2014-10-09 / On the Town

‘The Mikado’ boasts superb acting, singing and costumes

By Cary Ginell


PATTER SONG—Ko-Ko (Gary Saxer), Yum-Yum (Brooke deRosa) and Nanki-Poo (Dennis Ryan Lawrence) sing “Here’s a How-de-do.” The Gilbert and Sullivan satirical opera plays through Oct. 26 at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. PATTER SONG—Ko-Ko (Gary Saxer), Yum-Yum (Brooke deRosa) and Nanki-Poo (Dennis Ryan Lawrence) sing “Here’s a How-de-do.” The Gilbert and Sullivan satirical opera plays through Oct. 26 at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts in Thousand Oaks. In Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “The Mikado,” the title character pronounces, “Virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances.”

In the current production of the opera by the Ventura County Gilbert & Sullivan Repertoire Company in Thousand Oaks, not only is virtue triumphant, but so is just about every other element of the show, which features superb singing, inspired comic acting and luxurious costumes.

“The Mikado” was the ninth collaboration between W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan, first staged in 1885 at the Savoy Theatre, where it became the most popular of the partners’ operas. Like most of their other works, “The Mikado” takes pot shots at British politics, class structure and social mores during the Victorian era.

The satire was disguised by the ruse of having the story take place in the fictional Japanese village of Titipu. There is really nothing Japanese about the show other than the sumptuous costumes, hairstyles and one song, “Mi-ya Sa-ma,” a version of a Japanese military march. Similarly, the actors make no pretense to being Japanese, retaining the “veddy British” accents of G&S’s more homebound story lines.

The melodious, witty score contains a rich array of many of G&S’s most familiar songs, including “A Wand’ring Minstrel I,” “I’ve Got a Little List,” “The Moon and I,” “The Flowers That Bloom” and “Willow, Tit-Willow.”

Director/producers Rebecca and John Pillsbury’s lineup for “The Mikado” is anchored by the company’s mainstay comic baritone Gary Saxer, as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Making his debut with VCGSRC is Marc Goldstein, whose rich and robust baritone reminds one of the late British actor Robert Morley. Goldstein plays Poo Bah, the politician who holds all the official jobs in Titipu because nobody else wants them. Goldstein is wonderful in this role.

Two newcomers to the troupe are Brooke deRosa, who adds a gorgeous soprano to her portrayal of the ingénue Yum-Yum, and honey-voiced tenor Dennis Ryan Lawrence, who plays her suitor, Nanki-Poo. The two share a sweet duet on “Were You Not to Ko-Ko.”

Colin Fluxman, a veteran voiceover artist from South Africa, is the only cast member with an authentic British accent, but all of them do it so well, you wouldn’t know that. Fluxman is outstanding as the authoritative Mikado, who appears in Act II only to make the tangled plot machinations even knottier.

William Carmichael (as nobleman Pish Tush) and Julie Bermel (as Pitti Sing, another of Ko-Ko’s wards) have apparently found a home at VCGSRC after making their debuts in last season’s shows. Bermel is a joy to watch and listen to; she also devised the often very funny choreography. Elizabeth Harmetz plays the haughty Katisha with stolid imperiousness, while Isabella Mancuso does well as Ko-Ko’s third ward, Peep Bo.

As always, G&S’s famed tongue-twisting patter songs are done with proper preciseness. Saxer is an old hand at these, but his co-stars, especially Carmichael, Goldstein, and Hermetz, keep up with him well enough (Hermetz also snaps a mean Japanese hand fan).

As an encore to his solo, “I’ve Got a Little List,” Saxer introduced a new verse (read from a tablet computer), nominating modern-day perpetrators of petty annoyances as superfluous, including telemarketers and texting motorists, even whimsically invoking the name of T.O. council member and former mayor Jacqui Irwin.

A highlight of the show is the patter song “Here’s a How-dedo,” in which Saxer, deRosa and Lawrence included two encore choruses, each faster than the previous one, with Zach Spencer’s five-piece orchestra furiously trying to keep up the pace.

If you like the shenanigans of Monty Python, this is where they came from. Put “The Mikado” on your own “little list” to see.

“The Mikado” plays through Oct. 26 at the Hillcrest Center for the Arts. For ticket information, visit www.hillcrestarts.com.

Return to top