final 2019 production of its signature modern take on Puccini's a??LA BOHEME aka "The Hipsters" on December 5, 6, 7, 11, 13, 14, 2019 at 8pm at the Highland Park Ebell Club. With the story being the basis for our modern hit musical RENT, I certainly will make plans to be there and hope you do too!POP has just announcement their 2020 season which includes:
GIANNI SCHICCHI - PUCCINI
L'ENFANT ET LES SORTILÈGES - RAVEL
Thorne Hall, Occidental College | Thorne Rd, Los Angeles, CA
Dates: Saturday, January 25 at 3pm; Saturday, February 1 at 7pm; Sunday, February 2 at 3pm
COSÌ FAN TUTTE - MOZART
The El Portal Theatre | 5269 Lankershim Blvd. | North Hollywood, CA
Dates: Saturday, March 28 at 7pm; Sunday, March 29 at 3pm; Thursday, April 2 at 8pm; Saturday, April 4 at 7pm; Sunday, April 5 at 3pm
ERCOLE SUL TERMODONTE - VIVALDI
Highland Park Ebell Club | 131 S. Ave. 57 | Los Angeles, CA
Dates: Friday, July 10 at 8pm; Saturday, July 11 at 8pm; Friday, July 17 at 8pm; Saturday, July 18 at 8pm; Thursday, July 23 at 8pm; Friday, July 24 at 8pm; Saturday, July 25 at 8pm
THE PIRATES OF PENZANCE - GILBERT & SULLIVAN
Location and Dates TBD, September 2020
SUSANNAH - CARLISLE FLOYD
The Vortex | 2341 E Olympic Blvd | Los Angeles, CA 90021
Dates: Saturday, November 7 at 7pm; Sunday, November 8 at 3pm; Friday, November 13 at 8pm; Saturday, November 14 at 7pm, Sunday, November 15 at at 3pm
LA BOHEME AKA "THE HIPSTERS" - PUCCINI
Highland Park Ebell Club | 131 S. Ave. 57 | Los Angeles, CA
Dates: Friday, December 4 at 8pm; Saturday, December 5 at 8pm; Thursday, December 10 at 8pm; Friday, December 11 at 8pm; Saturday, December 12 at 8pm; Thursday, December 17 at 8pm; Friday, December 18 at 8pm; and Saturday, December 19 at 8pm.
Tickets for each performance can be purchased by visiting pacificoperaproject.com or by calling 323-739-6122. All shows except La Traviata offer seating at tables with food and wine included with ticket purchase.
Photo credit: Martha Benedict