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Published on September 20th, 2013 | by RLn Staff

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Mikado at Pacific Opera Project

By John Farrell

You will never see a more colorful Mikado than the one Pacific Opera Project is presenting at the Miles Theater in Santa Monica.

It’s unlikely, too, that you’ll hear a better-sung, livelier and more attractive performance anywhere else. And where else would you be able to see Yum-Yum, the female star, with purple hair?

The Mikado is Gilbert and Sullivan’s most-produced operetta, and in nearly 130 years it has been transformed a dozen times. This time around director and designer Josh Shaw (he is also Pacific Opera Project’s artistic director) decided to return The Mikado to its erstwhile Japanese roots (it is actually a very thinly veiled satire of British Victorian life) clothing the three little maids in manga-style costumes, with artificially colored hair and tennis shoes. Yum-Yum appears onstage with a Hello Kitty backpack. The Gentlemen of Japan are a variation on Japanese salary-men, with coats and ties, but brightly colored shirts and voluminous trousers. Maggie Smith designed the very delightful, colorful and effective costumes.

That’s just the design, but the colorful costumes don’t hide a cast that has all the moves, from snapping fans to deep bows, and the singing ability to make The Mikado a musical and comic delight. Mind you, the pit orchestra was a bit wheezy when it performed last Sunday, but the singers were spot-on vocally and, what’s more, were clearly having fun on stage, fun that was directly communicated to the sold-out audience. There was a scramble to bring out more chairs just before the performance began.

E. Scott Levin played Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, in Sunday’s performance, channeling Allan Sherman in the most delightful of all G and S roles. He is a chubby, befuddled and bespectacled Ko-Ko, dressed in a bright orange jump-suit with a purple bow tie, over which he wore a bright orange Hapi coat: He was a little mournful even when he is at his happiest. His first song, “I’ve Got a Little List,” was pretty much completely re-written by Kelsey Namara in a tradition that extends back to William Gilbert himself, and he handled her new lyrics with skill. In the second act he made the plaintive “Tit-Willow” delicious, and was a delicious foil to Adelaide Sinclair’s towering Katisha.

The “Three Little Maids,” Katy Tang as Yum-Yum, Ko-Ko’s intended, Jessica Mamey as Pitti-Sing and Aubrey Scarr as Peep-Bo, her two delightful companions. The stage exploded with color when they came one, for every girl in the chorus wore the same incredibly colored wigs and sported parasols as well as fans. It was a Japanese teenager’s delight, with kimonos that were too short, tennis shoes and cell-phones as well as colorful backpacks. They sang and danced with precision and a delightful sense of fun.

Nanki-Poo (Mathew Miles) was in perfect voice and understood how to play the audience –on-stage and in the paying seats– with a delightful mixture of grace and comic understatement. Tim Campbell played Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything else, just the opposite, full of ego and pomposity and self, to everyone’s satisfaction.

The usual role of Pish-Tush was turned into a double act, with Michael Bannett and Joseph von Buhler playing Pish and Tush, the two-headed, two-armed, four-legged conjoined twin, dressed in black hats with yellow bands, singing the role in alternate lines. Surprisingly, their comedy was equaled by listening to how perfectly they sang together.

The best was saved for last, when the Mikado (Matthew Ian Welch) made his imperial appearance on stage, dressed in a shiny satin suit with riding pants, boots, an arm-band and a hat two sizes bigger than hi head required. If he looked a little like a certain Second World War dictator, he “Let the Punishment Fut the Crime” in a song re-written by Namara that includes digs at the Kardashians and condemned everyone to ride on the L.A. trains and buses. He was hardly frightening, but hugely comic.

Stephen Karr conducted the orchestra with real support for his singers, even if the music was less than perfect.
Tickets are $30, $20 for seniors and students Performances are September 20 at 8 p.m., September 21 at 8 p.m. and September 22 at 4 p.m.
Details: (323) 739-6122, www.pacificoperaproject.com
Venue: Miles Playhouse
Location: 1130 East Lincoln Blvd., Santa Monica

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