The Mikado May 2, 2008
A Light-Hearted and Contemporary Mikado at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
A friend and teacher of very bright high schoolers tells me that there is a Gilbert and Sullivan club amongst the wise-acre teens thereabouts. At first, I was astounded, expecting such organizations to exist maybe, in Laguna Woods where the whimsical works of these two gents might have been part of their upbringing. Yet, after seeing the really fresh and decidedly contemporary “Mikado” placed upon the boards of the Performing Arts Center over the weekend I am convinced these kids are actually pretty hip.The Carl Rosa Opera Company that produced this version of the great evergreen go to great pains to make it bright, colorful and very rich in the kind of detail that make for a strong pulse in a story created in 1885 and done, quite literally, thousands of times all over the world. When a piece is as well-known as this one and a percentage of the audience may be singing along you have to put a little wasabi on the dish to make it stand out. So this performance of the one hundred and twenty-plus year old comic opera had some surprises to go along with the delightful, expected songs and jocularity. What shocked those 19th century audiences and makes the piece rather amazing today is the central theme of death and suffering made trivial and funny. In a sense the Mikado is the first black musical comedy in the literature.Probably the most easily recognizable example of the fresh sheen on this evening's show was the thoroughly updated version of the well-remembered “Behold the Lord High Executioner” where the character of Ko Ko reads off a tongue in cheek list of people who would be missed if they were put to death. Included here were folks who had cell-phones active in the audience, Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John McCain and President Bush amongst many others. It made for good theater and connected the entire audience, at least all of us who would take a samurai sword to the cell-phone boors and maybe a couple of others. Director Peter Mulloy seemed to provide every delicious detail and the singing, acting, dancing and comic timing throughout was top drawer from start to finish in this over two hour long feast of fun and frolic. Also, the sets, lighting and costumes provided an excellent feel for what has always been an exotic locale, the ancient land of Japan.However, the bottom line in any Gilbert and Sullivan production is an adherence to the whimsical creation of an unpredictable situation played out to it’s extreme. There is no more bizarre and circuitous plot than the Mikado but suffice it to say it all worked out quite well at Cerritos. Much of this was due to the fine work of the entire cast but particularly from the superb George Rae as Ko Ko, Curtis Dabek as the mighty Mikado, the tireless Michael Kerry as Nanki Poo, multi-faceted Lesley Cox as Yum Yum, and Caroline Graham as the foreboding, yet empathetic Katisha. The large crowd on hand showed their appreciation with great applause at the rather spectacular conclusion proving that they could possibly be ready to join their own Gilbert and Sullivan club.