A joyous production, the reimagined Mikado arrived at Kaye Playhouse with excellent voices supported by a splendid orchestra (Music Director/Conductor- Albert Bergeret) and infectious sense of fun. Its new Prologue ( David Auxier-Loyola ) sets the story of thwarted love in Titipu, Japan as a dream of WS Gilbert inspired by an exhibition of that country’s culture.
David Macaluso’s Ko-Ko is sheer delight. The actor moves elastically and sings with skill. He mugs with honed comic timing and even overstating, never goes too far. As the Mikado’s masquerading son, Nanki-Poo, and his love Yum-Yum, John Charles McLaughlin and Sarah Caldwell Smith are respectively handsome and fetching, utterly charming, and credibly innocent. Both have lovely voices. Expression never winks at us; chemistry is apparent.
David Wannen’s resonant vocals and graceful, authoritarian presence would alone create a believable Mikado. Add to this deft embodiment of the character’s gleeful, sadistic nature and we’re offered ideal depiction. In the role of the Mikado’s “daughter-in-law-elect” Katisha (an older woman in love with and determined to acquire Nanki Poo), Rosina Brandram showcases herself a superb diva- fiery/furious until unleashing comic chops. Matthew Wages’s Pooh-Bah is alas, consistently too far over the top to be droll.
Director David Auxier-Loyola configures his stage aesthetically, has a sense of humor, and creates several enjoyable, synchronized vaudeville numbers during which thespians’ eyes seem to twinkle with pleasure. (As WS Gilbert, he stays on the periphery holding a faux script.)
One assumes the director authored this extremely contemporary version of Ko-Ko’s list (of those who won’t be missed if executed.) Featuring clever rhymes about hash tags, internet acronyms, Broadway standbys, and politics, it’s a hoot, but should have been the sole foray out of time and place. I could have easily done without intermittent asides such as referring to Pooh-Bah as “a Project Runway reject.”
Gilbert & Sullivan’s cat’s cradle farce remains thoroughly entertaining; music and lyrics reveal no frays. The secret to presenting the operetta well is never announcing it as farce, but rather inhabiting it. New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players seem to have this down.
Visuals are, however, dissonant, confusing and distracting. Anshuman Bhatia’s Set, replete with scrim that echoes Hokusai watercolor – fits. Employing a giant volume titled The Mikado is an engaging idea handicapped by cartoon illustration that lacks style.
Costumes by Quinto Ott are the greater issue. Yes, I’m a purist and miss a Japanese look, but I would take no issue with reconfiguration were it attractive, flattering, and even whimsically related to its source material. Ott, who has chosen to dress his company as westerners with occasional ersatz Asian accessories, has a fondness for metallic thread and chiffon capes.
Women wear what appears to be cheap road show apparel run off by volunteers with no taste. Apart from Gilbert and Sullivan, men are all over the place in lame, embroidered and patterned morning coats with ridiculous hats (including a Sherlock Holmes deerstalker above an upholstery- fringed, caped coat.)
Our wandering minstrel, “A thing of shreds and patches,” seems dressed in a recycled and cropped scarecrow outfit from The Wizard of Oz. Ko-Ko is saddled with pants whose flaring, pleated inserts look like someone’s idea of operetta gauchos. Exaggerated shoulder appliances are Siamese and/or Taiwanese not Japanese. Headdresses resemble what might be Woolworth’s versions of Ziegfeld Follies. Jewelry looks like something made in a child’s art therapy class. (Wigs are fine.)
Photos by William Reynolds
New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players present
Libretto- William S. Gilbert; Music-Arthur Sullivan
Prologue written by David Auxier-Loyola
Directed by David Auxier-Loyola
The Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College