We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, January 7, 2024


 The Gilbert and Sullivan Players presents THE MIKADO

Dank was the night and gloomy were our spirits; but three minutes of Arthur Sullivan's tunes and our smile might have lit up the stage of The Kaye Playhouse. For three hours we were transported to the Japan of Victorian Era England. It hadn't been long since Japan had become open to the West and the English were fascinated by Japanese artifacts.

Indeed, in the clever prologue devised by David Auxier-Loyola, we get to see an imagined scene in the offices of the D'Oyly Carte Company in which W.S. Gilbert (played by Mr. Auxier himself) gets his idea for The Mikado from examining a selection of Japanese objets d'art. Gilbert and his composer partner Arthur Sullivan (played by David Macaluso) had just premiered a hit and were looking for inspiration for their next creation.

Perhaps Mr. Auxier was inspired by Mike Leigh's 1999 film Topsy-Turvy which we highly recommend to all lovers of Gilbert and Sullivan since their tempestuous but artistically rewarding partnership was given a most satisfying treatment.

Getting back to the music that so rapidly changed our mood, Maestro Joseph Rubin put his orchestra through their lively paces with conductorial glee. We have been humming the tunes all night and those ear-worms have sustained that smile we spoke of. There is a reason why certain works of art become classics; in the case of music theater, the public wants tunes and rhythm, married to an engaging story with lyrics that fit the music, just as "the punishment fits the crime".

Although we despair of attempts by narcissistic directors to make their mark on the classics and thereby wind up destroying them (i.e. the current production of Bizet's Carmen at the Metropolitan Opera), we have no objection to the little touches employed in this production to bring the work into the 21st century. Do not worry, Dear Reader, Nanki-Poo does not carry a cell phone. We do believe it is customary for the director of this operetta to update The Mikado's hit number (which we call "I've Got a Little List") to include contemporary references to politics and social customs. We are not going to spoil it for you, Dear Reader; you will have to go and hear for yourself, be you lucky enough to get a ticket.

David Wannen made a fine, funny, and arrogant Mikado and his excellent performance was matched by the entire cast. We particularly enjoyed the Nanki-Poo of tenor John Charles McLaughlin who was more than commonly affecting in his creation of a young innocent Candide type youth. His "A Wand'ring Minstrel I" was sung with pure tone, lovely phrasing, and dramatic conviction.

As his beloved Yum-Yum, Rebecca L. Hargrove delivered one of the best ever examples of female vanity in her major aria "The Sun Whose Rays are All Ablaze". She provided plenty of humor in her off-again on-again intention to wed our hero, dependent upon whether she would be buried alive, a situation handled with dry British humor.

The part of Koko, Lord High Executioner of Titipu, was portrayed by Mr. Macaluso with admirable physicality that garnered much laughter from the audience. His desperate courtship of Katisha could be considered a lesson in clowning. This made his tender aria "Willow, Tit-Willow" even more soulful by contrast.

The character of Pooh-Bah is a matchless vehicle for comic acting and Matthew Wages more than lived up to the challenge with physical humor to spare. Just look at the gestures he employs as he describes his multiple offices and his greedy eyes as he extracts bribes without compunction.

None of these characters could be considered evil, just opportunistic. The character who comes closest to evil is the unpleasant Katisha (played by Hannah Holmes), the "Daughter-in-law Elect", but even she has a softer side. It was fun watching her melt to Koko's love song in contrast with her customary rage. This reminds us that miserable people are most often suffering from a lack of love. When she interrupts The Mikado's entrance with her insistent "daughter-in-law elect" we see the attention-seeking as an attempt to compensate for being rejected earlier by Nanki-Poo. She knows she is unattractive and therefore shows excessive pride in her shoulder and elbow. Her costume reminded us of that of Carabosse, the evil fairy in the ballet Sleeping Beauty.

Which reminds us to credit Quinto Ott for the colorful and apt Costume Design. The blend of Victorian fashion with Japanese elements is most successful. The female chorus is decked out in high Victorian style with bustles and exposed crinolettes. The male chorus ("We are Gentlemen of Japan") is dressed in typical Victorian gentlemen fashion with some Japanese decoration.

Anshuman Bhatia designed the simple but effective set with Koko's tailor shop stage right and the Titipu railway station stage left, lent verisimiltude by the sound effect of the approaching train, heralding the arrival of the "Three Little Maids from School" and later The Mikado and Katisha.

Elizabeth Cernadas had the role of Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo was played by Sarah Hutchison.

Mr. Auxier did a fine job directing and choreographing, and Maestro Albert Bergeret served as Music Director. Kudos to all!

Since we always need some minor detail to grumble about, it would be some ineffective enunciation on the part of the chorus and some of the female performers. Surtitles would have been welcome since Gilbert's text is so very clever. It seems a shame to miss a word of it.

© meche kroop

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