Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Review

I want to write a review, which is odd because the nice thing about last night was that I was going to a show that I didn't have to review. But I guess the nice thing about being a reviewer is that you get to say what you think and somebody listens...and if you have nobody to say it to, it's no fun.

So I'll review the show. It was The Mikado, which you'd think I would not be eager to see because I've seen it a bazillion times and because there is no KoKo like Gilbert, so why bother? (In fact, I sent a text message to Walt about how I didn't like the KoKo in this production and he said he hadn't expected me to. I hope I am a bit more fair than that.)

I went alone. Walt and I had planned to go together, but the night before last he had a call from his sister that their mother had been taken to the hospital. This was around 11 p.m. She had a fever of 104 and Alice Nan was calling from the Emergency Room. At 2:30, he got the call that they had admitted her to the critical care unit.

The next morning was the flurry of activity, trying to get things organized here so he could leave to fly down there. His brother got on the road at 8 a.m. and was driving down. We had tickets for Mikado last night and for a fund raising show on Sunday. I contacted someone to ask if she wanted to join me for Mikado, but she couldn't. I thought of a couple of other people to call, but then I thought of the alternative, having the alone time in the car to listen to my audio book and decided I'd just go alone.

Mikado.jpg (27645 bytes)The production was by L.O.T.S. (Light Opera Theatre Sacramento), which has been around for several years, but which we have never attended. When the company formed it kind of took audience away from the Davis Comic Opera Co., which was still operating at the time. I don't know all the politics involved, but I was never really interested in going there anyway. If I wanted G&S, my druthers were to get it from The Lamplighters.

But the Katisha in this production was being played by Susanna Peeples, daughter of the now-musical director of The Lamplighters and the one-time lead soprano for The Lamplighters. I remember the night Susanna was born, when her father, Baker, was in the orchestra pit for whatever was the current show while mother, Ellen Kerrigan, was in labor at the hospital and how Baker high-tailed it out of the theatre as soon as the curtain came down so he could be there for the birth of his daughter. (I think that was Susanna's might have been her brother's.)

We didn't really know Susanna at all until she asked us if she could ride with us to a Lamplighters event in SF and I've kind of felt a bit of camaraderie with her ever since. And of course she's a Facebook friend.

Because this isn't a real review, I'm going to leave out names other than Susanna's. Also because I'm too lazy to get up and go get the program.

I don't like driving on the freeway at night, even with my new clear vision and there was a point at which I wished I had just given up and not gone at all, but I mushed on and found the theatre all right. It's a nice venue with comfortable seats and general seating so I could find a place where my knee would be happy and where the people in front of me wouldn't feel they were going to catch the plague from my coughing (which is significantly better, BTW, but still sounds horrible if you haven't heard it before).

My first impression was that the orchestra was surprisingly good. Professionally good. That was a very pleasant thing to discover since so often little theatres in this area who rely on volunteer orchestras leave a lot to be desired and sometimes contain the "wince factor." But this orchestra was going to be good...and the tempos, which sometimes can be funereal, were sprightly and I knew that if Gilbert was watching somewhere in the celestial highlands he wold have approved.

Aside: I once interviewed Mike Leigh, director of "Topsy Turvy," the movie about Gilbert and Sullivan, about the slow tempos in the movie, which all of us in the Lamplighters who had seen a special screening had complained about. He glared at me and barked that they were 100% accurate.

The second thing that impressed me was that with a chorus of only 6 men, they filled the theatre with sound. So often I've seen G&S shows done with small choruses and there is so much lacking, but these guys sang with such volume and confidence that you didn't miss a full chorus.

MikadoMen.jpg (41274 bytes)

The same held true for the women, which was augmented, at least in the early part of Act 1, by Susanna, dressed as a young Japanese woman, not the old Japanese woman she would become by the end of the act.

Pish Tush (also the co-director) was quite good. Pooh Bah was OK, but not outstanding.

KoKo.jpg (23944 bytes)Things were going well until KoKo came on. Now, as I've said earlier in this piece, KoKo is my favorite character and it's very difficult to beat Gilbert's KoKo, but I have seen other KoKos who have been fine. This guy was awful. And I suspect it was more a problem of direction than of ability, because he seemed comfortable on stage and had a nice voice (even Gilbert didn't have a "nice voice.") It also didn't help that he looked like the entertainment editor of the Enterprise with what appeared to be a bunch of unruly black curls on top of his head. Curls on a Japanese man? It was a terrible costuming choice! (He looked better in the publicity photos, when he didn't have anything weird on his head)

The Mikado was OK, but there was nothing "terrifying" about him. He was just a tall, thin man with funny stuff painted on his face. He should have been larger than life (which is possible to do even if you are very short, as we all learned when John Gilkerson played the role for the Lamplighters!)

The girls were fine. Both YumYum and PittiSing managed to wring a lot of humor from their lines, which was very good.

KatieBaad.jpg (40420 bytes)

The main problem was in the directing overall. While it looked fine, there was no oomph to it. So many jokes just died because all of the delivery (by most of the actors) was at the same level. No pause for dramatic effect, or to milk a laugh.

When Nanki Poo, the "second trombone" in love with Yum Yum tells KoKo that they only way out of their difficulties is if he (KoKo) convinces Katisha to marry him. KoKo responds "have you seen her? She's simply appalling." It is a line which should be imbued with disgust and horror at the prospect, but KoKo said it as if he were asking if Nanki Poo would like a cup of tea. It received no laugh.

One of the biggest laughs can be Koko's "Shrink not from me, Katisha" when he's reluctantly trying to woo her and she whirls on him and knocks him down, then towers over him. The delivery of that line was completely lost and didn't so much as elicit a titter.

There's also another complaint I have about modern productions of "The Mikado" -- most of them. The show was written with a rather large contralto in mind and it includes a line, during a recitation by Katisha of her physical attributes: "As for my circulation, it is the largest in the world!" This works fine for a zaftig woman, but most women who play the role are normal sized and so it always sort of falls flat. The only woman I ever saw who could REALLY pull off that line was the Lamplighters' early contralto, June Wilkins, whose circulation may, indeed, have been one of the largest in the world. But Susanna's lack of avoirdupois is not a fault with this production.

It wasn't a bad show. In fact, it was quite a good show. It just seemed that it could have been such a better show if there had been better direction.

As for Susanna, she was very good. Perhaps too young for the role, but I think she carried it well and her voice, while uneven, was also very good. I wonder how the child of a soprano and a tenor can be a contralto....

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