The words “The Mikado” shimmer across the blood-red curtain of the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater. Hypnotic violins set a somber mood. The curtain rises, and you find a man condemned to death for flirting.
“Well, that’s Gilbert and Sullivan for you,” whispers a violinist to an oboist, referring to the University’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s production of the famed opera, which opened last night and will run tonight through Sunday.
Set in 19th-century Japan, the opera’s backstory involves Nanki-Poo, the son of the Emperor, who escapes to the town of Titipu to avoid an unwanted marriage and falls in love with beautiful Yum-Yum. After realizing that she is engaged to unworthy Ko-Ko, Nanki-Poo flees.
“The Mikado” opens with rumors of Ko-Ko’s death, renewing Nanki-Poo’s love for Yum-Yum. Yet he finds Ko-Ko not only alive, but now Lord High Executioner.
Director Daniel Florip, a third-year law student at Ave Maria School of Law, has served as makeup designer for UMGASS six times. “The Mikado” is his directorial debut, and Florip has high hopes for the show.
“This production is played for the laughs,” Florip said. “Many ad-libs creep through, and there’s a lot of movement and dancing. This isn’t a static show.”
Second-time choreographer and School of Music senior Emily Keeping deftly incorporates fans into each number. A beautiful courtyard serves as the set, and silk kimonos round out the scenes.
But all this grandeur has nothing on the fact that “The Mikado” is actually a very funny comedy.
Pooh-Bah, Ko-Ko’s assistant, draws laughs with his dry sarcasm, and the chorus is hysterical – jumping, twirling and snapping their colorful Japanese fans. Ko-Ko himself elicits laughter with his musical rant targeting “the guy at Comcast who raises the prices . and athletes who earn millions are barely scraping by: They never would be missed” in the number “As Someday it May Happen.”
But wait: Comcast in 19th-century Japan?
Each time “The Mikado” is performed, “As Someday it May Happen” is re-written for current trends. This time, Andrews and Florip provide the adapted lyrics.
“It will be hard to keep from laughing onstage,” said School of Music and LSA sophomore Erica Ruff.
“The Mikado” marks another success for the almost-60-year-old UMGASS, one of campus’s oldest groups. For most, this hasn’t been a first-time experience.
“We have a cast of seasoned performers onstage (along) with those new to the works, and all have found their collective niche in the show,” said Clinton Smith, third-time music director for the show. Smith leads a group of talented musicians, who provide accompaniment throughout the performance.
Despite common misconceptions about Gilbert and Sullivan, Florip still expects to draw large audiences.
“People often think that these shows consist of one guy singing and the rest of the chorus following, but that’s really not the case. It’s opera but it’s not opera,” Florip said. “There are no morals and no rules about life. The show is just there to make the audience laugh.”
Tonight at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.
Students $7-9 with ID
At the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater