Tag Archives: Gilbert & Sullivan

Musical Theatre: The Mikado at Artisan Center Theater

Musical Theatre: The Mikado at Artisan Center Theater

by Christopher Soden

Ah the lofty hi-jinks of Gilbert and Sullivan. The insouciant erudition. The crafty wink and tongue set firmly in cheek. Certainly these two brought comic opera to new heights, spoofing grandiosity and tortured melodrama. They had a flair for poking fun at the pompous and the precious, the vain and the quaint. Their genius lay in their ability to celebrate and yet deflate their subjects, all with a completely straight face, and all in good fun. Their operettas felt light, and yet something nudged them to realms beyond cleverness. Not that they ever lacked for wit. Perhaps it was the simple strategy that each character took themselves seriously, with gusto, even in the context of a world that makes them seem absurd.

A possible exception is the “Three Little Maids” from The Mikado who understand their role in society includes : “girlish glee” and the detachment of a line like : “Life is a joke that has just begun.” While they gamely understand that life is far too important to be taken at face value, they too, understand their function is key. Even if that function is to be wise and foolish (the definition of sophomoric). After admittedly seeing The Mikado for the first time, I wasn’t altogether sure that Japanese culture and Gilbert & Sullivan were a neat fit. To put it differently, you don’t always know where G & S are coming from (those sly boys) and they probably loved it that way.

It’s one thing to exploit the foibles of your own culture, quite another to risk condescension towards one that may seem (in some ways) inexplicable. I’m not suggesting xenophobia here, only that Gilbert & Sullivan’s habit of working up the eccentricities of a character or culture might not work as well here. Seems when you give your characters names like Nanki-Poo, Yum-Yum and Pish, Tush and Pooh-Bah you’re sending signals to the audience, but again, G & S were certainly never hesitant to skewer British culture in shows like H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance. The Mikado then would seem to be a concoction comprised of fantasia, congenial musical comedy and social whimsy. Trust me, I’m just trying to keep score.

As I have tried to explain, G & S often transcends the genre of comic opera, but every component : delivery, demeanor, tone, orchestration, has to be meticulous and contingent on the others. It’s a lot more difficult than it appears. There is a lot to enjoy and appreciate in ACT’s Mikado, the staging (and choreography?) by Director John Wilkerson, the playful, sometimes lavish, humor is fun and the proceedings are kept lively, jaunty and personable. The canned music (used for practical reasons I’m sure) is not successful here, though the timing of the performers is fine. I got the impression some of the cast members had a more intuitive grasp of the loopy, deadpan content. I daresay even when the waters are choppy Mr. Wilkerson’s instincts are good.

Artisan Center Theater’s production of The Mikado has been double cast, so I will list the actors I saw Saturday night, September 5th, below. (Illness has kept me from providing them with a prompt review and for this I am humbly begging their pardon.) The Mikado features a valiant, diligent cast. Especially noteworthy were Lauren Morgan (Yum-Yum), Amira Sharif (Pitti-Sing), Bob Beck (Pish) and Jonathan Kennedy (The Mikado). Brian Hales as Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner and Chelsea Duncan as Katisha, were quite delightful, bringing lots of wry gumption and mastery to their characters.

The set design, by John Wilkerson and Jason Leyva was practical, but still imaginative and eloquent, with a bridge, brook and fountain, a palace and turntable stage, as well as delicate, tranquil murals. Jennifer and Nita Cadenhead’s costumes were wonderfully varied and appealing to the eye, whether using elaborate weaves and patterns, or bold, striking monochromatic fabrics. These ladies knew how to incorporate the outlandish and other-worldly in their designs, which only enhanced the jubilant aspects of the show. Special praise must go to Ryan Smith for the hair and make-up design. Considering the need for numerous wigs and exotic cosmetic creations, Mr. Smith’s job must be painstaking indeed.

Artisan Center Theater of Hurst presents; Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado, playing September 4th – October 10th. 418 East Pipeline Road, Hurst, Texas, 76053. 817-284-1200. http://www.artisanct.com. Box Office Hours: Monday-Friday : 10AM – 6 PM, Saturday : 10 AM – 2 PM.

Directed by John Wilkerson, The Mikado stars : Brad Stephens (Nanki-Poo), Lauren Morgan (Yum-Yum), Amira Sharif (Pitti-Sing), Arlette Morgan (Peep-Bo), Bob Beck (Pish), David Priddy (Tush), Gary Payne (Pooh-Bah), Jonathan Kennedy (The Mikado), Brian Hales (Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner), Chelsea Duncan (Katisha), and The Chorus : Jessica Peterson, Jennifer Cadenhead, Randal Jones, Mary Kreeger, Amy Jones, Lori Jones, and Traysa Waak. Set Design : John Wilkerson and Jason Leyna, Costume Design: Jennifer Cadenhead and Nita Cadenhead, Hair and Makeup Design, and Set Dressing : Ryan Smith. Lighting Design : Jason Leyva

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Theater Review: The MIKADO

Theater Review: The Mikado

by Clyde Berry of John Garcia’s The Column

Jonathan Kennedy, Lauren Morgan, Brad Stephens, Chelsea Duncan

Having been out of town all summer, I was excited to return to the Metroplex for a brief period where I was able to review Seven Brides for Seven Brothers in Denton. I was equally excited to be able to return to the Artisan Theater Center in Hurst. Sadly, I was not back in time to be able to see what I heard was a very good West Side Story. So it was with delight that I requested to review their The Mikado.

I admire Artisan for their company’s mission principles, and do think they are successful in producing an incredibly full season of programming for both adults and kids, of both musicals and straight plays. After all, there I was, sitting in a space that a week earlier had been a completely different production. That sort of turnaround is not easy. I also rarely see empty seats at Artisan when I go there.

While I’m not convinced that their double casting really works, I do appreciate the fact they’re doing it offers opportunities to a great deal more folks to be involved on stage, which I do like. I’m also not a fan of scrubbing a script for content, but am very cognizant that you have to grow your target audience and not offend them with content that is not the family friendly programming you guarantee that you have.

That’s why The Mikado is an excellent choice of show for Artisan. This operetta by Gilbert and Sullivan is a delightful tale full of witty banter and lovely singing. There is no content that is offensive, and there are lots of great messages to be found. The Mikado was written to satirize English politics and manners. By setting their tale in Japan, the authors made it safe to poke fun at their own society without offending. You’ll also recognize many of the tunes, such as “Three Little Maids,” “Tit-willow,” and “A Wand’ring Minstrel I.”

In Mikado, Nanki-Poo, the heir to the throne of Japan, has fled the royal court and an arranged marriage. He ends up in Titipu where he falls in love with Yum-Yum, who is already engaged to Ko-Ko. Ko-Ko is the town executioner, also condemned himself to be executed for flirting. Unable to kill himself first, he cannot execute anyone else, therefore keeping the town safe. When Ko-Ko receives word from the Emperor that he must carry out an execution, or the town is doomed, complications emerge. Who will get executed? Will Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum get together?

This is a beautifully designed production! The entire space has been lovingly covered in murals by Michelle McElree and Lilly Strapp. Their color pallet and images are quite striking and do well to set the scene and generate excitement about where we will be transported to in the story. Jennifer Cadenhead, Nita Cadenhead, and Ryan Smith have the daunting task of creating numerous elaborate Japanese period costumes, which they successfully accomplish. Each performer looks wonderful in their outfit, and the choices of color and character touches are entirely appropriate and fun. No one seems to have received the bad or leftover pieces, a testament to a thorough design.

Ryan Smith’s hair and make-up designs are well researched, period appropriate, and quite delightful. I’m sure his wigs have to serve multiple performers, no easy design task. His make up design, as fun as it is, could use a supervisor on sight, as there was not uniformity in its execution amongst the cast members.

John Wilkerson and Jason Levya’s set and light designs are simple and fun. The Artisan challenge is, as always, staging in the round. This is never easy, and these gentlemen have put together an effective design that should serve the production well. There are two buildings in corners, a lovely garden bridge in another, and a simple circular platform unit at center. This unit also works when it was used as a revolver a few times within the show.

As to the execution of the story, I was disappointed. While I am not a fan of musicals done to tracks, I understand the inability to afford a pit. I don’t understand the lack of a musical director for an operetta. One was neither listed in the program, website, nor acknowledged as being overlooked in the curtain and intermission speeches. Almost every song had difficulty, mostly with performers missing the first line of a song and coming in late. Diction was also inconsistent. There were also several instances where folks were ahead or behind the track, or forgot lyrics altogether. That is not to say there were not good vocal performances in the piece, but a great deal of cleanup, would really help sharpen things.

A decision could also have been made for folks to either affect British accents or not, since there’s a mix of British and Texas accents.

There were questions I had about John Wilkerson’s direction. The overall production struck me as an opportunity to show off “bits.” We move throughout the evening from bit to bit at the sake of the overall story. In fact, during the intermission raffle, the staff person running the raffle spent a great deal of time bantering with the young raffle ticket puller about how it took him numerous times to figure out what the story is, and that he still wasn’t sure. (Joking or not, I’m not sure I’d want the audience to think about that too much.)

These bits often interrupt songs, bringing them to a grinding halt for a moment of shtick. Any sense of pacing is lost for the sake of these bits, which more often than not, are not successfully pulled off. The best example of this was the audience participation madrigal in Act II. Three volunteers were brought out of the audience to sing. No one readily volunteered to go, and those that did couldn’t read the music and did not know the song. So we awkwardly watch them stand and politely smile until the number is over.

The overall pace of the show is just slow enough to prevent laughs from the witty back and forth in the dialog, and many scripted jokes are lost, or not set up properly because of inserted material. Odd that for a show that has so much inserted into it, I was surprised that no significant changes were made to “As Some Day It May Happen” the “list song,” especially with the current political craziness. Then again, the style of presentation had little to do with making this a mock play of manners, which again, was the author’s intent.

For example a line about “The Japanese don’t use pocket handkerchiefs!” is said after several cast members have been using them to blot their faces, and someone is holding one at that exact moment. The cast, however, is able to move along without problems. They jump in and out of the songs as best they can, not letting frustration show for late vocal entrances or synching problems. They execute the bits they are staged to do, and could pull off many more of them, getting the laughs they are shooting for, by speeding up. People seem to be enjoying themselves and having a good time.

While there was no men’s chorus (two men does not a chorus make), several leads sing the opening number “If You Want to Know Who We Are.” Why not have the double cast male leads serve as chorus on their non-lead nights? The ladies of the women’s chorus are quite good at being enthusiastic and attentive. They move through their repetitive blocking (there was no choreographer) energetically and their “Comes a Train of Little Ladies” was one of the best numbers in Act I. They also do well reacting to the events around them in the end of each act.

For a production that was severely short of men, I was curious as to why the character of Pish-Tush was split into two roles: Pish and Tush. The men were neither “twins,” nor spoke in unison, thought they did split lines occasionally in quick succession. Bob Beck as Pish and David Priddy as Tush go above the call of duty filling in chorus singing and completing business that a gentleman like Pish-Tush would never do in other productions. Their pitching in gives them a lot more to do in this show, and they do it well.

As the Mikado, Jonathan Kennedy leers and sneers as he should. Chelsea Duncan’s Katisha is well matched to Kennedy, however it would have been more fun to see more of the rivalry between their two characters, especially during their joint entrance. Duncan sounds nice, and is well prepared for her solos.

Playing two of the three maids are Amira Sharif as Pitti-Sing and Arlette Morgan as Peep-Bo. These ladies are bright and work nicely as a group with Yum-Yum. They have some cute moments teasing Pooh-Bah and the other men.

On my evening Bill Sizemore played the officious Pooh-Bah. Sizemore is well cast in this role and has created a nice all around performance. His low voice was fun to listen to, and he is solid as the snob. He has some challenging dialogue, rolling off all his titles, and this will likely become a scene stealing moment by the end of the run.

Playing the lovers Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are Craig Moody and Lauren Morgan. There is good chemistry between them, and they do well capturing their character’s youthful innocence. Morgan does a particularly fine job in her Act II solo “The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze,” bringing a nice moment of simple solid characterization.

Brian Hales plays Ko-Ko at every performance. His Ko-Ko is a lovable doddering goof. Hales is comfortable as the anchor in this production; and his standout moment in this production is the hilarious and desperate proposal of marriage to Katisha.

If you’re keeping a little list of shows to see at the end of your summer, The Mikado runs at the Artisan Center Theater through October 10.

The Column

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The MIKADO Review

The Mikado at Artisan Center Theater

John Wilkerson

John Wilkerson

by  Joy Donovan

John Wilkerson takes his bow, a deep Japanese bow, as Artisan Center Theater’s new artistic director by successfully bringing “The Mikado” to the Hurst theater for a multi-week run.

Wilkerson has assembled a talented lineup of actors to play an array of Japanese parts in this famed musical operetta written by Gilbert and Sullivan. Set in the town of Titipu, “The Mikado” features characters with such fanciful names as Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko and Peep-Bo.

Brian Hales as Ko-Ko“The Mikado” centers on Nanki-Poo, a young man who has banished himself from the town of Titipu. Nanki-Poo has fallen in love with Yum-Yum, a beautiful young lady unfortunately engaged to be married to her guardian, the tailor Ko-Ko. The plot twists and turns through circumstances that could only happen in a town where flirting is considered a capital crime.

Stealing the show is Brian Hales, who deftly plays Ko-Ko as a breathless buffoon in the mold of the late comedian Red Skelton. Artisan Center Theater’s production is double cast, but every audience will be treated to Hales’ droll wit since he takes the part for both casts.

Katisha and Nanki-PooAlso a bright spot was Gary Payne in the role of Pooh-Bah. For a character who defends his personality with the line “I can’t help it; I was born sneering,” Payne is appropriately and amusingly haughty. Other standouts were the strong-voiced Brad Stephens as Nanki-Poo, the soprano Lauren Morgan as Yum-Yum and the droll Jonathan Kennedy as The Mikado.

In addition to the comedy that borders on a delightful silliness, highlights included musical numbers, especially the very feminine “Three Little Maids From School are We,” featuring the trio of Yum-Yum, Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing, and the amusing “I am So Proud,” spotlighting a humorous male quartet. The two-act operetta features dozens of songs, so casting requires strong vocalists to carry the show. For the most part this worked well, but occasionally voices were overwhelmed by the musical accompaniment, and that musical track presented some distracting technical problems.

CostumesCostumes featuring kimonos, kabuki-style makeup, Asian wigs and pretty parisols help transport the story to another time and place. The set features Asian images, too, surrounding the Artisan’s theater-in-the-round with this foreign culture.

“The Mikado” is an old, old tale. The show premiered in March of 1885 in London, and it opened later that same year same year in New York. But the humor stands up well, even more than 100 years later. Artisan Center Theater’s current production, continuing through Oct. 10, will bring a smile to your face, and that’s worth a Japanese bow or two.

Bill Sizemore (Pooh-Bah), David Priddy (Tush)

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The MIKADO Opens

mikado_t520

The Artisan Center Theater opened its production of The Mikado over the weekend.  Tonight I make my debut as Nanki-Poo in the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta.  My wife, Arlette Morgan, is making her musical theater debut this production as well, playing the part of Peep-Bo.  Thankfully, we are in the same cast so we have actually gotten to spend a little time together during the hectic rehearsal process.  Come on out and see us!

Take a whimsical trip to far-away Japan and enjoy The Mikado, a deliciously tangled love story which is actually a satire of senseless laws, self-important officials, and political “spin.” The Mikado features those favorite G&S characters, Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo, and Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner with his “little list” of potential victims, not to mention the fearsome Katisha, the hilariously ridiculous Pooh-Bah, and the emperor himself, with his own list of punishments to fit the crime.

Gilbert’s lyrics and Sullivan’s melodies have delighted over one hundred years of operetta lovers but they are still as fresh as “the flowers that bloom in the spring.”  Widely agreed to be Gilbert and Sullivan’s masterpiece, The Mikado is said to be the most popular operetta ever written.

After practicing his craft in New York City for many years, Broadway veteran and Mikado director John Wilkerson, along with his wife Margaret Shafer, relocated to Dallas to be closer to family. He completed his graduate work in vocal performance at the State University of New York and place third in the Metropolitan Opera competition. In working with some of the finest performers, directors, choreographers, musical directors, and technicians from the Broadway and British stages, he has worked at every level of performance from major concert halls to cruise ships, Broadway shows, national tours, Las Vegas, and overseas.

Running through October 10, this production is double-cast so I trade off performances with Craig Moody, a splendid talent whom has been a joy with which to work.  I generally perform in all Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday evening shows.  Please check my event calendar to confirm my performance dates.  Tickets may be purchased online at www.artisanct.com.

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