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The Mikado

THE MIKADO is certainly the most popular Gilbert & Sullivan opera in the canon.  Mike Leigh even devoted an entire film to its creation with TOPSY-TURVEY. Since the copyright ran out, directors have been putting their individual stamp on productions, most famously with Jonathan Miller’s Hollywood version from the mid-Eighties.  And, why not?  Half the comedy in the libretto comes from the fact that these “Gentlemen of Japan” are thoroughly English.

For Intimate Opera’s production, director Mark Lamanna has updated the time frame to a vaguely 40’s period and has placed the action entirely within the walls of Mikado Industries.  If this description raises the specter of Brechtian alienation or the factory workers in METROPOLIS, you needn’t fear.  The production is more faithful to Gilbert’s brilliant satire than many traditional versions I’ve seen.

Lamanna has cast against type in a couple key roles, but the gamble pays off.  Scott Levin is not your conventional Ko-Ko.  Which is to say that he’s not the skinny, frenetic pixie with the reedy voice typically cast in the role.  But Levin is truly funny, has excellent diction and sports a finer singing voice than the role requires.  He is a strong actor too, who earns his laughs without belaboring them and his “Tit-Willow” shines as the genuine comic highlight it so rarely is these days. Even more audacious is the casting of Heather Henderson as Katisha. Written very specifically for a plus-sized, battle axe of a contralto, Ms Henderson’s slim, sleek and attractive presence seems a bit overwhelmed by the role at her entrance.  But she is a canny performer and, if her lovely mezzo doesn’t manage the clarion stridency typically associated with the role, she has, by the end, made a good case for another vocal interpretation.

E. Philip Schneider is a delightfully grandiloquent Pooh-Bah with an appropriately sonorous sound and a natty style of dress.  Katharine Terray’s Yum-Yum radiates charm and navigates the score easily with her crystalline soprano and, as her swain, Charlie Kim proves a pleasantly sung Nanki-Poo. Joseph Buhler is a wonderfully musical Pish-Tush while Amanda Colclough and Aubrey Coles bring energy and style to Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, the remaining “maids from school.”

Well-chosen cuts keep the performance moving (although we particularly miss Nanki-Poo’s hornpipe) and Kristof Van Gryspeer leads his timpani-free orchestra with brio.

Plays various locations in the Greater Los Angeles Area  March 8 – March 16, 2008