A great new Mikado production is waiting in the wings of the Bankhead Theatre in a few weeks. DON’T MISS IT!!!
This splendid show by the world famous Lamplighters Music Theatre will knock theatregoers’ socks off. I guarantee it! As an admitted fan, I eagerly await each new production, anxious to see how they can possibly outdo their previous theatrical triumphs. Somehow they always manage to do just that.
Their “New Mikado” is a case in point. Sweeping away all the old clichéd barnacles of “shtick," Director Ellen Brooks has produced a pure miracle of sincerity, humor, sentiment, and sensibility. After 55 years of seeing a Mikado every 4 to 5 years, this reviewer was overwhelmed by the superb acting and singing that raised the bar for future presentations.
Operatic voices of sweetness and power brought convincing life to the familiar characters, while gentle comedy encouraged audience chuckles at all -too- human foibles. This is no longer the exaggerated buffoonery of many such shows, but rather a wry and sympathetic observation of the human comedy. And, it’s loads of fun!
A run-away Prince in search of his true love, a desperate old maid clutching at her last chance for happiness, an autocratic ruler who must learn he cannot govern hearts, pompous noblemen who deserve a comeuppance, and innocent young school girls who learn about life outside their “ladies' seminary,” inhabit the stage in gorgeous Renaissance robes.
These characters involve the audience in their lives, encourage optimistic enthusiasm, and bring delighted satisfaction to listeners as their problems dissolve, to the tune of some of Arthur Sullivan’s most beautiful melodies, and Gilbert’s wittiest lyrics.
Special surprises await those who already “know the score” of this most popular musical comedy, as the Ducato always invents an up-to-the-minute list of social nuisances who ”never will be missed." This year’s roster pokes fun at such modern offenders as reckless Pokémon-Go seekers and certain very recognizable politicians.
Even funnier are the devilish punishments he has devised “to fit the crime” of each miscreant. (We need more judges like that!) His fiendishà chortles as he recounts his plans to “make each evil-liver a running river of harmless merriment” are priceless. Recent company addition Ben Brady impressed the audience (and this reviewer) with his powerful sonorous voice and appropriate facial expressions.
The Opening Night crowd was abuzz with anticipation of this new Mikado occasioned by the too-politically -correct complaints against stereotypical “Yellow Face” productions. Not that the Lamplighters had ever done any shows disrespectful of the imaginary lands of Gilbert and Sullivan’s creations. Most fans already knew that the famous duo was mocking British institutions in their scripts, not those of foreign lands. What Italians, for example, would take offense at the topsy-turvy world of “The Gondoliers”?
As beloved company conductor Baker Peeples, celebrating his 30th year, swung into the lively overture, everyone relaxed at the familiar musical magic, and prepared for an evening of great enjoyment. And, as usual, the Lamplighters more than fulfilled expectations with a crisp choral opening, each word wondrously articulated (a company hallmark).
Debuting as the male lead Niccolù (aka Nanki-Poo), Patrick Hagen, impressed immediately with his “rich, sweet, tenor tone” singing “A Wand’ring Minstrel I." His sweetheart Amiam (aka Yum-Yum), also a company new comer, Erin O’Meally, sang with a delightfully operatic lyric soprano and a lovely expressive face, both irresistibly charming.
“Newish” company lead Sam Rabinowitz was a sweetly comical Co-Co, disarmingly boyish, and fortunate in not having to struggle with the traditional overpowering big sword. What a relief! His wooing of the formidable Catiscia (aka Katisha) was done delicately, rather than desperately, also appreciated by the reviewer.
Perennially popular Charles Martin, last seen here as the Pirate King, was in rare form as the supremely snobbish Poobà, a great lord with deep pockets for bribes. (Does he remind you of any modern day politicians?) His haughty boast of “pre-Adam-ite ancestry” evoked laughter but adding that he could trace his origins back to a “primordial protoplasmic globule," brought down the house.
He then described his “degrading duty” to serve Co-Co, “a cheap tailor” suddenly elevated to the exalted rank of The Lord High Executioner. When all the great Officers of State resigned in a body Poobà “mortified his family pride” by accepting all their titles (and salaries, of course) from Lord Admiral and Archbishop down to the Groom of the Backstairs, a comical recital enhanced by disdainful delivery and an amazingly mobile face.
Co-Co further enlightened listeners with a tale of his surprising rise to power, from a convict awaiting execution (for flirting) to the grand expectation of marrying his adorable ward. Complications ensued when Nikolu (aka Nanki-Poo) arrived to confess his adoration for Co-Co’s fianceé Amiam.
It’s an impossible quandary, (or in the immortal lyrics of Gilbert, “Here’s a How-Dee-Doo”), until the arrival of the Ducato (Mikado) with his “daughter in-law elect”, a formidable Catiscia (Katisha), who has claimed Nikolu, the runaway prince, in marriage.
Unfortunately, Co-Co, to win royal favor, had falsely testified to Niccolù’s recent execution, and the penalty for killing the heir apparent is a hideous death (“boiling in oil or melted lead-something humorous” as the Ducato describes it.) Co-Co’s only possible salvation is to convince Catascia to marry him, eliminating her pursuit of Niccolù (who has just married Amiam, so is no longer eligible.)
Anne Hubbles's beautifully soulful lament about the sorrow of a lonely life magically transformed her from the traditional harridan to a sympathetic woman, a masterful directorial move. A fine actress, Hubble showed her touching vulnerability as Co-Co appealed to her emotions in the famous “Tit Willow” ballad, a sincerely moving moment.
Heroine Erin O’Meally, lovely in her Renaissance robes provided operatic lyricism in her showpiece solo “The sun whose rays are all ablaze." Breaking with stiff tradition, she was naturally winsome as a lady in love, and much appreciated by the audience. So was Michael Orlinsky (a recent LVO star), playing the laconic courtier Piccia Tuccia (Pish Tush), and singing in the memorably lovely madrigal.
Many behind-the-scenes stalwarts deserved hearty applause, from brilliant Stage Director Ellen Brooks to script revisionists including company masterminds Barbara Heroux and Rick Williams, brain- storming Managing Director Sarah Vardigans, Operations Manager and maid-of-all-works Joanne Kay, Lord High Costume Manager Judy Epstein, and the army of dedicated workers who helped transition this masterpiece into new realms of politically correct glory.
It also provided entrancing new details from the wandering players who entertained early audience arrivals to the Commedia delle’Arte “Zanies” who echoed stage action with silent mimicry-each a brilliant addition to a revitalized Mikado, not revised, but seen through a different cultural lens. Especially appreciated was the crowd’s chant of “Amor vincit omnia” (“Love conquers all”-the motto of Chaucer’s Prioress) to drown out Catiscia’s threats.
Gilbert and Sullivan fans and new comers alike will applaud this end-of-summer refresher during its weekend performances on August 27 and 28 at Livermore’s Bankhead Theater, 2400 First Street, www.bankheadtheater.org or 925-373-6800. This reviewer will be there as well, enjoying this great Mikado again.