The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP), performing at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College, ended the year and begins the New Year with a new, ‘reimagined’ production of “The Mikado” (1885), bent on removing the ‘yellowface’ stereotypes—the simpering, shuffling, and giggling behind the fan—and proving, with a well-sung and no-less-humorous account, that the operetta works without offending. The third of ten performances, on December 30, is considered here.
In this “Mikado,” conceived, directed, and choreographed by David Auxier, assisted by Kelvin Moon Loh, the action is framed as William S. Gilbert’s dream, inspired by a blow on the head from a falling sword, part of a display of Japanese artifacts, and his thoughts about his next collaboration with Arthur S. Sullivan. In this Japan of Gilbert’s mind, Anshuman Bhatia’s settings assured that we were in Asia, but Quinto Ott’s stylish Victorian costumes—save Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo’s Eastern wedding finery, her gilded, horned gown and his red robe, and the Mikado’s ceremonial dragon headdress—seemed to situate us in England. The marionette of the opening chorus was no longer Japanese, and Japanese words, interrupting Katisha’s threatened revelation and heralding the Mikado’s entrance, were replaced by English ones. And truly, no-one simpered, shuffled, or giggled bashfully behind any fan, especially the ones triumphantly snapped during the work’s finale.
Aaron Gandy presided, from the orchestra pit, over the bubbly evening. David Macaluso’s smoothly-sung Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko gave lie to the myth that the buffo baritone must bleat. His little list, in “As some day it may happen,” condemned the lady who asks, “Does this make me look fat?” as well as assorted sopranos, contraltos, tenors, basses, and “patter singers,” i.e. himself, recognizing, “I’ve got me on the list,” as a potential candidate for beheading. “I am so proud,” the trio with officials Pooh-Bah (an aptly pompous Matthew Wages) and Pish-Tush (Joshua Miller), was a highlight of Act One. Contralto Cáitlín Burke was the larger-than-life, Verdian virago of a Katisha and her scenes with Macaluso’s Ko-Ko were priceless.
Soprano Sarah Caldwell Smith, as Yum-Yum, sent an interpolated high note sailing over the full ensemble at the end of the first act finale, and offered a bel canto rendition of “The sun whose rays are all ablaze,” her lyrical legato aria. Completing the “Three little maids from school,” Amy Maude Helfer and Alexandra Haines were Yum-Yum’s saucy sisters Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo. Daniel Greenwood made a winning Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son, disguised as “wand’ring minstrel.” Chris White offered a Mikado with flair and substituted collagen and Botox for something far more offensive when making “the punishment fit the crime.”
“The Mikado” runs through January 8, 2017, at the Kaye, on 68th Street between Park and Lexington Avenues, and “Patience,” on April 29 and 30, completes the season. Visit www.nygasp.org
for information and tickets.