Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Mikado"

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note: entire contents copyright 1999 by Larry Stark


"The Mikado"

"A New Musical"

Book and Lyrics by W. S. Gilbert
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Larry Carpenter
Choreographed by Daniel Pelzig
Musical Director Jim Coleman

Scenic Design by James Leonard Joy
Costume Design by Mariann Verheyen
Lighting Design by Donald Holder
Sound Design by John A. Stone
Production Stage Manager Renee Brown

Ko-Ko......................Larry Paulson
Katisha..................Marsha Bagwell
The Mikado...........Kenneth Kantor
Nanki-Poo..............Eric van Hoven
Pooh-Bah....................J. B. Adams
Yum-Yum...............Marie Danvers
Pish-Tush...................James Javore
Peep-Bo........Colleen Firstenberger
Pitti-Sing.....................Kari McGee
Gentlemen of Japan
William Scott Brown, David Eiduks, Aaron M. Engebreth, Daryl Reuben Hall, Brad D. Peloquin, Alan W. Schneider, William Schumacher, David Craig Starkey
Schoolgirls
Heidi Lynn Anderson, Stephanie Buckley, Heidi Clark, Catherine Anne Gale, Deborah van Renterghem
Stagehands
Jeffrey Herman, Robert Isaacson, Dana Knox, Mark Van Savage

Orchestra
Violin...................Lucy Pope
Violin.........Stanley Silverman
Viola..................Michael Loo
Cello..................Sandy Kiefer
Bass.....................Barry Smith
Flute................Doug Worthen
Oboe....................Rod Ferland
Clarinet............Bill Carmichael
Bassoon...............Judy Bedford
Trumpet......................Jay Daly
Percussion.......Mark Worgaftik
Piano......................Cathy Rand


There are two schools of thought about Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Preservationists lovingly attempt to re-create as faithfully as possible the d'Oyly Carte or King James version handed down from W. S. Gilbert himself, while upstarts (equally lovingly) attempt to approach each show with inventive originality. Now "different" does not always automatically mean "better" but on the other hand few modern companies are heir to the vocal and physical resources available in Victorian England. My preference has usually been for inventive rather than traditional, and Larry Carpenter's re-creation of "The Mikado" first for the Huntington Theatre Company and now transplanted to the round North Shore Music Theatre stage, is the best argument I can think of for this point of view.

Carpenter starts the show not in Japan, but in "MacKenzie's Theatrical Warehouse, England" where a cast of knickered performers are gradually, throughout the first act, introduced to their costumes and hand-props for the show. Overseeing the act are a sternly imperious director (the English call him "the producer") who comes on in the second act as The Mikado (Kenneth Kantor), and a no-nonsense costume mistress who re-appears later as Katisha (Marsha Bagwell). In the first number, the stagehands produce fans out of their props-basket which get flipped to the entire chorus and, by the end of that first number ("If You Want to Know Who We Are") the ragged, individualistic Englishmen have transformed themselves into a precisely unified Nipponese-looking cadre missing only the sumptuous costumes and stylized headdressings of the second, Japanese act.

The wry English pomposity that infuses this cast keeps breaking out of the Japanese stylizations --- for instance, when The Mikado lifts the hem of his gown to reveal, as on a little puppet-stage, his knickered legs involved in an intricate soft-shoe. But these interludes and asides come as this excellent cast proceeds to do the traditionally preposterous plot as honestly and as decoration-free as possible.

In fact, for me the in-costume out-of-costume gimmick worked admirably well for what becomes a love-duet late in the second act between the large, ugly harridan Katisha and the spindly little patter-singer Ko-Ko. She has fancied herself betrothed to the romantic lead Nanki-Poo (Eric van Hoven) and the plot demands that Ko-Ko get her to marry himself instead. The standard staging is excuse for takes and asides and decorative shtick galore, exaggerating their grudging incompatibility until, like an amorous preying-mantis, she has him for lunch.

Here, however, the entire scene is played back-stage, and out of costume. Katisha in a dressing-gown sings the heart-rending "Alone, and Yet Alive!" to her dressing-table mirror, wiping makeup as well as tears away while Ko-Ko overhears and, also out of costume, offers marriage not so much as a bombastic character, but as an actor offering genuine love to a fellow performer. And, since they are the most interesting and accomplished members of this cast, their union actually upstages that of Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum (Marie Danvers)! Traditional Preservationists may sniff, but the whole scene takes on a new life and meaning all its own.

Sumptuous is the only word for Mariann Verheyen's lavish costumes. Through most of the second act the four Stagehands stand holding and occasionally twirling huge banner-poles, and their costumes are more elaborately decorated than the entire cast would be in many a Broadway musical. Most of James Leonard Joy's scenic design stayed at the Huntingdon Theatre, but the costumes and Choreographer Daniel Pelzig's groupings and movements on the new round stage easily compensate.

The North Shore Music Theatre has collaborated with other companies in the past, but this is the first time an in-Boston production has moved out to Beverly with only a brief week-end of rehearsals to re-block and re-choreograph. Press-night looked a bit nervous, but this fine cast should be perfectly at home by now, and exciting and amazing a whole new audience with their precision and originality.

Love,
===Anon.


"The Mikado" (till 18 July)
NORTH SHORE MUSIC THEATRE
62 Dunham Road, BEVERLY
1(978)922-8500

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