By Joel Benjamin
January 4th, 2013
The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, under the Artistic and Musical Direction of Albert Bergeret, is presenting “G & S Fest 2012-13,” which includes four G & S operettas performed at three venues. The Mikado, one of their stalwart productions, is at the New York City Center along with Yeoman of the Guard and H.M.S. Pinafore.
The story of The Mikado is well known, both from its ubiquitous high school productions and because of Mike Leigh’s 1999 film, “Topsy Turvy” which meticulously detailed its creation. Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado of Japan, disguised as a poor strolling minstrel, travels to Titipu to pursue his love, Yum-Yum, who is engaged to the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko. How Nanki-Poo winds up marrying Yum-Yum, escaping the clutches of the monstrous older Katisha who relentlessly pursues him, avoids execution and the wrath of his father, is the gist of the plot.
Gilbert’s scenario manages to be sublimely British while capturing the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese society, at least as perceived by Victorian Englishmen. He also was able to shoot a few well-aimed arrows at the hidebound society in which he lived. Sullivan’s music is perfection: soaring in songs like “The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze,” Yum-Yum’s egotistical paean to her own charms; mimicking English folk music in “Willow, Tit Willow;” and typically G & S group numbers like “Here’s a How-De-Do” (which Bergeret milks far too much).
This performance of the hilariously ditzy, screamingly literate masterpiece wasn’t quite up to the G & S Players’ usual high standard; perhaps because this was the first of the season and they hadn’t quite found their footing. It began with an overture that sounded thin, somewhat out of tune and arbitrarily paced. As directed by Mr. Bergeret and David Auxier, this performance seemed tentative and forced. The singing, however, was fine. The costumes (Gail J. Wofford & Kayko Nakamura) and set (Albère) were just fine, too. However, the overall rhythm was stop and go and energy levels flagged. Modern shtick helped jolt the production a bit, but wasn’t enough to save the first act. In fact, this time around, the constant winking at the audience, silly gimmicks and constant references to modern technology (iPhones, Facebook, etc.) not only did not help, but fell flat. It feels as if Mr. Bergeret has lost faith in the brilliance of the original text and felt the need to constantly editorialize. The second act, energized by the Mikado of Quinto Ott and the layered silliness of Cáitlín Burke as Katisha worked better.
Some choices were particularly odd. Why is Louis Dall’Ava, the pompous Pooh-Bah, done up to look like the late transgender actor Divine? Why does everyone constantly do the cutesy one foot raised pose?
Daniel Greenwood as Nanki-Poo, sang beautifully, but was never convincing as an arduous youth. Sarah Caldwell Smith didn’t reach the heights of deliciously blind self-involvement that makes Yum-Yum percolate. Her voice is lovely. Louis Dall’Ava’s over the top camping as Pooh-Bah was undermined by his fey makeup, but, like the rest of the cast, his singing was topnotch. David Auxier, tall and deep-voiced, was the calm center as Pish-Tush, the leader of the noble lords of Titipu. He, and his rich voice, anchored every scene he appeared in. The comic lead, and therefore, the lead, David Macaluso was wonderfully droll as Ko-Ko, but again, the gimmickry lessened his impact even though he performed his role with perfect G & S deportment and a nimble tongue.
It will certainly be interesting to see the other two operettas and come back to the Mikado at a later date.
New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players, New York City Center
131 West 55th St. (bet. 6th & 7th Aves.) New York, NY
January 4th – 20th, 2013
Tickets: 212-581-1212 or nycitycenter.org
More Information: nygasp.org
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