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If you want to know who we are,
We are gentlemen of Japan:
On many a vase and jar—
On many a screen and fan,
We figure in lively paint:
Our attitude’s queer and quaint—
You’re wrong if you think it ain’t, oh!
—Opening lines of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado



According to my Complete Annotated Gilbert & Sullivan [What? Every home should have one!], The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu) has been performed more times than any other Gilbert and Sullivan opera. I would have thought that honor would go to The Pirates of Penzance, but I guess maybe that’s just in the U.S., where it seems to pop up everywhere, including the Ashland Shakespeare Festival.

Robby Stafford as Pooh-Bah, John Melis as Pish-Tush, and F. Lawrence Ewing as Ko-Ko. Photo by Charles Martin.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you may know that Jonathan Miller’s resetting of this operetta at the English seaside ranks at the top of my list of most hated opera productions ever, right up there with the “disco” Carmen I saw at the Opéra Comique in Paris. Imagine if you will the lyrics above sung by gentlemen in 1920s resort wear. Ludicrous.

The tragedy of the Miller production, which I saw almost ten years ago at the New York City Opera (courtesy of my sister), was that for years it had been my only opportunity to see this work live. After all, repeated viewings of Topsy-Turvy can only go so far. [Note: If you at all like backstage dramas about the creative process, try to see this superb Mike Leigh film that won Oscars for both make-up and costumes and was nominated for screenplay and art direction.]

Needless to say, I was greatly looking forward to this production, and, for the first time, I was a bit disappointed with the Lamplighters. Not that there was anything particularly problematic with the production, but it seemed unfocused—less joyous, and certainly less polished than usual. This was most apparent in the fan work, one of my favorite elements of Topsy-Turvy, which results in a very polished “Three Little Maids from School Are We” come performance time. And, while I loved the presentation, the adjusted lyrics for “I’ve Got a Little List” were rather uninspired.

Sonia Gariaeff as Katisha and F. Lawrence Ewing as Ko-Ko. Photo by Charles Martin.

I can’t fault the singing of the main cast, which included Robert Vann, who I loved as Marco in The Gondoliers, as well as Robby Stafford, Sonia Gariaeff, and F. Lawrence Ewing, who I all enjoyed in H.M.S. Pinafore. I want to particularly praise newcomer Molly Mahoney, who really elevated Pitti-Sing to Yum-Yum’s level. I hope we see more of her on the Lamplighters’ stage.

Wm. H. Neil as the Mikado and Molly Mahoney as Pitti-Sing. Photo by Charles Martin.

There was just something missing I guess. I suppose it had to happen at some point, that there would be a Lamplighters’ production I wouldn’t rave about. I just wish it wasn’t this one.

Note: The Mikado is the Lamplighters’ first production of the 2012-2013 season. Future productions include Princess Ida in February and The Sorcerer in March.

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