Review: The Mikado (Toronto Operetta Theatre)

the mikado

Toronto Operetta Theatre’s The Mikado is a fun and frivolous jaunt to end the holiday season

I was admittedly hesitant before going to see Toronto Operetta Theatre‘s The Mikado. Granted, this would be the first time I’ve seen an operetta live, let alone the Gilbert and Sullivan classic. What was truly causing my reservations was the fact that I had recently subjected myself to the massive train wreck of a movie that is The Interview, and wasn’t sure if I could stomach anymore overt racism. But, when The Mikado is described literally as “a thinly-veiled poke at English bureaucracy disguised as a Japanese idyll”, and it is made perfectly clear that this is a cultural parody, it’s akin to complaining about violence in a movie labelled “violent” — you knew what you were in for.

If you can put aside the “yellow face” (the fact that there isn’t a single Asian actor on stage for a production set in “Japan” with “Japanese” characters) and the silly names, The Mikado is actually quite fun.

In The Mikado, Nanki-Poo (played by Adrian Kramer), son of the Mikado (i.e. Emperor of Japan, played by Giles Tomkins), while disguised as a wandering minstrel, falls in love with Yum Yum (Lucia Cesaroni), a ward of the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko (Joseph Angelo), to whom she is also engaged. Nanki-Poo considers suicide at the idea of his failed love, but Ko-Ko offers a grand execution instead (as the Mikado has demanded an execution before month’s end). Nanki-Poo agrees, and is content with being married to Yum Yum for his remaining month – but their happiness is ripped away when they learn that Yum Yum must be buried alive next to her deceased husband.

Needless to say, the story is a bit convoluted, but the point gets carried through quite well through song. The Mikado is a two-hour comedic operetta with characters that are caricatures of themselves – their flaws are heavily exaggerated, and you do not feel particularly happy or bad for a single one of these characters. You laugh at their follies and feel compelled to see what will happen to them next. The two hours (with intermission) fly by.

The vocal talents here are quite impressive, as there wasn’t a voice on that stage that I didn’t enjoy. Cesaroni’s strong soprano and Mia Lennox’s (who portrayed Katisha) mezzo-soprano voices stood out for me for their rich tones and crisp edginess (in particular Lennox’s). I was also drawn to Angelo’s tenor tones and the range he has not only vocally but in his acting chops as Executioner; his comedic versatility is impressive.

There were a few things I found distracting, namely in props and set. The first half of the first act relied heavily on the use of fans for props in the choreography, and these fans were finicky at best, ripping and failing to open at the most inopportune times. There was also the use of twirling ribbons that often got tangled in the actors’ costumes. All of this happened just enough times to become noticeable and clumsy. There was also the blocking during a few of the ensemble pieces, where actors appeared to be crowding other actors, and it stopped looking cohesive.

The main set pieces were cascading clusters of paper parasols that hung from the ceiling. At first look, they’re visually striking and quite gorgeous, but throughout the performance I started to find them distracting, especially when they would obscure the faces of some of the ensemble who had no choice but to stand behind them. It also felt like they didn’t serve a purpose after a while, and I think it would’ve made the show visually stronger if the parasols were replaced with something else after the intermission to denote a change of scenery.

At the end of the night, The Mikado is fun. You don’t need to be heavily involved in opera to appreciate the frivolity of this production. It’s a great piece to laugh at and enjoy the songs that are amusing if not hokey. Yes, there is a strong level of cultural parody here that is in no way meant to be offensive. If you’re willing to look past that, this production is a fun way of finishing off the holiday season.

Details:

  • The Mikado is playing at the Jane Mallet Theatre at the St Lawrence Centre for the Arts (27 Front St E)
  • Performances run December 31 (with a special New Year’s Eve gala) – January 4 at 8 pm with a matinee on Sunday January 3 at 2 pm.
  • Tickets are $72 and $95 and can be purchased online or over the phone by calling 416 366 7723 or toll-free 1 800 708 6754.

Photo of Adrian Kramer and Lucia Cesaroni by Gary Beechey.

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