Thursday, 29 December 2016

THE MIKADO performed by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players

     I have never been a great Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiast. I had friends in high school and college who loved G&S (I doubt that would be the case today). There were (and still are in some places), local G&S societies who mount an annual production. I was once involved in a production that almost destroyed Princeton's G&S society but that's another story. All this is a preface to the fact that I don't go out of my way to attend G&S productions. When I do, I am always more impressed with the music than I expected. Though the lyrics are often amusing, I find the books a bit twee now.
     My husband asked at the intermission of this production of THE MIKADO why G&S never led to anything else in England. Opera and musical theatre have never thrived in England, at least not until Benjamin Britten came along. For all his popularity, one can't rank Andrew Lloyd Webber with the great composers of American musicals and Lloyd Webber has always been indifferent to the mediocre lyrics attached to his songs. It was American composers like Gershwin who adored G&S and tried to write in their vein (listen to the album of the first, commercially unsuccessful version of STRIKE UP THE BAND).
      So, at my husband's insistence, we went to THE MIKADO, produced by the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, the major professional organization devoted to the works of G&S. The group had planned a production a few years ago and had to cancel it because of protests about a Yellow Face production that mocked Asians. So the group rethought their production and have mounted it a Gilbert's dream with the citizens of Titipu in outlandish Victorian costumes. Why not?--the work has nothing at all to do with Japan. The set was a version of Japan out of a woodblock rather than personal observation. thirty years ago, Jonathan Miller set THE MIKADO in a resort hotel in the 1920s complete with tap-dancing maids and bellhops and guests in evening dress. That production is still in the repertoire of the English National Opera.
     Once again I was pleasantly surprised at how good Sullivan's music is -- not great, but very good. The musical values of this production were excellent. Fine singing, good orchestra. However, all the camping and shameless mugging of the principals reminded me of why I don't like productions of Gilbert and Sullivan. This kind of awful hamminess seems to go with the territory. At times the camping of the male principals seemed like a Victorian version of THE BOYS IN THE BAND. The jokes might have landed better with some underplaying. However, the audience was obviously full of fans of G&S and of this company and seemed to relish every moment.

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