The Mikado
Virginia Opera
Harrison Opera House
March 10, 2012
Review by M.D. Ridge

The fun at Virginia Opera’s production of The Mikado begins even before the curtain rises, with the overture: the familiar tunes of the Gilbert and Sullivan satire whet one’s appetite for what is to come.

Then the Japanese screen curtain lifts, and the brightly costumed men’s chorus intones,

“If you want to know who we are, we are gentlemen of Japan,”

while doing an intricately macho dance with dramatic snapping of fans. Director Dorothy Danner knows how to grab an audience’s attention and keep it through an entire evening, and she was definitely on top of her game in this production.

Bass-baritone Kevin Burdette steals the show as Ko-ko, the Lord High Executioner, caught between impossible laws. Condemned to death, he can’t execute anyone else until he beheads himself. . . Right. Desperation is a great motivator.

In the hilarious patter song, “I’ve got a little list,” Ko-Ko names various candidates for beheading (“they’d none of them be missed”), including a whole slew of hysterical topical and local references, such as TV reality shows and robocalls. It’s a brilliant star turn, even funnier when he unrolls a second scroll—“Appendix A”—and launches into an encore.

Burdette’s mastery of physical comedy is awesome—this sort of knockabout hilarity takes inventiveness and perfect timing, not to mention gymnastic agility, all while singing complicated lyrics.

Baritone Aaron St. Clair Nicholson is the lugubrious, greedy Pooh-Bah, who holds every high office in the village except executioner—and he’s got a change of voice or accent for each one of them, including “Co-chair of the Tunnel Toll Collection Booth.”

As Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son masquerading as a wandering minstrel, tenor Matthew Plenk has a pleasing demeanor and voice, which unfortunately went sharp on every full-volume high note.

Soprano Katherine Jolly, who sings Yum-Yum, has a voice that can reach the back walls, no problem; but she works awfully hard at being super-perky.

Tall, willowy mezzo Dorothy Byrne makes a truly frightening Katisha, sacrificing vocal beauty for her character’s unnerving screech. Jeffrey Tucker’s huge bass creates a commanding Mikado.

VO’s Emerging Artists acquit themselves well. Mezzo Megan Marino is terrific as the plucky Pitti-Sing (one of the “three little maids from school”), who stands up to the fearsome Katisha. Baritone Cairan Ryan is a lanky, funny Pish-Tush, owlish in round, black-rimmed spectacles.

Both the men’s and women’s choruses sound wonderful, full of life and freshness.

Danner’s stage direction is matched by Gerald Steichen’s brisk conducting of Richmond Symphony players. The costumes and sets are marvelous and work well; I loved the big tree whose flowers are fans. Kenneth Steadman’s lighting underscores the mood in every scene.

No opportunity for creative hilarity is missed. After Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko sing the rapid-fire patter song, “Here’s a How-de-do,” it’s revved up for a reprise at impossible speed.

When the Mikado sings,

“My object all sublime, I shall achieve in time, to make the punishment fit the crime,”

a telephone rings—from the orchestra pit. Everything stops. After two or three rings, a voice from the pit says, “Sorry” — probably the only time such an occurrence is cause for laughter, not murder.

I’d go see it all again in a New York minute!

From the Other Side of the Footlights, I’m M.D. Ridge.

This is the text of a review originally broadcast on WHRO FM - 90.3.

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