Young Vic puts on a catchy `Mikado'

Review: Even with some contemporary references, the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta remains timeless.

July 17, 2000|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

An emperor's son disguised as "a second trombone." An executioner who wouldn't hurt a fly. A bribe-hungry bureaucrat who has managed to secure every official job worth having, including archbishop and first commissioner of police. Out of such stuff Gilbert and Sullivan concocted a time-resistant masterwork of tuneful comedy and satire. The enduring powers of "The Mikado" can be savored in the Young Victorian Theatre Company's production at the Bryn Mawr School, which celebrates the company's 30 years of devotion to the G & S canon.

Under Roger Brunyate's imaginative direction, this semi-professional presentation makes plain how much enduring stagecraft there remains in the operetta. Of course, there are the usual smattering of contemporary references - Mayor O'Malley's musical moonlighting is an unavoidable target; Harry Potter gets a nod; and, in a work that has capital punishment as a major theme, a mention of Texas is obviously irresistible. But this is, at heart, a faithful, loving effort that treats the original libretto with respect.

Those who usually find Sullivan's catchy melodies the main attraction in a G & S operetta may be surprised at how much substance there still is in Gilbert's pun-filled dialogue. On Saturday evening, that dialogue was served up with considerable flair.

Too bad the vigilant attention to articulation was not always displayed when Gilbert's verbal gems had to be sung instead of spoken. Many a great line was swallowed, a drawback in any vocal performance, a near-calamity in the realm of G & S. Still, the music was, for the most part, served up with so much enthusiasm that this and other shortcomings proved relatively minor.

In the title role, Thom King romped about the stage amusingly and offered a robust vocal style, spiced at one point with a riff taken from his usual day job as a cantor. Vijay Joshua Ghosh brought a pleasant tenor and an elegant sense of phrasing to the part of Nanki-Poo. Sarah Blaskowsky was a delicious Yum-Yum, vanity personified, and her sweet soprano beguilingly caressed "The Moon and I," one of Sullivan's most sublime creations.

Steven Goodman's catalog of droll facial expressions enlivened his portrait of Pooh-Bah, while his solid baritone proved an asset at every turn. Harry Belt Turner sounded under the weather vocally and wasn't particularly interested in such nuisances as following the conductor's beat. But his Ko-Ko was a charmer, filled with comic touches that Martin Short would have admired.

Shazy Hopfenberg's deep, rich mezzo was a great match for the overwrought music of the jilted Katisha. Sturdy supporting work came from J. Austin Bitner (Pish-Tush), Alfonsina Molinari-Rosaly (Pitti-Sing) and Dyana Neal (Peep-Bo).

The chorus, especially the men who gave every appearance of merely lip-synching, could not quite conceal its amateur status when singing or moving about the stage but held up when it counted most.

Though the small orchestra had its share of rough edges, it got into the spirit of things vividly under the guidance of conductor J. Ernest Green, who tried hard to bring out the nuances, not just the propulsion, of Sullivan's score.

Katherine K. Pettus designed the unfussy set, Douglas Nelson the effective lighting, Mary Bova the quaint costumes.

Remaining performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday; 3 p.m. July 23 at Bryn Mawr School, 109 West Melrose Ave., Roland Park. Tickets are $25 adults; $20 children 12 and under. Call 410-323-3077.

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