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REVIEW: A Thoroughly English Mikado (GSVLOC)

“Three little maids from school are we” – Sarah Mehle as Patricia Singleton/Patti Sing, Margaret Matejcek as Taylor Tarrington/Tum Tum, and Blanka Melbostad as Barbara O. Peoples/Bow Peep in the Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s new production of The Mikado.

The Gilbert and Sullivan Very Light Opera Company opened a new version of The Mikado on Friday at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis, MN. This carefully tailored adaptation, penned by director Rick Shiomi, resets the comic opera in text and setting to Edwardian English. Textual changes notwithstanding, the resulting work sits squarely in the English Gilbert & Sullivan tradition and humoristic vein.

The above sentence is not as redundant as it might seem. While U.S. productions of Gilbert and Sullivan works generally make only limited abridgements and musical re-arrangements, the English G&S tradition is filled with topical insertions. (Brexit commentary is currently very popular, for example.) That these are often anachronistic is part of the joke, as in Shiomi’s adaptation when distinctly non-Edwardian pastimes like smartphone use, Internet obsession, and contemporary American politics come under fire in one song. While Edward VII was hardly the absolutist monarch who appears on stage, the suspension of disbelief is not infringed upon any more than usual.

An old-fashioned love triangle: Franklyn Pool of Hanover (aka Franki-Poo, played by Anthony Rohr), Taylor Tarrington (aka Tum Tum, played by Margaret Matejcek), and Coleman Coe (aka Co Co, played by Tyus Beeson) get involved in a complicated plot to let true love win temporarily, only to run afoul of unexpected legal obstacles.

On to the plot: Franki-Poo (Anthony Rohr), secretly the Crown Prince in disguise, is in love with Tum Tum (Margaret Matejcek). Unfortunately, Tum Tum is engaged to Co Co (Tyus Beeson), the Lord High Executioner. Some bribery and scheming with Poo-Bah (Alex Kolyszko) later, they come up with a convoluted plan in which Franki-Poo will marry Co Co and get executed one month later, leaving the soon-to-be-unhappy-widow to marry Co Co. Naturally, the plan goes to pieces as it gets even more complicated and layered in subterfuge.

In an interview, Shiomi emphasized his goal of capturing quintessentially English elements in this Mikado. Beeson’s Co Co and Kolyszko’s Poo-Bah embody a stereotypically English awkwardness with physical contact, an element mined again and again for comedic rewards. Kolyszko’s affected condescension as Poo-Bah is particularly humorous, and he shows a real gift for sung zingers. Beeson and Kolyszko make a great comic duo playing off each other. His other goal, removing racist stereotyping in the libretto, seems fully successful, with due respect to poetics and style.

As the would-be lovers, Rohr and Matejcek have strong onstage chemistry, especially in the “not flirting” scenes (it’s a plot thing). Their Act I duet and Act II trio with Beeson (“Here’s a how-de-do”) are some of the musical highlights. The famous trio “Three little maids from school” (delivered by Matejcek, Sarah Mehle, and Blanka Melbostad) is also well-delivered.

Lara Trujillo (as Lady Katherine Shaw, aka Katy Shaw) plays Franki-Poo’s romantic foil – in the sense that she arrives to foil his plans for romantic bliss with someone else. With Tyus Beeson as Coleman Coe/Co Co, left).

If you’ve followed GSVLOC for a while, you might notice that there’s a different feel to some of the movement, courtesy of choreographer Penelope Freeh (a long-time Shiomi collaborator). The result is a dynamically moving ensemble with some welcome visual novelty, and notable contrasts in the second act when The Mikado (a powerful Doug Freeman) enters the scene. Some minor balance issues notwithstanding, it’s a pleasant twist on a familiar favorite, without an unpleasant aftertaste.

The Mikado plays through April 7 at the Howard Conn Fine Arts Center in Minneapolis, MN.

Basil Considine