College Light Opera Dazzles with “The Mikado”

July 12, 2010

Review by MARILYN J. ROWLAND, originally published in The Enterprise on Friday, July 2, 2010.

The College Light Opera Company opened its 42nd summer season this week with a dazzling production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s 1885 Savoy opera, “The Mikado.” The solo voices are engaging, the choruses both sonorous and visually enchanting, the comedic acting impressive, and the costumes exquisite. The fans and parasols are inspired, adding just the right touch of dash and whimsy.

The show continues tonight and tomorrow night at 8 o’clock at Highfield Theatre, and is a must-see for Gilbert & Sullivan fans and a wonderful introduction to comic opera for any who may not be familiar with the genre.

Stage direction is by Mark A. Pearson, now in his eighth season with CLOC, and musical direction is by David B. Weiller, who first came to CLOC 31 years ago as a rehearsal pianist and has conducted over 40 CLOC productions, including many Gilbert & Sullivan productions. Their combined experience is clearly evident in this production.

“The Mikado” takes place in Japan, but, like most Gilbert & Sullivan productions, makes light of British government and conventions, while reflecting British impressions of Japanese culture, the characters’ names and situations emphasizing the mockery. The costumes, designed by Kate Boucher, are elegant and flowing, using rich, dramatic, and delicate colors and designs; the Japanese look extends to the women’s hair and accessories. The set is simple, depicting traditional paper panel structures, but effective.

Nanki-Poo, played with humor and lovelorn earnestness by James Soller, is the son of the Mikado, but has disguised himself as a wandering minstrel to escape Katisha, an older, unattractive woman who is in love with him. The law of the land requires that men who flirt, but do not marry, are to be executed, and Nanki-Poo stands accused of flirting with Katisha, a woman he clearly does not want to marry.

Alexa Devlin is a standout as Katisha. Her entrance is dramatic, not only because of her magnificently draped and caped gown, but because she has a fine comedic and dramatic flair and a soaring and expressive contralto voice, which she makes excellent use of. Her character may not have appealed to Nanki-Poo, but she was clearly an audience favorite.

Nanki-Poo travels to Titipu to see the sweet and lovely Yum-Yum (delightfully played by Taylor Jacobson), his true love, who is, unfortunately, engaged to the local tailor, Ko-Ko (Kyle Yampiro, who provides a fine rendition of “Behold the Lord High Executioner” and “Willow, Tit-Willow”). Ko-Ko has been recently promoted to Lord High Executioner, though he is too soft-hearted to actually kill anyone or anything.

Together with Lord Pooh-Bah (Brandon Grimes, making good use of visual and vocal humor) who holds nearly every official position in town, Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko concoct a scheme that will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for 30 days, after which, to fulfill the Mikado’s order that Ko-Ko execute someone, Ko-Ko will summarily chop off the head of Nanki-Poo.

Yum-Yum is accompanied by two friends, Peep-Bo (Nora Byrd) and Pitti-Sing (Emily K. Byrne), who join her on “Three Little Maids From School,” which was nicely done. Brad Baron plays Pish-Tush, a noble lord, and Gabriel DiGennaro is the Mikado, both imposing figures, towering over the others. Mr. DiGennaro has a strong singing voice and a diabolical laugh, and he is resplendent in his dramatic black and gold costume.

The male chorus is resonant and strong; the men’s fans add audible as well as visual interest; the female chorus is charming, their parasols adding to the appeal. The combined choruses are magnificent. The opening night audience was wowed, rewarding the production with an enthusiastic standing ovation.

Up next is “Evita,” which runs Tuesday, July 6, to Saturday, July 10, at 8 PM, with a matinee on Thursday, July 8, at 2 PM. Tickets are $30 and may be purchased at the box office at Highfield Hall (Tuesday through Saturday, 10 AM to 12:30 PM, 2 to 5 PM, and 7 to 9 PM) or by calling 508-548-0668. Season tickets for the nine productions are available for $225, or $216 for seniors. Highfield Hall is at 60 Highfield Drive in Falmouth. For more information, visit www.collegelightopera.com.

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