Another memorable - if slightly surreal - 'Mikado' from U-M's Gilbert & Sullivan Society
Gilbert and Sullivan by way of Alice in Wonderland’s Mad Hatter? I do hope the University of Michigan Gilbert and Sullivan Society will not hire the services of the Lord High Executioner to lop off my head if I say that at times I felt as if I had stumbled down a rabbit hole during Thursday night’s performance of “The Mikado” at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.
Perhaps it was the costumes, some of which seemed inspired by equal parts Joan Collins in the ‘80s TV show “Dynasty” (look it up, kids) or maybe one too many trips to The Beatles’ Pepperland. Or maybe it was due to the relatively young, energetic cast, directed by Josh Borths. Quite possibly it was the sheer challenge of outdoing a memorable “Mikado” UMGASS staged in 2006. Surely the fact that most of the show’s principals are vocal performance majors at the U-M had something to do with it.
Whatever the reason, UMGASS outdid itself, delivering a fresh, funny and more than occasionally surreal interpretation of the popular G&S comic opera.
Matt Peckham and Ben Brady turned in inspired performances that only got better in the second act. Peckham’s Ko-Ko, a Mad Hatter-esque executioner lacking even the strength to heft his axe, and Brady’s haughty-but-likable Poo-Bah, were both great fun, bringing a manic edge to their performances that helped to really energize the show. I especially liked Brady’s kabuki makeup, which made him look dour and fearsome one moment, yet helped him morph into something just the opposite the next.
Not to be outdone, Don Regan’s dotty old Mikado, sporting an enormous mullet mane and seemingly channelling Kahn from one of the old “Star Trek” movies, had me reduced to giggles, and I wasn’t alone. The formidable Katisha (Angela Torres-Kuthuhn) was a divalicious delight to see and hear, wielding her humongous fan as if it were a weapon.
Young lovers Nanki-Poo (Robby Griswold) and Yum-Yum (Samantha Winter) were a bit more traditional in garb and performance, the former showing his delightful tenor right from the start in “A Wand’ring Minstrel I.” Winter, who according to the program is double-majoring in neuroscience and vocal performance at the U-M, can act as well as sing (her “The sun whose rays are all ablaze” displayed her lovely soprano to full effect).
Many productions of “The Mikado” take pride in updating the "list" song “As someday it may happen,” and this one is no exception. I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but let it be said that hypocritical preachers, Prius drivers, Facebook de-frienders and Ohio State fans are all addressed in this delightful ditty.
Music director Avlana Eisenberg can again be proud of her charges, as the ensemble continued the tradition of UMGASS musical excellence. The folks in costume design, led by designer Marilyn Gouin, deserve some kind of special award for their inspired work (see previous comments re Ko-Ko, Poo-Bah and the like). The shadow puppets employed in the first act were a nice touch as well.
What fun! I can’t wait to see what they do to top this one the next time it rolls around a few years hence.
“The Mikado” will continue at 8 tonight and Saturday, as well as Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. at Lydia Mendelssohn Theater in the Michigan League. Info: brownpapertickets.com/event/155209 or 800-838-3006.