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'The Mikado' Opens ACT I's 20th Season

History tells us that London was caught up in some sort of Japanese fervor in 1885 when Gilbert and Sullivan debuted their newest comic opera, The Mikado or The Town of Titipu at the Savoy Theatre. And now, 124 years later, Nashville theatre-goers may find themselves in a similar state, thanks to a superior production of the entertaining work, which bows as the first show in the 20th anniversary season from ACT 1, one of Tennessee's best community theatre groups.

Directed by Bob Fish, with music direction by Lee Druce, The Mikado is a tuneful and amusing season opener, with a strong cast of outstanding singers who give fine voice to the broadly drawn characters. Performed in the intimate confines of the Darkhorse Theatre, ACT I's Mikado is stylishly designed, creatively staged and colorfully delivered by the cast of veteran local actors.

Opening with "If You Want to Know Who We Are," featuring the men of the chorus (Andrew Drumheller, Jamie Helms, Josh Matthews, Danny Proctor, Daniel Vincent) and the noble Pish-Tush (Steven Luboniecki), the play is almost completely sung-through, as in opera, with some of the lighter comic elements that distinguish grand opera from operetta.

Daniel Sadler is in fine voice and is well-cast as Nanki-Poo, the prodigal son of The Mikado of Japan. It seems that Nanki-Poo is on the lam after refusing to marry the 50-something Katisha (the richly voiced steamroller played by Francine Berk), a deed that carries with it a death sentence. Nanki-Poo is searching for the real love of his life, Yum-Yum (the delightfully playful Whitney Rose Cone) who, alas, is betrothed to her foster father, KoKo (the charming James Rudolph, who displays a deft hand at comedy), a cheap tailor in the town of Titipu, who's now The Lord High Executioner. With the assistance of Pooh-Bah, "The Lord High Everything Else" (it's wonderful to see John P. Wilson still entertaining audiences with his trademark flair), KoKo holds sway over his city.

Sadler makes his musical entrance with the classic "A Wand'ring Minstrel, I" and Cone makes her initial appearance along with her sisters Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo (Val Navarre and Vicki White) with the perhaps even better known "Three Little Maids from School Are We." The musical highlights of Act Two are "The Flowers That Bloom in Spring," (which features Sadler, Rudolph, Cone, Navarre and Luboniecki), "See How the Fates Their Gifts Allot" (giving L.T. Kirk his moment in the spotlight as The Mikado of Japan, come to Titipu in search of his wayward progeny), and the finale "For He's Gone and Married Yum-Yum," which showcases the talents of the complete ensemble (including the women of the chorus: Amber Boyer, Megan Hunt, Brenda Jones, Tricia Musser and Becca Nelson) and fills the Darkhorse Theatre with some beautiful moments.

It's all quite fanciful and completely fantastic, but there is such good humor and so much memorable music to be found in The Mikado that audiences-whether contemporary or historic-can find much in which to take pleasure. No wonder Gilbert and Sullivan remain as relevant today as they were in their heyday.

There are some new lyrics added to a couple of songs to update them for contemporary Nashvillians. Whether that's good or bad is clearly fodder for debate; certainly, it elicits laughs, and helps connect the audience to the piece. But Gilbert and Sullivan's original words would work just as well. Hence, the debate. However, it makes perfect sense to update the lyrics: After all, The Mikado was written as it was-and set in Japan as it is-to allow Messrs. Gilbert and Sullivan to poke fun at and satirize the very British citizenry for whom they were providing entertainment via the D'Oyly-Carte Opera Company.

Fish's direction is very fluid and remains true to the nature of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, giving a vivid visual picture of the onstage action. Music director Druce, conducting his six-person ensemble, provides a much bigger sound than expected from such a small orchestra. Mark Lynn's colorful costumes are lovely and Steven Steele's lighting design adds to the overall effect of Pete Hiett's simple, yet evocative, scenic design.

 

--The Mikado or The Town of Titipu. Presented by ACT 1. Libretto by W.S. Gilbert. Music by Arthur Sullivan. Directed by Bob Fish. Music direction by Lee Druce. Produced by Donald Powell, Jennifer Rybolt and Sue Stinemetz. At Darkhorse Theatre, 4610 Charlotte Avenue, Nashville. Through August 22. Visit the website at www.act1online; for reservations, call (615) 726-2281.


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