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The Mikado
freeFall Theatre Company


freeFall Theatre is currently presenting Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. I was first exposed to the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas at about age 8 by my mother, who was looking for a way to keep me occupied during an illness. She went to our local library and brought home the D'Oyly Carte recording of The Pirates of Penzance (1950s mono with Martyn Green). I didn't take to it, but my mother was undeterred and returned with The Mikado which I loved immediately. (To this day Pirates remains my least favorite of the entire canon, vs. such rarities as Utopia Limited and The Grand Duke.) After that, in quick order I learned H.M.S. Pinafore, Iolanthe and Yeoman of the Guard. I was lucky enough to see several of them in Boston, with Martyn Green and his company. Later, I got to play leads in several of the pieces, including The Mikado. Therefore, I am not a novice to Gilbert and Sullivan in traditional productions.

freeFall has established a reputation for edgier work and their view of this classic is in line with this artistic viewpoint. The Mikado has an all male cast and is very small scale (nine actors). Director Eric Davis quite rightly reminds us that there is not much authentically Japanese about the piece; it is thoroughly in the style of all the rest of the Gilbert & Sullivan canon. Therefore, Mr. Davis has used Kabuki elements, and English music hall, and he has tossed in modern elements at will. Both "I've Got a Little List" and "A More Humane Mikado" have updated references, such as ex Florida Governor, and current candidate for Governor, Charlie Crist flip flopping parties.

Kabuki infuses the costumes and make up, but if you look closely you will notice anachronisms. In the second act, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing's kimonos have grommet belts. Pooh-Bah wears a mustard blazer with yellow bow-tie and reminds me of Kayama as he Westernizes in act two of Pacific Overtures All the wigs, but especially the men's, have modern sparkly touches. They really cannot be adequately described. The makeup appears to attempt an authentic Kabuki look. Wigs and makeup are by Scott Daniel (who is also appearing in the ensemble of The Wiz at American Stage in the Park). The sets are Japanese screens, but when you look at them closely the painted images are not authentic. Action is staged on a revolving stage and there is a hanamichi, both traditional Japanese elements.

The male roles come off better vocally than the women's, Katisha excepted, because the music cannot be clearly projected out of its proper range. Matthew McGee, as Katisha, solves that problem singing his music in falsetto, and quite well. Larry Alexander dominates as a good Pooh-Bah should, Glen Gover made me think of Joe E. Brown if he had played Ko-Ko, and Patrick Ryan Sullivan portrays the title character as a warrior. Dick Baker is ardent as Nanki-Poo but the voice is just not full enough to do full justice to "A Wandering Minstral I."

The show is wonderfully entertaining, a laugh riot.

Next up is The Burnt Part Boys playing June 14 - July 6. It looks to be an involving musical. freeFall has also just announced their next season, which includes Into the Woods with Ann Morrison (Mary in the original cast of Merrily We Roll Along) as The Witch, Harvey with Larry Alexander as Elwood P. Dowd, and Bright Lights, Big City.

freeFall Theatre Company presents The Mikadothrough May 18, 2014, at 6099 Central Avenue, St. Petersburg. For ticket and performance information, visit www.freefalltheatre.com.

Cast (in alphabetical order)
Larry Alexander* as Pooh Bah
Robert Aronson* as Pish Tush
Dick Baker as Nanki Poo
Emanuel Carrero as Yum-Yum
Gavin Esham* as Pitti Sing
Glen Gover* as Ko-Ko
Mark Vincent Mansilungan as Peep Bo
Matthew McGee* as Katisha
Patrick Ryan Sullivan* as The Mikado
*=Member of Actor's Equity Association

Director: Eric Davis
Music Director: Emi P. Stefanov
Musical Arrangements: Nicholas J. White
Scenic Design: Matt Davis
Costume Design: Eric Davis
Lighting Design: Mike Wood
Wig and Makeup Designer: Scott Daniel
Production Stage Manager: Daniel LeMien*

Orchestra:
Piano/Conductor: Emi P. Stefanov
French Horn: Nicholas J. White
Reeds: Christina Cruder
Violin: Marta Bukacek
Cello: Mary Cathryn Zimmer


Photo: Courtesy of freeFall Theater

--William S. Oser



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