Reviewed by James Karas
Christchurch, New Zealand is a devastated city under construction but judging by the production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado at the Court Theatre, it has lost none of its spirit or its sense of humour. The production’s whole is much greater than its parts and the end result is an energetic, funny and delightful evening out.
The Mikado is a perfect vehicle for satire and I doubt that there is any production that does not take liberties with Gilbert’s libretto to poke fun at just about everyone and everything in the city or country where it is produced. Director Ross Gumbley has taken full advantage of that license and takes shots at politicians, entertainers, radio and television announcers, construction work in Christchurch, even Michael Jackson’s hapless doctor. Some of the humour was lost on me being someone who had spent a mere week in the country but most of it came through and was funny. You don’t have to be from Christchurch to complain about all the roads being under construction at the same time – just drive around Toronto.
The production is done with one hand tied behind its back. A small orchestra is a minimum requirement for any production of the operetta. What does the Court Theatre have? A band! It consists of a piano, a xylophone and some drums but the players manage to produce some amazing music. The solos, duets, patter songs and ensemble pieces take over and the amalgam of sound is quite delightful. The task of orchestrating Sullivan’s music to fit the band of the Court Theatre was performed by Musical Director Luke Di Somma.
The quality of singing has its lacunae but again the overall effect is quite enjoyable. The star, even if he does not get most of the singing, is Matt McFarlane as Nanki-Poo, the son of the Mikado disguised as a ukulele player. He is handsome and wholesome and we want him to get the yummy Yum-Yum (Rachel Adams). Neither of them has stellar vocal talents but we are rooting for them. McFarlane has a pleasant midrange but does not venture much beyond. Adams tends to leap to her upper register and at times becomes somewhat shrill in that area.
The Mikado needs comic talent more than vocal prowess and here we are in luck. Danny Avery is the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko who will take an online course to learn his job. Avery is a fast-moving comic who does an excellent job. Roy Snow as Pooh-Bah, the High Lord of Everything Else is very funny and has a resonant voice. He holds enough positions to make up a cabinet but his chief talent is being corrupt. Snow engages the audience directly to good effect and laughter.
Juliet Reynolds-Midgley plays Katisha, the Mikado’s daughter-in-law-elect. She is the virago who wants to marry the handsome prince and we have to find a way of disposing of her. Aha, let her marry the Lord High Executioner and keep the laughter going.
The role of the Mikado is played by a woman, Lynda Milligan. She is encased in a Union Jack and you can and should see Queen Victoria in her rather than a Japanese monarch. Milligan plays the Mikado as an overdone and comic character, full of bluster. Well done.
The Male and Female Ensembles who seem to be made up of many amateurs do an exceptional job. They sing, they dance, they cavort, and they are wonderful. The imaginative choreography was done by Stephen Robertson.
The set and costume designs were also by Robertson. The set consisted of round platforms with a raised walkway at the rear and a small bridge on the right. There was even a joke about the money being spent on costumes instead of musicians. The costumes were good.
Ross Gumbley gets the laurel wreath for his imaginative re-working of parts of the libretto, his energetic directing and the highly entertaining production.
The Mikado by W. S. Gilbert (libretto) and Arthur Sullivan (music) opened on November 23, 2013 and will run until January 14, 2014 at The Court Theatre, Christchurch, New Zealand.