Theatre Mirror Reviews - "The Mikado"

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entire contents copyright 2005 by Tony Annicone

"The Mikado"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

River Rep, the professional New York repertory theatre company's third show of their 19th season at the historic Ivoryton Playhouse is Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado". This show was first produced in 1885 and ran for 672 performances in London and 430 on Broadway. The subject of many recordings, film and television versions, including one with Groucho Marx in 1960 on The Bell Telephone Hour and one with Eric Idle of Monty Python fame in 1992. The 1999 film Topsy-Turvy revealed how "The Mikado" was created, attracting a new audience. Gilbert reportedly chose Japan as an exotic location to parody contemporary Victorian England, and its human foibles and political hypocrisy. He concocted an elaborate plot about various characters including starcrossed lovers beset by local functionaries. Set in the town of Titipu, a wandering minstrel, Nanki-Poo searches for his love, Yum-Yum. Her guardian, Ko-Ko who had been condemned to death under the Mikado's decree against flirting, has been reprieved and raised to the exalted rank of Lord High Executioner. Nanki-Poo, in reality the Mikado's son, discovers that his beloved Yum-Yum is betrothed to her guardian, a fact revealed by Pooh Bar (Lord Everything Else) and Pish-Tush (a noble lord). When the Mikado laments the lack of executions scheduled for Titipu, a victim is needed to the consternation of all. However the conflicts are resolved, a beheading is avoided and all ends happily. (What else do expect, the show was written in 1885.) Director Owen Thompson, musical director Steven Katz and choreographer Lisa Ann Goldsmith take this old chestnut of a show, giving it a new slant with wonderful acting, glorious singing and inventive dances with fans and twirling parasols. This colorful and splendid rendition will leave you laughing all night long, making it a wonderful way to spend an evening during the summer.

Owen casts each of the roles perfectly, getting the best out of everyone. He uses a small chorus which helps you to understand Gilbert's witty lyrics and devises many comic, farcical scenes invoking much laughter. Steve gets a fantastic sound from the entire cast especially in the intricate harmonies of the trios, quartets and the separate male and female choruses and duets. The soloists excel in their various numbers. The two keyboard players, Paul Feyer andd John Pike do excellently with this huge score. Lisa's choreography reminds you of "The King & I" with its Oriental flavor including the numerous fan dances. The courtroom and garden of Titipu unit set design is by Harry Feiner and the numerous and gorgeous costumes are by Solveig Pflueger. The splendid lighting which makes the set look beautiful is by Marty Vreeland and Rychard Curtiss is the stage manager who keeps his large cast moving on and offstage smoothly during the whole show.

Warren Kelley is fantastic as Ko-Ko. He is dressed as a court jester and reminds you of Danny Kaye with his wacky line deliveries and rubbery legs while he is acting and dancing. His facial expressions and comic timing are brilliant, too. One of his comic solos "Titwillow" is hilarious as woos the ugliest woman in town, Katisha played perfectly by Joan Shepard. Katisha wants to marry Nanki-Poo and is an evil and rotten person. Joan enters the stage dressed almost like Brunhilde, grabs her breast to show her lust for her missing young lover. (One of the most hilarious moments in the show.) Joan and Warren are a hoot, stealing many scenes they are in.

The star-crossed lovers are wonderfully played by Kristopher Lowe and Adina Verson. Kristopher's magnificent tenor voice soars off the scale in his many songs including "Wandering Minstrel, I" and "The Flowers in Spring, Tra La". Adina's soprano is lovely in all her songs including "Three Maids" with her sisters and her solo "The Sun whose rays are all ablaze" where she sings about how glorious she is. The dragoon of the show is Poo Bah played perfectly by Michael McCoy. His role is a corrupt government official combined into one person to show how bribery will get you places. His bass/baritone voice is very powerful and delightful to listen to in his solos and in the harmony sections of various numbers, too. Jenn Thompson is Pitti-Sing and Sarah Cooney is Peep-Bo, Yum-Yum's sisters. They have gorgeous voices in "Three Little Maids" and "Braid The Hair" and handle their comic roles beautifully. Evan Thompson plays the high ruler of Japan, the Mikado. His solo "A More Humane Mikado" shows the falsehood of the head of state's belief in archaic laws of the land. David Hamilton as Pish-Tush leads the male chorus in "Our Great Mikado" with his strong singing voice. The fantastic chorus includes Michael Cartwright, Raymond Churchill, Sean Hopkins, Corey Johnson, Adam Riccio, Lisa Ann Goldsmith, Renee Molnar-Haines, Tara Michelle Newinsky, Lauren Schroeder and Vira Slywotzky. So for one of the best renditions of this 220 year old show, be sure to catch River Rep's "The Mikado" at the air conditioned Ivoryton Playhouse, before time runs out.

THE MIKADO ( 27 July - 6 August 6)
River Rep, Ivoryton, CT
1 ( or
"The Mikado" (27 July - 6 August)
Ivoryton Playhouse, 103 Main Street, IVORYTON CT
1(860) 767-2984

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