by Ed Malin · February 17, 2015
Theater 20/20, a class act in the presentation and reinterpretation of the classics, is now offering The Singapore Mikado in the beautiful Saint Charles Borromeo Church in Brooklyn Heights. Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado, 130 or so years young, is revitalized and seen through the lens of some cheeky British expats in Singapore who, in December of 1941 no less, deal with their fear of the burgeoning Japanese Empire by staging the well-known show which satirizes the politics of Japan (or rather makes fun of England while pretending not to be alarmed at the rapid modernization of Japan from 1868 onwards).
Pearl Harbor was only a few days ago, but how can they not succeed? If you love Gilbert and Sullivan, or will attend any three-hour spectacle of voice, great tunes, and hilarious satire, get out of the cold and go to church.
Each performer has two roles: the British Singaporean role and the Japanese role. After a short introduction, we are in early-modern Japan, but with a few adjustments for the 1940s (as always, some cute twists on the numbers "I've Got A Little List" and "A More Humane Mikado"). An air raid drill conveniently fits in an intermission.
Nanki-Poo (Michael Penick) is a wandering minstrel who has come to the town of Titipu to find his lost love, Yum Yum (Brianne Keefe). He inquires of Pooh-Bah (David Fuller), a local grandee who holds almost all government positions and--except for any conflict with himself, which can be resolved with money--keeps things tidy. The newest official in Titipu is the Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko (Greg Horton), who escaped the death sentence imposed for flirting by accepting his current post. Ko-Ko is due to marry Yum Yum today, and Nanki-Poo is ready to kill himself. Given this perfect coincidence, Ko-Ko asks if he may execute Nanki-Poo in a month, to which Nanki-Poo consents if he may wed Yum Yum in the interval.
Needless to say, it's not that easy to accomplish or execute anything in Titipu, especially justice. To Judith Jarosz's fan-dancing, fan-pleasing choreography, Yum Yum's debutante friends Peep-Bo (Michelle Seipel) and Pitti-Sing (Lorinne Lampert) and the courtiers help clarify the many wrinkles, all while indefatigable pianist Michael Hopewell provides the entire musical accompaniment. Wow. So many numbers are delivered so brightly: "Three Little Maids", "Here's a How-De-Do", "On A Tree By A River", "The Flowers That Bloom In The Spring". But there's still more plot twisting to do. His Sublime Imperial Highness the Mikado (David Arthur Bachrach) himself arrives in Titipu looking for the hopefully not dead yet Nanki-Poo. (If you don't know the story yet, I'm not going to tell you exactly why the Mikado showed up.) He brings a most complex person, his daughter-in-law elect, Katisha (Chrysten Peddie), whose voice, more than the armaments of Singapore, is the "big guns" of the show". Cue the road to a happy-ish ending.
Director David Fuller (wearing yet another hat) wisely digs deeper into the satire to emphasize how women and/or commoners somehow best the mighty. Indeed, England and Japan in 1941 were to face steady decline. Nonetheless, what a great piece of art is any "Mikado", even if nothing was broken and no one has any intention of fixing it.