Curse Gilbert and Sullivan. Despite my best efforts, I know that I'm going to have the song "If You Want to Know Who We Are" as well as a number of other songs running through my head for the next several days.
That's what "The Mikado" does to you. It's one of those wonderful comic operettas that stays with you, and Opera Omaha made certain of that with the delightful production of this 19th-century classic Friday evening at the Orpheum Theater.
W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan debuted "The Mikado" in London in 1885 and meant it as a biting satire of British politics. While this aspect may be lost to contemporary audiences, the comedy, set in the fictional Japanese village of Titipu, is still as fresh now as it was then. The plot is a complex one: It involves a potential beheading and suicide as well as a farcical love triangle.
It may not sound like funny stuff, but trust me, it is. (And being a comedy, there is, of course, the requisite happy ending.)
Tenor William Ferguson, who has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, is thoroughly engaging as Nanki-Poo, the forlorn son of the Mikado (Emperor of Japan), who is so desperately in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum he is willing to allow his own execution if only to spend a brief time married to her. He is romantic, charming and a tad dashing — everything the operetta's protagonist should be.
As Poo-Bah, the lord of basically everything in Titipu, bass-baritone Terry Hodges does a terrific job summing up his character with his delivery of lines such as "I was born sneering." He plays the role with great blustering bravado, a happy fellow willing to assist in the action's unfolding wackiness as long as bags of coins get thrown his way.
Sarah Lawrence in the role of Yum-Yum is utterly beguiling, even when vainly exclaiming over her own beauty. With her sharp, lilting soprano and dainty movements, the audience couldn't help but fall in love with her as much as Nanki-Poo. As Yum-Yum's sisters Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo (Leanne Hill Carlson and Jodi Frisbie Reese, respectively), complement the heroine perfectly. When the three sing "Three Little Maids from School Are We" accompanied by the chorus, they play off each in enchanting, flirty and fun fashion.
Baritone Brian-Mark Conover steals "The Mikado" and subsequently owns the entire production as Ko-Ko, Titipu's Lord High Executioner. Groucho Marx once played this role, and Conover's in the same comedic league. With disarming wit, dead-on delivery and marvelously played physical comedy, he doesn't just chew the scenery — he eats it up in the most delicious sense. Just listen to his delivery of "Little List," when he points out that the people he plans to put to death will not be missed.
This number also features a thoroughly entertaining rewrite, which includes a Who's Who of pop culture references ranging from politicians to political pundits. The audience's laughter was testament not just to the rewrite itself, but to Conover's hilarious delivery.
Stage Director Dorothy Danner, known for her creative directing of musicals and operettas, gets "The Mikado" just right and moves the cast fluidly — and comically — throughout each number. Every detail, from the slightest movement to the biggest flourishes, is just right and establishes a mood ideal for conveying the farce that Gilbert and Sullivan envisioned their production to be.
If you haven't gotten your tickets yet for Sunday's performance of "The Mikado," I heartily encourage you to do so. Just don't blame me if you hum the libretto for the next week. Blame Opera Omaha — and give Opera Omaha a great big "Bravo!" while you're at it —for this wonderful gem of a production.