“THE MIKADO,” directed by James Arrington, Utah Valley University’s Noorda Black Box Theatre, through April 20, $20, 801-863-7529 or uvu.edu/arts
As popularly known as “H.M.S. Pinafore” and “The Pirates of Penzance,” “The Mikado” is Gilbert and Sullivan’s most frequently performed work. At the Utah Valley University staging, there’s a clever idea that overtakes the operetta’s comedy to something approaching hilarity.
Sorry to ruin the surprise, but since the concept is introduced before the curtain rises, it’s hardly a spoiler. While there are large photos of the classically trained actors who play the lead roles in the program, they won’t be performing. You see, the tour bus has broken down in Pocatello, so the regular cast is not available for this performance. It’s further explained that the student understudies have valiantly obliged to step into the roles for the evening’s performance.
Then the merriment begins. The wigs don’t fit, so they slide into the actors’ faces, or are discarded into the wings when they fall off completely. Costumes are also ill-fitting, so at one point an actress doesn’t realize that she is revealing a bit more flesh than she intended in her floor-length kimono. Actors more familiar with the play's lines whisper prompts while covering their mouths with fans. Dance steps are improvised and stage blocking happens at times by shoving an actor into his location.
For those familiar with “Noises Off,” combine the slapstick of the second-rate troupe learning the staging of the play-within-the-play with a witty British send-up of Japanese kabuki, and you have a recap of the scheme presented here.
While it’s a recommendable humorous production, the single-note concept wears thin toward the end of the first act, and there’s little to build on the shenanigans in the second act. “The Mikado” suffers in comparison to more fully realized comedies like UVU’s previous “Le Thé à la Menthe oú le Citron?” and “She Stoops to Conquer.” One leaves the production wondering how the shenanigans could have been heightened in more capable hands.
The production does reveal the comic brilliance of three actors. Kyle Oram is a wily delight as Ko-Ko the Lord High Executioner, a role that has been played by Groucho Marx, Eric Idle and Dudley Moore. Oram’s comic instincts are best seen in the hilarious “As Some Day It Might Happen,” or better known as “I’ve Got a Little List” (of people who wouldn’t be missed if beheaded). Individuals are regularly updated to feature infamous figures of the moment. Not only are obvious targets ribbed like starlets who transport miniature pooches in their designer handbags, but BYU freshmen who have never been kissed and feminists who wear pants to church are also lambasted.
Though it is initially confusing when Julie Suazo plays Pitti-Sing, one of the “Three Little Maids from School Are We,” she is gleeful cantankerous with her antics when she takes on the second role of Katisha. Suazo and Oram are captivating when together performing “There Is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast.”
The broad gesticulations of James Bounous suit the demeanor of Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son in disguise, to ridicule the haughty character as a poseur. His “A Wand’ring Minstrel I,” a song used by an auditioner for the “Springtime for Hitler” musical in Mel Brooks’ “The Producers,” is skillfully performed.