The Mikado

Also see Ann's review of Eddie Izzard'sSexie

One of William S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's most popular works, The Mikado is a comic opera set in the fictional city of Titipu, Japan. The Japanese setting was chosen because of its topical interest to Great Britain's middle class in the late 1800s (and, legend has it, due to a Japanese sword falling off the wall while Gilbert was contemplating his next work). The Mikado brought Gilbert and Sullivan back together after a professional separation, and, despite the window dressing of set and costuming, it is a very British treatment of British customs and politics. It's amazing how most of the humor holds a strong relevance today, some 118 years later.

The classic plot involves characters trying to create individual freedom and happiness from a regimented and rule-laden society. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are in love, but both are betrothed to others. The resolution of this conundrum involves Yum-Yum's guardian and husband-to-be, Ko-Ko, who is the Lord High Executioner and also is first on the list to be beheaded; Poo-bah, who holds many job titles; Pish-Tush, a noble Lord; the older and slightly less desirable Katisha, Nanki-Poo's betrothed; The Mikado, ruler and Nanki-Poo's father; and Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, Yum-Yum's sisters. Through machinations that cause more problems, and the hilarious solutions to those problems, everyone ends the show alive and happy, having avoided breaking any laws.

Melissa Parks as Katisha and Frederick Reeder as Ko-Ko
The first star of show the is the set, designed by James Noone - a lovely, storybook setting. A backdrop of a mountain scene is embraced on both sides by an enamel-red arch with a silhouette of a tree and painted flowers on either side. The floor looks like a Japanese lacquered box - the same rich red with intricate drawings within circles painted here and there. There are also raised, circular pieces with similar drawings on top and a bridge, all of which are attractive and functional. The set truly is stunning, gives a beautiful Japanese atmosphere, and takes on several different moods when combined with the clever and expressive lighting provided by Dennis Parichy.

The second star of the evening is the wonderful orchestra of string and wind instruments, percussion and (of course - it's a plot point) a trombone. Music Director F. Wade Russo expertly conducts and plays keyboard.

Not to be outdone, the cast of The Mikado, well provided by Cindi Rush Casting and Director Ted Pappas, prove enthusiastic and masterful as they present the intricate lyrics and beautiful vocals of the Gilbert & Sullivan score. As was equally well-provided in the second part of Pappas' Gilbert & Sullivan trifecta, 2002's H.M.S. Pinafore (the first was Pirates of Penzance in 2000), this cast is chock-full of triple-threat experts of singing, acting, and comedy.

There is not a weak link in the cast, but standouts include the glorious-voiced John Matthew Morgan as Nanki-Poo; Dennis Jesse, providing an uproariously blustering Poo-bah; Catrina Lennon, bringing a lush voice and loads of comedy from a petite figure; Melissa Parks as the formidable Katisha, commanding in presence and in voice; Kenneth Kantor, a mighty Mikado with wonderfully comedic vocal inflections; and Frederick Reeder as the timorous would-be-executioner Ko-Ko. Also providing more than adequate support are the supporting cast and ensemble members who provide a sort of Greek chorus function.

Another highlight is the costuming by Howard Tsvi Kaplan; many, many gorgeous fabrics are combined to create unique and ravishing kimonos and headpieces.

The Public only presents one musical per season, but there is no holding back in production values, casting, style and presentation. This Mikado is a near perfect jewel-box of a show.

The Mikado runs at the Pittsburgh Public Theater through October 26. Written by William S. Gilbert. Composed by Arthur Sullivan. Directed and Choreographed by Ted Pappas. Musical Director F. Wade Russo. Scenic Design by James Noone. Costume Design by Howard Tsvi Kaplan. Lighting Design by Dennis Parichy. Sound Design by Zach Moore. Orchestration by Dan DeLange. Costumes supplied by Malabar Limited, Toronto.

Cast: The Mikado of Japan: Kenneth Kantor. Nanki-Poo: John Matthew Morgan. Ko-Ko: Frederick Reeder. Pooh-Bah: Dennis Jesse. Pish-Tush: Larry Daggett. Yum-Yum: Catrina Lennon. Pitti-Sing: Sarah Anne Lewis. Peep-Bo: Haviland Stillwell. Katisha: Melissa Parks. Chorus: Will Erat, Amy Fitts, Zanna Fredland, Laura Gersh, Ellen Victoria Graham, Yugo Ikach, Daniel Krell, Erik Nelson, Laura Yen Solito, Lou S. Valenzi, John Whitney, Michael Zegarski.

Photo: Suellen Fitzsimmons

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-- Ann Miner

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