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theater review: ...The Mikado... an Awkward Rendition of Fun ShowSeveral Star Actors Carry an Otherwise Disjoint Gilbert and Sullivan

By Jacqueline O’Connor

The Mikado

The MIT Gilbert and Sullivan Players

Garry P. Zacheiss ’00, producer

Emily D. Senturia, director

La Sala de Puerto Rico, Student Center

Dec. 8-9, 8 p.m.; Dec. 10, 2 p.m.

Saturday night’s performance of The Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ rendition of Sir W. S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s “The Mikado” opened in La Sala de Puerto Rico with a somewhat befuddled chorus of the British National Anthem, “God Save the Queen.” With half the audience standing and the other half wondering why we citizens of the United States of America were singing to some lady across the pond, the anthem set the tone for the rest of the show: mismatched confusion.

According to the Gilbert and Sullivan Players’ Web site, Gilbert and Sullivan were favorites of Queen Victoria herself during the height of their musical popularity. The duo wrote 14 operettas together, and each work was light, comical, and wildly popular in Victorian England. Said to be the forerunner of the modern musical, this oeuvre brought the opera to the masses with spoken words instead of recitative ones, and catchy tunes that leave you whistling even after the curtain closes.

The story of “The Mikado” centers around the Japanese town of Titipu, a small village turned important city by the installation of a “Lord High Executioner” named Ko-Ko, played by Nick Bozard ’02. Formerly sentenced to death by the emperor Mikado, Ko-Ko escapes his plight by accepting the beastly job and is later happily engaged to his beautiful ward Yum-Yum (Miranda E. Knutson ’06). Upon the return of Nanki-Poo (John Deschene), Mikado’s son disguised as a wandering minstrel and former flame of Yum-Yum’s, the two lovers find each other once more and insanity ensues as they try to dodge the increasingly inane decrees of Pooh-Bah (Gabriel Fouasnon ’09), the “Lord High Everything Else.”

The story itself is a classic — hilariously funny and bitingly cynical in the way that it depicts the law and those who enforce it. The producers of the Gilbert and Sullivan Player’s show did a wonderful job of including modern day references into the script. At one point in the song “As some day it may happen,” Ko-Ko sings of all those he plans to execute, including men who flirt, girls who dye their hair blonde, and upper-middle class suburban moms who drive SUVs. Despite these subtle strokes of brilliance in the script, however, the overall caliber of the show was disappointing.

Being a musical performance, there was a mid-sized pit orchestra off to stage left under the direction of Emily Senturia, a Boston University master’s student studying orchestra conducting. Despite Senturia’s professional conducting style, the orchestra was painfully out of tune for the entirety of the show. This not only hurt the ears, but also brought down the performance of some of the exceptional lead singers. Better tuning would have increased the quality of the performance ten-fold.

The first actors to appear on stage were the members of the men’s chorus, citizens of the town who supported the plot throughout the show. It looked as though the men’s joints had seized; their shuffling around the stage was distracting and uncomfortable. The facial expressions came in two flavors, oddly forced or simply not there. Though their voices were decent, they gave the show a mediocre first impression.

Overall, the acting in the first half seemed mechanical. It was not clear whether this was done in the spirit of mocking Japanese culture (a theme throughout the entire play), or whether it was just poor acting. For example, Fouasnon delivered Pooh-Bah’s tongue twisting lines with rigidity and effort, though it seemed he became more easy with the character as the show continued. Also, Dan Salomon as Pish-Tush, a noble lord, lacked any hint of a facial expression though the entire production, even as his character was sentenced to die by The Mikado himself.

Despite the noticeable failings of a large portion of the cast, the lead actors still did well. In particular, Rosie Osser G as Katisha, an elderly lady who had fallen in love with Nanki-Poo and essentially drove him from the village for fear of marrying such an old witch, was fantastic. With a powerful voice, dramatic expressions, and dead accurate comedic timing, Osser carried the show from the minute she walked on stage at the end of the first act. Deschene and Knutson as Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum were also strong singers and their fluid acting helped the audience become emotionally involved in the story of their unrequited love.

The second act was much better all around. Fouasnon delivered his comedic lines more gracefully, both the men’s and women’s chorus sang better, and the overall tempo of the show began to come alive. Impressive performances in the second act included Ko-Ko’s coming to terms with his duties as “Lord High Executioner,” and that of Pitti-Sing, played by Legena Jack Henry G, as Yum-Yum’s best friend and front line defendant against the injustices felt by Yum-Yum and her lover Nanki-Poo.

All together, the show came across as somewhat disjoint and lacking in passion, just like the audience’s rendition of “God Save the Queen” that began the night. Despite that, it was very funny and a few star performers made the production worth seeing.