Young Vic's crowd-pleasing `Mikado'

G&S' inspired silliness is at Bryn Mawr School

Music Review

July 09, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Even with its inhabitants constantly referring to things like beheadings and bodies buried alive or oil-boiled, the town of Titipu seems like a more comforting destination than ever right now.

At least all the talk of death in this silly burg is just that - talk.

Thursday night at the Bryn Mawr School, the Young Victorian Theatre Company took an enthusiastic audience on an amusing journey into Titipu's world of catchy tunes and pre-Monty Python absurdities, as immortalized by Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado.

The distraction of the visit proved doubly welcome on a day filled with images from a suddenly bloodied London, where The Mikado premiered 120 years ago.

Young Vic, celebrating its 35th anniversary of service to the incomparable G&S canon, knows how to put the spirit of these operettas across. Even some less-than-professional elements in this eager production were easily overlooked in light of all the charm and earnest effort.

Played out on a spare stage framed by Japanese paper walls, and enlivened by postcard-pretty costumes, the action flowed swiftly under the direction of Roger Brunyate, who added a fairly steady dose of visual jokes to the still-surefire bits in Gilbert's dialogue.

Honoring an old tradition, there was some updating of that dialogue, as well as the lyrics, to gain extra laughs. A "blue bottle," the British equivalent of a horsefly, cleverly became a blue crab, for example. And timid executioner Ko-Ko, in his "they'd none of 'em be missed" litany of "society offenders," had to add Paris Hilton and cell-phone users in public places.

Gilbert, a master at unmasking the Victorian era's hypocrisies and zapping its bad habits, would have approved.

Standing head and shoulders (literally) over the cast was baritone Samuel Helper, a Pooh-Bah of a thousand voices, one for each official appointment. His singing exuded a stylish flavor that matched his assured, engaging characterization.

Moving about with a rubbery, Jim Carrey-like flair, Troy Clark made a droll Ko-Ko. His lower-class British accent came and went, but he sang with consistently animated phrasing, scoring a comic hit while gurgling part of "Tit-Willow."

Steven Goodman slipped on a few lines in "My Object All Sublime," but otherwise turned in an assured, solidly sung Mikado. A split top note aside, John William Artz VIII sang elegantly as Nanki-Poo.

Leah Inger's soprano rang out brightly as Yum-Yum. Jenni Bank, sporting Turandot-worthy finger-claws, had a good romp as Katisha and used her ripe mezzo tellingly in the eloquent "Hearts Do Not Break."

The choristers moved about awkwardly but made a sufficiently dynamic sound. Everyone onstage needed greater clarity of diction.

Conductor J. Ernest Green kept the ingenious score bubbling along nicely and drew a more or less smooth response from the orchestra.

The Mikado

Where: Bryn Mawr School, 109 W. Melrose Ave., Roland Park

When: 11 a.m. (children's matinee) and 8 p.m. today; 3 p.m. tomorrow, 8 p.m. July 14-16, 3 p.m. July 17.

Tickets: $35 ($15 for today's matinee)

Call: 410-323-3077

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