Comic ‘Mikado’ a musical delight

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By Andrew Duffy, age 14

St. Albans School, Washington

I recently saw the classic Gilbert and Sullivan operetta “The Mikado” at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts and discovered a piece that is a joy to behold.

With an all-star cast and crew, New York’s Gilbert & Sullivan Players (NYGASP) returned to Wolf Trap for their 33rd year to perform what some consider the world’s most popular piece of musical theater.

Since its first performance in 1885, “The Mikado” has been adapted to many different forms of theater, including movies, TV and ballet, but it has always been most popular in its original form — that is, as a comic opera or operetta.

The company, founded in 1974, is among the foremost interpreters of the work by Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan. Co-founder Albert Bergeret, NYGASP’s artistic director and general manager, has made Gilbert and Sullivan his professional specialty for the past 25 years.

The cast was phenomenal, with amazing voices and acting talent that brought to life the operetta’s whimsical and quirky characters.

The story is set in the fictitious Japanese town of Titipu, which is home to a slew of ridiculous characters as well as a strange form of government.

The protagonist of the story is Nanki-Poo (Daniel Lockwood), the emperor’s son, who has disguised himself as a minstrel in order to escape the affections of Katisha (Diana Dollman), an elderly lady of the Mikado’s court. Nanki-Poo has come to Titipu in search of his true love, the beautiful Yum-Yum (Laurelyn Watson Chase).

She is betrothed to her guardian, Ko-Ko (Stephen Quint), who has been sentenced to execution by the emperor — the Mikado (David Wannen). However, upon his arrival in Titipu, Nanki-Poo learns that Ko-Ko has been made Lord High Executioner, and his wedding to Yum-Yum is set to happen soon.

But Ko-Ko’s job is about to be abolished because he has not yet executed anyone, so he strikes a deal: The minstrel Nanki-Poo may marry Yum-Yum if he will agree to be Ko-Ko’s first victim at the end of the month.

Complications ensue that lead Ko-Ko to fake the execution. Using false documentation, he sends the couple on their way. The Mikado is pleased to hear that an execution has taken place, but when he learns that the victim supposedly was his son Nanki-Poo, he sentences Ko-Ko and his associates to death for killing the heir to the throne. Ko-Ko saves himself by wooing and marrying Katisha — and the emperor announces that “nothing could possibly be more satisfactory.”

The music and lyrics in Gilbert and Sullivan pieces typically are very memorable, and “The Mikado” is no exception. In particular, “If You Want to Know Who We Are” and “Three Little Maids From School” are easily recognizable songs.

The plots often involve mistaken identity, unrequited love and topical humor. This particular production included humorous modern references to Washington Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, the Washington Nationals baseball team and current TV shows and commercials.

All in all, I would encourage anyone to see Gilbert & Sullivan productions, especially “The Mikado,” as they always offer humor, great music and lyrics, and lively sets and costumes.

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