Thursday, March 01, 2001
Cultural Exchange - The Mikado
Sean McQuaid’s review of the Mikado from the Buzz
With its January-February 2001 production of The Mikado, the classic Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera, ACT (A Community Theatre) serves its audience a saucily surreal slice of ancient Japan, generously garnished with sprinklings of present-day Prince Edward Island. It might not be the most seamlessly satisfying mixture since peanut butter and chocolate, but it’s sufficiently clever and entertaining to quell most any craving for lighthearted theatrical fare.
The Mikado is set in a cartoonish fantasy approximation of ancient Japan, colourfully realized here by the costumes and set designs of Rachel Fitzpatrick and Frank Gaudet, respectively. The hero of the piece is Nanki-Poo (Darren Bryenton), son of Japan’s emperor, known as the Mikado (Brian Ethridge). Posing as a poor minstrel, Nanki-Poo woos the lovely Yum-Yum (Claire Caseley Smith), but their romance seems doomed since she is promised to wed her guardian Ko-Ko (Ben Kinder), The Lord High Executioner. Complications ensue as the plots and counterplots thicken; but despite the longest list of death sentences this side of Dubya Bush’s Texas, an improbably happy ending unfolds.
Perhaps the most distinctive and effective quality brought to this production by director Terry Pratt and company is a sense of playfulness: anachronistic in-jokes abound, and characters make entrances by such oddly unexpected means as skateboards and scooters. Touches such as these give the show a sense of anything-can-happen whimsy, though the topical references and modern-day name-dropping sometime seem tired or gratuitous.
The orchestra, under the musical direction of Owen Aylward, does lively justice to the score, as do the various singers. With his gently rich voice and soft physical presence, Bryenton is as benignly sympathetic a romantic lead as one might hope for, and Smith balances him nicely with an assertively frank performance. The delightful Kinder seems to revel in the sheer silliness and over-the-top self-indulgence of the impotently menacing Ko-Ko, crafting what may be the show’s most entertaining performance, though he is also somewhat less audible than most of the other principals. Rene Hurtubise, though occasionally weak on articulation, has no problems with audibility in his role as leading citizen Pish-Tush; his foghorn voice and grinning, vacant comedic manner create an impression not unlike a musical mixture of James Earl Jones and Dan Redican.
Apart from Kinder, though, the sweetest scene-stealers are Brodie McRae and Lisa Carmody. McRae crafts an amusing portrait of smug corruption and aristocratic snobbery as Ko Ko’s self-important aide, Poo-Bah-and like Kinder, McRae seemingly manages to enjoy his role immensely without breaking character. Carmody, meanwhile, is one of the most lively performers in the bunch as both actor and singer, so animated as to catch the ear and eye even when she’s not the primary focus of a scene-appropriate for her role as Yum-Yum’s vampish, meddlesome, attention-starved sister, Pitti-Sing. Put simply, Carmody is fun to watch, as is McRae.
With strong dramatic and musical performances, lavish production values (by local community theatre standards) and a playful sensibility, ACT’s Mikado is a worthy tribute to its authors, and another feather in the company’s cap.
by Sean McQuaid