Review: ‘The Mikado’ at The Victorian Lyric Opera Company

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From the moment the curtains opened, we knew we were not going to see a traditional version of The Mikado. The Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s production, directed by Helen Aberger, at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, is a vivid and intensely humorous production – and not to be missed.

Cast members of The Mikado. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Written in 1885 by Librettist William Gilbert and Composer Arthur Sullivan, The Mikado brilliantly spoofs British bureaucracy. Its original setting is Japan, in a town with a silly name, silly rules, and an even sillier ruler. Director Helen Aberger has adroitly set her story in 1920s London in the lush setting of the Grand Hotel Titipu and neatly sidesteps the pitfalls of a traditional production. Kudos to Aberger for her fully-realized vision superbly supported by the design team of William Pressley (set design), Denise Young (costumes), and Carl and Jane Maryott (props).

Cast members of The Mikado. Photo by Harvey Levine.

After a strong overture, Music Director Joseph Sorge, continues to lead the orchestra masterfully, ushering in crisp tempos and moving nicely and lightly throughout this amazing score.  As the main curtains were slowly drawn apart by hotel bellhops, exposing the lush and verdant décor of the Grand Hotel Titipu (complete with revolving door!), the choral sound of the businessmen and hotel staff singing “If you want to know who we are” is strong, vibrant and thoroughly engaging.

Rishabh Bajekal marvelously portrays the role of Nanki-Poo, the Prince of England, disguised as a second trombone in the hotel band.  His solo, “A wand’ring minstrel I” showcased his exceptional tenor voice.

Gary Sullivan deftly amuses as Ko-Ko, the Hotel Titipu General manager, as he plots, plans and schemes his way to fulfilling his other role as Lord High Executioner. His “little list” did not disappoint, lampooning those who would not be missed. The audience howled in assent.

Evelyn Tsen delights as Yum-Yum, her second act aria “The sun, whose rays are all ablaze” is thoroughly mesmerizing.  Her two school companions, Amanda Jones (Pitti-Sing) and Teal Thompson (Peep-Bo), also contribute splendidly.

Blair Eig, a VLOC stalwart and fan-favorite, performs the title role solidly and with great fun.

Jenete St. Clair as Katisha, a lady in love with Nanki-Poo, may be diminutive in size but her voice and acting is anything but small. Her solo, “Alone, and yet alive!”, was demonstrably divine.

Cast members of The Mikado. Photo by Harvey Levine.

Robert Gudauskas makes his VLOC debut as Pooh-Bah, the Lord High Everything Else in the Hotel Titipu, and this is a performance not to be missed. A clear triple threat, Gudauskas robustly sings, dances, and acts his way to comic excellence. The quartet “The flowers that bloom in the spring” featuring Gudauskas, Bajekal, Tsen, and Jones was exceptionally well done.

Kevin Schellhase is wonderfully precise as Pish-Tush, the hotel concierge.

The chorus of hotel staff and guests added immeasurably to the depth and believability of the Hotel conceit. Their sound was robust on all their vocal contributions, especially the Act I finale “With aspect stern and gloomy stride”.

Leaving the theatre, audience comments were exuberant and extremely complimentary — “The best VLOC show ever!”, “Wow, I didn’t expect that!”, and I concur. Don’t  miss your change to see this impressive production.

Running Time: One house and 45  minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

The Mikado plays through June 18, 2017, at Victorian Lyric Opera Company performing at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre – Rockville Civic Center Park  – 603 Edmonston Drive, in Rockville, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (240) 314-8690, or purchase them online.

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