The Haft Auditorium at F.I.T., where The Village Light Opera Group performs its semi-annual productions, is not a typical Off-Off-Broadway space -- it seats 800. VLOG has a dedicated audience, which attends its fall and spring musical productions. This season's production of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado boasted a cast of 40, and a 24-piece orchestra.
The show is a political satire (and its skewering of those in power is remarkably current), but it is the music that makes a G & S operetta, and the quality of the singing was the strong point of this Mikado.
Ben Schuman as Nanki-Poo was a stronger singer than actor, but Karen Leah as Yum-Yum was both a good singer and actress, and their scenes together were delightful, managing to be both comic and sincere. The trio of Yum-Yum and her sisters Pitti-Sing (Deborah Litwak) and Peep-Bo (Stacy Baer) were so sweet-voiced and harmonious it didn't matter they looked like they came from three different families, and Litwak and Baer were both good comic foils. Dan Litwak's Pooh-Bah had a good voice, but the character didn't come through his heavy touch, and his songs suffered. Nathan Hull's Mikado was suitably stern and buffoonish.
But good as some of the others were, there isn't enough that can be said in praise of the glorious Katisha of Desiree Baxter and the laugh-out-loud-funny performance of Robert Greshes as Ko-Ko. Baxter, done up like a villainess in a Disney cartoon, started off a little unsurely, but without much ado she quickly rose to the heights in the song "Miya Sama," viciously and hysterically extolling her own virtues as the Mikado's "daughter-in-law elect." Greshes, with his plummy voice and hang-dog look, was funny in everything he did, from glorying in his position as the Lord High Executioner, to his little jig pondering a turn of events in "Here's a How-De-Do!" "Titwillow" became a comic gem as he was forced to court Katisha, and their subsequent duet was even better. The stage was a little empty when they weren't on.
The orchestra (Ronald W. Noll, conductor) sounded glorious, but the miking caused some voices to come from locations different from their source. This effect was unfortunately distracting, especially in light of the high quality of voices, both semi-operatic and comic. The chorus was energetic, but their lyrics could be hard to distinguish. Everyone looked great though, in Christopher Peifer's costumes. The sets (by Elizabeth Chaney) were colorful but simple. Hull's Mikado had a terrific way with a large oriental fan, and Yasuko Tsuboi choreographed and danced a lovely solo at the top of Act II. Director William J. Brooke moved the large cast around the stage with minimal fuss.
This is VLOG's 64th season, and their 118th production. Since The Mikado is a satire of Victorian England, they wisely ignored the call of political correctness -- although they didn't resist the urge to include some current topical references in Ko-ko's "I've Got a Little List" (surely Gilbert didn't include "a certain independent counsel" in his lyric). The production dusted off some of the fustiness but retained the fun. When you've got a piece which has lovers named Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum, how could you do otherwise?
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Copyright 1998 David Mackler