When Rick Shiomi was Artistic Director of Theater Mu (one of the best Asian-American theater companies in the country, which he founded in 1992), he re-imagined G&S's The Mikado, presented in partnership with Skylark Opera as a part of their now defunct Summer Festival in 2013 (but if you're a fan of reinvented, accessible opera, check out Skylark's upcoming production of Mozart's Cosi Fan Tutte). One of their most popular works, G&S set The Mikado in Japan, which "allowed Gilbert to satirise British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese" (Wikipedia). In doing so, they also play on stereotypes of Japan, and many productions throughout its history have employed yellowface (casting Caucasian actors as Asian characters). Rick has attempted to remedy the situation by setting the story in England rather than Japan and rewriting some of the libretto, thereby eliminating the offensive stereotypes while keeping the charm and wit of the original piece.*
In the fictional town of Ti-Tea-Pu, the son of the King (or Mikado) is disguised as a traveling musician (a second trombone). Franki-Poo (the dashing Anthony Rohr) is looking for his love, Tum-Tum (Margaret Matejcek, with a strong pure voice). Sadly for the lovers, she is the ward and betrothed of the Grand High Executioner Co-Co (a very funny Tyus Beeson). Because of the complicated laws of the land (which include a mandatory punishment of beheading for the crime of flirting) and Franki-Poo's desire to die if he can't be with Tum-Tum, Co-Co grants them permission to marry for a month, after which time Franki-Poo will be executed and Tum-Tum can marry Co-Co as planned (do you follow?). This crazy plan is approved by Co-Co's right hand man Pooh-Bah (Alex Kolyszko, delighting in the multiple facets of this all-powerful man, from whom we get the term pooh-bah). The King/Mikado himself (a strong Doug Freeman) appears in the second act and plans must be changed. Co-Co woos Franki-Poo's previous betrothed Katy Shaw (the beautiful-voiced Lara Trujillo) so that Franki-Poo can confess his true identity, marry the woman he loves, and not be executed (still following?). Yes, it's a silly and convoluted story, but it's great fun.*
|the love triangle of Franki-Poo (Anthony Rohr), Tum-Tum
(Margaret Matejcek), and Co-Co (Tyus Beeson)
(photo courtesy of GSVLOC)
If you're a fan of classic comic opera well and traditionally done, you must check out GSVLOC. Even better when the dated and offensive material is removed, allowing us to enjoy what's good about the original without perpetuating the stereotypes that were a product of the time, but no longer serve.
The New Mikado continues weekends through April 7 at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center (inside Plymouth Congregational Church) in South Minneapolis.
*Some text adapted from what I wrote about the 2013 Mu/Skylark production.