Gilbert and Sullivan is true kitchy music: some love it, some don’t. It is also, without doubt, a litmus test for any company of players, requiring ferocious energy, lightning delivery and perfect comic timing as Gilbert’s busy libretto spins swiftly across Sullivan’s catchy tunes. So, it’s not always to everyone’s taste, and it can be a risky business: but Homestead High School’s new Mikado engages their audience with irrepressible enthusiasm, offering something for everyone to enjoy in a family-friendly evening of riotous fun, with some memorable musical moments. Gilbert’s jokes are all there, but a few have been (I use the word deliberately) ‘upcycled’: Mequon jokes, Twitter, Snapchat, Disney’s Frozen anime, Shakespeare, and many more modern menaces are updates in two wittily updated arias, which both provoked guffaws of laughter on opening night.
The Mikado itself is a gentle comedy of manners, performed here on a set designed by Amelia Figg-Franzoi which suits the story perfectly, making the piece seem rather younger than its 1885 vintage. Director, Figg-Franzoi’s, fast-paced production keeps the comedy rolling, while vigorous choreography gives an endearingly old-fashioned finish to proceedings on stage, with slick formation dancing and jazz hands galore. Ostensibly a love story, Gilbert and Sullivan seem to have been far more interested in its middle-aged protagonists Ko-Ko and Katisha than its token lovers, Yum-Yum and Nanki-Pu, and the cast and singing are fun, these central performances are defiantly strong, and the company moments warm enough, to carry us through to a toe-tapping finale.
Gilbert and Sullivan are the architects of a peculiarly British aesthetic, mixing boyish humor with self-deprecating charm and wry wit. William Toney as Ko-Ko and Grace Bobber as Katisha never feel far away, closest of all in the famous “O Willow, Tit Willow, Tit Willow”, delivered with superb judgement by Toney, who impresses throughout as Ko-Ko: Toney seems entirely at home in this material, giving his Lord High Executioner a depth of characterization which offers both humor and pathos, endearing himself to us instantly. Toney’s performance shows Gilbert and Sullivan can be entirely convincing for a modern audience if you create a rich internal life for your character. Likewise, Grace Bobber is a fabulous, fearsome Katisha, her huge voice easily filling the theatre at times, expressively soft at others. We feel pity (but while laughing) for Katisha within moments; her fragility is endearing, as is her slightly disgusting bravado, sung superbly by Bobber and acted with gleeful menace, shot through with a real fear of being alone. The reason The Mikado can move us, despite all its apparent silliness, is that some of its humor is in fact presciently serious at heart.
With a healthy dash of camp, glamor, greasepaint and sparkle, The Mikado makes for a rather cartoonish evening of innocent fun: but hey, hipster is so now these days!
The show runs all weekend long.
Friday @ 7:30
Saturday @ 7:30
Sunday @ 2:00
Homestead High School’s James Barr Auditorium
5000 W. Mequon Road, Mequon WI 53092