“The Mikado” remains the greatest of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Savoy Operas, so named after the Savoy Theatre where most of them premiered. Designed to satirize British society through its Japanese characters and setting, this light English opera follows a series of absurd events within the town of Titipu in imperial Japan. The wandering second trombone player Nanki-Poo (played by Daniel Greenwood) has returned after a month of traveling to court his beloved Yum-Yum (Sarah Caldwell Smith), who is one of three wards of the cheap tailor Ko-Ko (David Macaluso) to whom she is also engaged to be married.
Originally having been condemned to die at the hands of the public executioner, Ko-Ko was elevated by the town to the exalted rank of Lord High Executioner under remarkable circumstances. Serving as Ko-Ko’s administration is Pooh-Bah (Louis Dall’Ava), a nobleman of pre-Adamite ancestry who occupies every other government position in Titipu, including Mayor, Attorney-General, Archbishop, and Chief of Police. Also in the town are the nobleman Pish-Tush (David Auxier) and Yum-Yum’s sisters, Petti-Sing and Peep-Bo (Erika Person, Rebecca O’Sullivan), as well as an old noblewoman named Katisha (Caítlín Burke) who pursues her fiancé Nanki-Poo with an unmatched bloodthirstiness. Hilarity ensues when the Mikado of Japan (David Wannen) demands that Ko-Ko must execute someone in the town of Titipu before the Mikado’s arrival.
The performance at the Grand was easily the best live show I’ve seen in Macon, partly because it was organized by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, the nation’s preeminent G&S ensemble. This cast’s combined experience alone made this a stellar production, and they are currently travelling on tour performing this opera several times a week.
Mr. Macaluso did justice to the role of the cheap tailor-turned-executioner. Macaluso was able to embody Ko-Ko’s comedic potential while making the character accessible to a modern audience, whether he was dragging an absurdly large axe around stage behind him, rolling around stage on an anachronistic kick scooter or just singing about all of the people he included on his list for execution (including the conductor, members of the audience, the people who adapted Les Mis to a movie, and both houses of Congress). Macaluso stole the show.
Louis Dall’Ava’s performance as Pooh-Bah also deserves praise. I haven’t seen many actors wear fat-suits in this role, but Dall’Ava employed the suit in occasional bits of slapstick humor, like bumping into others or rolling around on the stage. He exhibited a certain affable charm that rarely emerges in the character of Pooh-Bah, who is a haughty, sneering and corrupt jack-of-all-trades.
I also want to highlight Caítlín Burke’s beautifully terrifying performance as Katisha, an ugly noblewoman who has fallen for Nanki-Poo and whose only appealing features are found on random body parts, such as her shoulder blade or her left elbow. Through the breadth of her powerful voice, Burke masterfully balanced Katisha’s bloodthirstiness and broken-heartedness.
The opera’s set design, stage direction and theatrical makeup continue to impress me. Also, the staff responsible for costume design deserves exceptional praise for preserving each actor’s autonomy, personality, and individuality.
Finally, I’d also like to praise the conductor Albert Bergeret for his charisma and charm, visible even from the orchestra pit. Heck, I’d like to praise the entire orchestra for the same reason. Not only did the musicians play Sullivan’s original score effortlessly, but there were certain moments when they interacted directly with the actors, which produced a great effect on the audience: Pooh-Bah congratulated the bass drummer’s timing in a particular scene; Ko-Ko even criticized the conductor for not following his pace and tempo in another.
This adaptation of “The Mikado” was an awesome bit of musical theatre, and you should feel sorry if you missed out.