The Mikado 2014

Composer Arthur Sullivan and librettist W.S. Gilbert collaborated on 14 comic operettas over a 25-year period in the late 19th century, originally produced by Richard D’Oyly Carte at the Savoy Theatre in London’s West End. Many of these, including The Mikado, remain well known and in continuous production throughout the English speaking world.

The Mikado, which made fun of English bureaucracy, thinly disguised by a Japanese setting, was first produced in 1885 and was the most successful of the Savoy Operas, with 672 performances. 

Why the enduring popularity of the Gilbert and Sullivan catalogue? The spirited music, the memorable melodies, the irreverence towards the pompous, and the humorous plots are certainly a big part of their continuing appeal. The Mikado is typical of the G&S catalogue where each absurdity is taken to its logical conclusion-for example, flirting is a capital offense, and without an imminent execution, the city of Titipu (where the action takes place) will be reduced to village status. 

The Mikado 2014
[The Mikado cast and crew]

The story focuses on a “cheap tailor,” Ko-Ko (Russell Cripps), who is promoted to the position of Lord High Executioner of Titipu. Ko-Ko loves his ward, Yum-Yum (Laura Luongo), but she loves a musician, Nanki-Poo (Thomas Lamont), in reality the son of the Emperor of Japan-the Mikado (Eric Biskupski), disguised to escape the attentions of the elderly and amorous Katisha (Cathy Wilmot).

The Mikado has decreed that executions in Titipu must resume without delay. When news arrives that he will be visiting the town, Ko-Ko assumes that the Emperor is coming to ascertain whether he has carried out his directive. Too timid to execute anyone, he cooks up a conspiracy to misdirect the Mikado, which goes awry. Eventually, Ko-Ko must persuade Katisha to marry him, in order to save his own life and the lives of the other conspirators.

The Mikado 2014
[Joseph Byrtus, Scott MacGrath, Richard Hobson, Andrew Sammons, Jesse Inocalla, Attila Mityok, Bon Dos Remedios]

In the Metro Theatre’s production of The Mikado, the infectious joy demonstrated by everyone involved was evident throughout the two and a half-hour show. This enthusiasm spilled over into the audience, who in turn got fully caught up in the spirit and fun of the music and action. This speaks well to the direction of Alison Schamberger

The curtain opener sets the mood for the rest of the show: a simple but well-designed and well-lit set, and a male chorus dressed in beautiful kimonos, followed by the first aria (“A Wandering Mistrel I”) sung by Thomas Lamont. Mr. Lamont has an absolutely enchanting tenor voice that fills the whole theatre. The audience is from this point fully engaged in the performance. 

The Mikado 2014
[Jonathan Ichikawa, Russell Cripps, Vanessa Coley-Donohue]

Jonathan Kripps as Ko-Ko, Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa as Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else, and Yum-Yum and her sisters Pitti-Sing (Vanessa Coley-Donahoe) and Peep-Bo (Jennifer Moran) present the other main roles in the first act. They are all solid and enthusiastic performers. Mr. Ichikawa is very effective in bringing out the satiric humour of his role as the self-sacrificing bureaucrat in charge of almost everything, and a prompt decision maker if the price is right.

The second act introduces the Mikado and Katisha. Both Mr. Biskupski and Ms. Wilmot are welcome additions to the cast seen to this point. Ms. Wilmot in particular immediately captures your attention. She has an excellent voice, plays an interesting character in Katisha, and as a bonus, wears a most beautiful stand-out costume of deep red.

Mention must be made of an unscheduled player, Debra Devonne, whose lovely voice comes from the orchestra pit. She sang the role of Yum-Yum during the performance I saw. While Ms. Luongo continued on stage, she was unable to sing due to a problem of loss of voice. That this last-minute correction worked is a tribute to the professionalism of both cast and production crew.

The Mikado
[Eric Biskupski, Thomas Lamont, Cathy Wilmot]

The overall presentation is of a uniformly high quality. Brian Ball’s set, as mentioned above, is simple but well designed in a recognizable Japanese style. And Les Erskine once again lights the stage to very effectively enhance the set and the performers. Vanessa Coley-Donahoe does double duty as Pitti-Sing and as dance captain, ably assisting Choreographer Dawn Ewen.

The orchestra, under the direction of Spencer Bach as Musical Director and Stewart Yu as Conductor, provide a sound that is larger than their numbers would suggest. The costumes are beautiful. If you’re a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, this Metro Theatre production is worth catching, and if you’ve never experienced a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, this is a great opportunity to see what you’ve been missing. 
The Mikado continues at the Metro Theatre Thursday through Sunday until May 3. Photos by Tracy-Lynn Chernaske.

About Our Contributor Michael Pigeon

Michael Pigeon

Michael is a long-time Vancouver resident who's recently returned home after living abroad for over a decade. Michael enjoys reconnecting with Canadian culture through the Greater Vancouver theatre scene and being retired in a city that offers so many opportunities to live a healthy, engaged lifestyle.

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