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The Mikado

a Musical
CATEGORY : COMEDY MUSICAL
by Gilbery & Sullivan

COMPANY : Atlanta Lyric Theatre
VENUE : The Strand
ID# 3987

SHOWING : April 15, 2011 - May 01, 2011

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PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

Gilbert and Sullivan are the undisputed masters of comic operetta and the proud parents of the modern musical. That their works are more in demand today than when they were created over a century ago is ample proof of their lasting brilliance. The hapless lovers in The Mikado are mercilessly buffeted by social restrictions, legal inconsistencies, judicial inequities, government stupidities, and that’s just the first act! Poor dears – it would be absolutely tragic if it weren’t so hysterically funny.


CAST & CREW LIST
Director Heidi Cline
Choreographer Jeff McKerley
Musical Director Frank Timmerman
Pitti-Sing Mary Nye Bennett
Yum-Yum Laura Floyd
The Mikado Jeffrey David Gibb
Peep-Bo Jeanette Illidge
Pish-Tush J.C. Long
Ko-Ko Jeff McKerley
Nanki-Poo Wesley Morgan
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REVIEWS

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Here's a How-de-do!
by Dedalus
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
4.0
I freely confess to being a major Gilbert and Sullivan Geek. I love the pattery word-burgers, the rapturous melodies, the silly plots with their choruses of twits and buffoons, the oh-so-British satire and the oh-so-British exaggeration. To date I’ve been part of (the tech part of) productions of “Pirates of Penzance,” “HMS Pinafore,” “Mikado,” Patience,” and “Ruddygore” (a less-known “early version” of the more oft-performed “Ruddigore”), and keep a pint-full of Gilbert lyrics to use as tongue-twisting vocal warm-ups.

So, it was with a feeling of utmost rapture that I approached this production of “The Mikado.”

True to expectations, this production is a G&S geek’s almost-dream. Okay, I REALLY missed the overture (one of their best), I grumbled at the fuzzy-edged “precision” of the choreography and fan-snapping, I rolled my eyes at the incomprehensibility of the Mikado’s lyrics (to be fair, this role is written in a range not especially conducive to clear locution), I blinked twice at the missed joke opportunities (specifically the “hopeless suit” and “child of nature” lines), and I almost fumed at the extended encores to “Here’s a How-de-do” (one of my favorite numbers, but did it really require FOUR encores?).

But, let’s be honest, here. This is a “Mikado” beautifully sung, elegantly designed, briskly directed, and over-the-top silly, just as it should be. Any plot summary would sound just plain dumb, so let’s avoid that altogether – suffice it to say, it involves “gentlemen from Japan,” a “train of little ladies,” an errant Prince, a soft-hearted executioner, a “Pooh Bah,” and a legally pathological aversion to flirting (Missed opportunity – the curtain speech should include a warning that “anyone caught flirting will be summarily executed”). What it’s really about (if the movie “Topsy Turvy” has any semblance to accuracy) is England’s new fascination with all things Japanese, and a look at Japanese culture through a blindly British filter. True, the look is shallow and grossly “politically incorrect” (names like “Nanki-Poo” and “Yum-Yum?” Ouch!), and, a cursory read of the libretto is sure to offend anyone from Japan. But, when the marvelous Sir Arthur Sullivan score is layered over all, when the decidedly British nature of the whole thing is made manifest, all is taken with a very forgiving grain of tit-willow song. (For the record, I consider “The Sun Whose Rays are all Ablaze” to be one of the most rapturously beautiful melodies ever written).

So, at the top of the list of praiseworthy facets (well, just below the score) has to be Jeff McKerley’s performance as Ko-Ko (the Lord High Executioner). I have often taken Mr. McKerley to task for wallowing in “over-the-top” hamminess and excess, but here, that trait is not only appropriate, it’s welcome and expected. Mr. McKerley perfectly captures that G&S sense of the absurd, over-reacting to every little barrier before him (as well as to audience responses), and wooing us all into accepting this creation as the comic force of nature he needs to be.

I also really liked Laura Floyd’s tasty and tuneful Yum-Yum (despite her tendency to throw away perfectly good laugh lines), Keena Redding Hunt’s imposing and (frankly) frightening Katisha, and J.C. Long’s straight-faced but whimsical Pish-Tush (a role that is usually forgettable – not here!). Wesley Morgan’s Nanki-Poo was suitably young and earnest, Danny Cook’s Pooh-Bah suitably over-bearing and pompous, and Jeffrey Gobb’s Mikado suitably deep-voiced and joyfully wicked (incomprehensibility notwithstanding). Mary Nye Bennett and Jeanette Illidge were also nicely individual as Yum-Yum’s fellow “Little Maids From School.”

The set was an impressive series of fan-shaped platforms and faux-Japanese backdrops, lit with vibrant shades of blue and gold, with a faux Kabuki hanamichi ramp adding a touch of verisimilitude to an otherwise not-quite-so-bald and not-unconvincing stage picture.

But, it is the music that really sells this production. Music Director Frank Timmerman has his large chorus and orchestra blended perfectly, and the lush choral numbers fill the Strand Theatre like a comforting wave of cheer. Old favorites like “Wand’ring Minstrel,” “Three Little Maids,” Here’s a How-de-do,” whatever song “To Sit in Solemn Silence” graces, “The Sun Whose Rays” (sigh), and the marvelously lyrical Act One and Two finales fell into my tin ears without a false note or missed expectation. Director Heidi Cline McKerley has assembled a perfect cast and production team, and the whole thing is a sheer joy from beginning to end.

I’ve always been told that Gilbert and Sullivan is an acquired taste, that people either love the shows or despise them. Truth be told, I simply cannot understand the joyless lives of those in the latter category, as I am firmly in the former.

Another production of “The Mikado?” Unmodified Rapture!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

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Madcap Fun
by playgoer
Saturday, April 30, 2011
4.5
Atlanta Lyric Theatre's "The Mikado" is filled with as glorious a set of voices as you're likely to find in metro Atlanta. The production would be enjoyable even with your eyes closed.

There's a lot of visual pleasure in the set and costumes of the show, though. An oversized fan with the show's name is center stage at the start of each act, but is briskly folded away by J.C. Long as the samurai Pish-Tush. The compact set has steps upstage, a Japanese foot bridge stage left, and various oriental screens and accoutrements scattered about, including a few rocks on the lip of the stage. It definitely gives the idea of a picturebook Japan.

The gentlemen of Japan start the show. These are not cardboard figures as found "on many a vase and fan." They are as gruesome a lot of masculinity as you're likely to see, with overdone eye makeup and comically exaggerated poses of the he-man sort. In their wigs and robes, they look strange and intimidating. The opening number sets the comic flavor of the evening, but it isn't particularly attractive.

Once the women come onstage, the view improves. Their eye makeup is understated and their movements are graceful. It's quite a contrast from the sumo-like lurching of the Japanese warriors. And when the full ensemble sings, the sound is wonderful.

All the leads have terrific voices. The show really belongs to Jeff McKerley, though, as Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko. His voice is far better than it needs to be for his comic role, but it's his non-stop comic shtick that really invigorates the action. The role is a natural fit for his brand of corniness, never cloying and always entertaining. Perhaps the highlight is "Here's a how-de-do," involving repeated encores with various fans, ending with a belly laugh.

Director Heidi Cline McKerley lets the whole cast get in on the fun. The act two opener, "Braid the raven hair," is a fairly colorless art song, but the anachronistic tea ceremony setting in this production gets the act's action off to a raucous start. "The Mikado" is a timeless classic, but this production wrings out added humor by mixing in occasional modern notes. ("Good night, Gracie" being a particularly welcome one.)

My major complaint in the show is that Katisha, as played by Keena Redding Hunt, isn't old enough, heavy enough, or funny enough to work as a true counterweight to Jeff McKerley's Ko-Ko. It's not really Ms. Hunt's fault. She does a fine job. She's just not a perfectly cast force of nature that the role calls for.

This production isn't up to the level of the Alliance's "Hot Mikado" from many years back (which I left with the conviction that it was the best musical I had ever seen). Nevertheless, it's a fine, fun production that should leave its cast proud and its audiences gasping with glee.
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Great show! by wonderful1

I agree with almost all comments in this review, even regarding the young lady perhaps miscast as Katisha. The only thing I cannot do is compare this production with their prior production of "Hot Mikado", since I have never seen it. I would just say that it is not fair to compare a completely different production with this one.
On Katisha by Dedalus
I would hesitate to classify anyone as "miscast" in any of these roles. I've seen Katishas both young and old, thin and not-so-thin, imposing and subdued, attractive and dragon-like, and ALL seemed to work. In this case, Ms. Hunt towers nicely over Mr. McKerley, and I had no problems accepting her in the role.

BTW -- I heartily recommend tracking down the DVD of the Stratford Ontario production -- a scaled down set but an outstandingly performed a lovely show -- featuring the best Mikado entrance EVER! It does have a sorta-young and kinda-attractive Katisha, but she pulls it off. You'll also really like how the encore of "I've Got a Little List" ends up including the entire Canadian government, the orchestra, the chorus, the audience, and Ko-Ko himself -- "I've got ME on the list!"


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