There was once a production of “The Marriage of Figaro” that takes place in Trump Tower. Although the concept of a Count having the “droit du seigneur” over any bride-to-be on his estate is ridiculous enough in 20th-century New York City, things are made worse when the Italian text is clearly heard to be “Siviglia” when the subtitles say “New Jersey.” At least, Da Ponte’s lyrics are not changed, although they are totally out of synch with what is seen on stage.
There was an African group at Keene Stage College performing a “Macbeth” set in Africa but the Scottish place names were maintained. Here I would have welcomed a change in proper nouns to maintain the illusion.
All of this is prologue to my column, which is more of an essay today than a review.
My readers must know by now how fond I am of the DVD releases from the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society. On the other hand, I have always been testy about their changing the lyrics—or adding stanzas with new lyrics—to songs or throwing current references into the dialogue. The usual reason is that “Some of Gilbert’s references have little or no meaning to modern audiences.” This I can understand and counter with the idea of adding a glossary of such references to the playbill.
Why is “operetta” an excuse for changing dialogue and lyrics while grand opera (even when the staging is updated) is allowed to keep the words the librettist intended? Of course, Gilbert and Sullivan is not holy writ; but if a group chooses to do their works, they should give the audience what is advertised.
So here is a very good traditional production of “The Mikado,” the most popular operetta in the world, with a good cast, a good conductor (Bernard Kwiram), an inventive director (Christine Goff), and even a bit of ballet (ARC School of Ballet)—all this (to me) unable to ignore changing all of the references in Ko-Ko’s “Little list” song AND almost all of the references in the Mikado’s song.
Okay, every production changes the list song. But take for example a reference to “the senator from Idaho” that gets a tremendous laugh from the audience. This might have been hot stuff back in 2008, but the joke is totally lost to most viewers watching the DVD today. Worse, here and in the Mikado’s song, while the audience is roaring at this or that reference, the next line is being sung but not heard by any one.
Granted that no one, including modern British audiences, knows much if anything about “parliamentary trains”; but, as I say, an explanation in the program notes is all that is needed. And if Nanki-Poo’s comparing the Mikado with Lucius Junius Brutus is changed to Lord Valdemort, I can tolerate that reference despite its being an anachronism.
Of course, when the Mikado asks Ko-Ko where Nanki-Poo has gone, the original joke has the reply “Knightsbridge”—the location of the Japanese exhibit that inspired Gilbert to write this libretto. Today, directors substitute the name of some local place. Here, Oklahoma City gets a big laugh. And I can’t think why.
Setting this aside and the overuse of snapping fans open and shut, this is a well-conceived production with an excellent Ko-Ko (John Brookes). If Dave Ross is physically somewhat less than imposing as the Mikado, he sings well and is allowed to keep two of Gilbert’s original references in his “punishment fit the crime” number. Parker Albin is a pleasant Nanki-Poo, although he does look a bit like Li’l Abner, and Cara Iverson shows a good comic technique as Yum-Yum. She is ably assisted by the other two little maids, Carla Hilderbrand as Pitti-Sing and Annette Dennis as Peep-Bo.
I always miss a good basso profundo for Pooh-Bah, but Craig Cantley’s delivery is good enough, while William J. Darkow (looking much like Timothy Spall when he played the Mikado in the film “Topsy-Turvy”) gets some humor into his Pish-Tush. As she always does in her contralto roles, Alyce Rogers dominates the stage as Katisha.
I am hoping that future productions by this capable group will modify their changes to these works in the future.