Could any time in history provide better fodder for the social spoofing of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “Mikado” than now? Victorianisms were G&S’s original targets, but, traditionally, the operetta’s lyrics have been rewritten to keep up with contemporary silliness. The Virginia Opera’s production, which opened Friday for two performances at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts, didn’t miss any opportunity to laugh at politics (left and right), social media, Beltway engineering, evangelicals and even its own tech crew.
Not all the decisions made by director Dorothy Danner, conductor Gerald Steichen or lighting designer Kenneth L. Steadman were good ones. A number of patter-songs (and even some that weren’t intended to be patter-songs) went by much too fast even for the surtitles to keep up, much less for anything to be understood. As the show went on, lighting tricks began to seem like, well, tricks. And some of the casting could have been better. But all that aside, this was a rollickingly funny, energetic and cheerful production.
Much of the credit goes to bass Kevin Burdette who, as Ko-Ko, the “Lord High Executioner” of the Town of Titipu, is ordered by the Mikado to execute someone (the only capital crime in Titipu is flirting). Because Ko-Ko himself is next in line to be executed, he must find a substitute — and the plot thickens. Burdette has a wonderfully resonant voice and splendid diction, but in this role his vocal talents were eclipsed by his acrobatic clowning and miming skills. He groveled, quivered and danced his way through the ever-more convoluted plot with exquisite abandon, bringing the whole cast along with him.
Among these were Aaron St. Clair Nicholson as a properly pompous Pooh-Bah, the “Lord High Everything Else” who revels in his own “high pedigree,” and both Matthew Plenk as Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son disguised as a “second trombone,” and Katherine Jolly as his beloved, Yum-Yum. They sang with distinction and were particularly effective in both the vocal and the physical ensembles. Only Jeffrey Tucker’s Mikado and Dorothy Byrne’s Katisha seemed smaller and less histrionically menacing than they might have been. Lesser roles were well handled, and the chorus was terrific.
All this was rounded out by an attractive fanciful set, elegant blocking, colorful traditional costumes enhanced with fans and parasols, and a crisp and eager orchestra, all members of the Richmond Symphony. The one sad note: There were almost no children in the audience.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.