With beautiful, golden sets and a blessedly wonderful cast, the problem with Lamplighter's production of "The Mikado" does not result from a lack of talent. Actually, the production lacks very little and would verge on perfection if it weren't for slow comedic timing, missed opportunities for extra humor and a few occurrences of singing not in time with the orchestra.
One of Gilbert and Sullivan's best known operettas, "The Mikado" follows a young minstrel as he attempts to win back his love, Yum-Yum, who is engaged to Ko-Ko, the former tailer of the town of Titipu. Plenty of comedy ensues when the unpleasant Katisha appears to claim his the minstrel's hand in marriage and to enveil a well-kept secret.
After a hilarious and unexpected take on what would be an otherwise monotonous finale, The Lamplighters leave memories of sweet laughter linger and an overall strong production of the classic operetta remains. Still, one might expect more from a company known nationally as one of the best producers of Gilbert and Sullivan shows. For instance, the marked absence of any speed to the creators' famed speedy patter songs leaves some wondering if the cast could not handle the music that calls for the talent their resumes and impressive performances seem to indicate they possess. Also, Katisha's first act wig goes beyond the frightening look needed, creating a look that does not work well on stage. And the Lord High Executioner's list entertains, but fails to leave a strong impression.
There are plenty of reasons to laugh with the story and enjoy the music. Director Jane Erwin Hammett and the Lamplighter cast deserve credit for that much.
Michael Desnoyers and Moira McManus are adorable as Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum (roles that are double cast to also be played by Robert Vann and Lindsay Thompson Roush). John Melis sports one of the strongest voices of the cast as the stiff, but every once in a while humorous, Push-Tush. Robby Stafford stands proud and strong as the hilarious Pooh-Bah, who sports many medals representing his rank as the Lord High Everything Else. And Molly Mahoney has one of the best female voices of the cast as Pitti-Sing.
F. Lawrence Ewing and Sonia Gariaeff are the highlights of the show, however, with their perfected and consistent comedic acting. Ewing gives Ko-Ko (the Lord High Executioner) a new look and feel, with nerdy glasses and uproarious use of an executioner's axe far too heave and awkward for him to carry. And Gariaeff not only boasts a beautiful, full voice, but impeccable melodramatic acting as the shunned and "ugly" Katisha.
Lamplighter's lead singers deserve special mention for boosting the show where it needs boosting. Yes, even without all the well-known hilarious jabs of Gilbert and Sullivan, the magnificent vocals make the production worth the price of admission. And Lamplighters has managed to insert enough unique takes on the comedy of the operetta to give audiences a performance full of laughter and good times.
August 4-5 - Napa Valley Opera House
August 11-12 - Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts
August 16-19 - Novellus Theater at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco
August 25-26 - Bankhead Theater, Livermore