Reviewed by: Carolyn Gillespie
You’ve got to hand it to Kay Kelly, director of the Kearsley Park Players’ production of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado that opened to an enthused audience Thursday night at the historic Crossroads Village Opera House in Flint. Hardly a fool, Kelly still rushes in where angels might fear to tread in mounting such a large and complicated production on the opera house’s modest stage. For starters, she has assembled a group of thirty singers from the community who handle the array of musical styles with aplomb, thanks to musical director Nada Radakovich. The eight young players who comprise the pit are equally competent.
The production opens with a rousing version of “If You Want to Know Who We Are” by the men’s chorus that sets a confident tone for the rest of the evening. The set, which remains in place throughout, is comprised of simple lengths of Japanese silk dead-hung from an upstage baton. Kelly has spared us the bad non-PC makeup that has, in times past, been applied in an effort to achieve a “Japanese” look for non-Asian performers. Nanki-Poo, the romantic lead and fugitive son of the Mikado is played by Ethan Rodgers who leads off the solo singing with “A Wandering Minstrel I” in his clear tenor. Credit must be given to Richard Bailey for crafting a convincing stringed instrument to aid Nanki-Poo’s disguise. One by one we are introduced to the other male characters. Kevin Starnes adds gravitas with his rich baritone as the functionary Pish-Tish; Frank Pitts’ huge voice and physical presence capture the pretentious, many-titled Pooh-Bah; and slight David Lindsay garners laughter with his limp-wristed rendition of Ko-Ko, the reluctant Lord High Executioner as he performs his updated version of “I’ve Got a Little List” that includes Game of Thrones spoilers, a few Tigers, and certain Lansing officials! Michael Kelly appears at the end of the play as the alternately formidable and fatherly Mikado who comes to unravel the conundrum Ko-Ko has constructed for himself and his compatriots. Always a commanding presence, Mr. Kelly does not disappoint, and does a credible job with his vocal numbers, nailing the satire with his own list of current presidential hopefuls in “A More Humane Mikado”.
Though The Mikado favors its men, the women in this production more than hold their own. The women’s chorus, comprised of matrons and maids, including love interest Yum-Yum are beautifully costumed in a variety of kimonos unified by blue obis. In fact, the costumes, designed by Ms. Kelly and executed by a small team of stitchers (Elaine Kaye, Diane Harbin, Jeanette Kehoe, and Laura Williams) are worthy of note throughout for the rich, yet controlled color choices and attention to detail. Caroline Collins as Yum-Yum, Miranda Armfield as Pitti-Sing, and Kristen Carter as Peep-Bo win hearts with their trio “Three Little Maids from School”. And it is a delight to hear the lovely Ms. Collins’ pure soprano voice later on in a sensitively rendered “The Sun Whose Rays” as she reflects on her own beauty. Mezzo Kim Streby (sporting terrific makeup) shines as the scorned harridan Katisha and paints an almost poignant figure as she contemplates her single state in “Alone, and Yet Alive”.
Not only are the solo and choral numbers effectively rendered; some of the production’s most satisfying moments occur in the small ensembles. The “Merry Madrigal” quartet sung by Nanki-Poo, Yum-Yum, Pish-Tish, and Pitti-Sing is precisely balanced, and the quintet “The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring” is equally delightful.
Ms. Kelly has built some handsome stage pictures and utilized the entire space, including the aisles and the steps leading onto the stage. Of particular note are the finales to each of the two acts. While profitable time was obviously spent on the music, the acting seems to have gotten short shrift. The Mikado is knit from several skeins – the zaniness of burlesque, the clarity and grace of classical forms, and the necessary underpinnings of modern realism. The cast struggles to find the mode appropriate to any given scene, and hasn’t decided on whether or not to use a British dialect; a few actors can’t quite get their mouths around the words well enough for us to catch all the cleverness. Mugging is left unchecked, mistaken for “style”; excess is often rewarded with audience approval. The sensible, very approachable choreography created by Aaron McCoy and James Cech would (and hopefully will) benefit from greater precision. It is the genius of Gilbert and Sullivan that their works are elastic enough and witty enough to survive and thrive in the hands of a wide range of performers, and this production is so well sung that its flaws play second trombone to the Kearsley Park Players’ engaging and highly ambitious whole.
The Mikado continues on the following schedule: August 13-16: The Opera House at Crossroads Village – 7:30 p.m.; August 20-22: Kearsley Park Pavilion – 7:30 p.m.; August 23 – Kearsley Park Pavilion – 3:00 p.m.
For ticket reservations at the Opera House, call 810-736-7100, ext. 6. For reservations at Kearsley Park, call 810-845-4050. Tickets are $5/person.