Entering the crowd, Nanki-Poo begins to sing while masquerading as a wandering minstrel. But, unbeknownst to most, the young man is actually the son of the title character of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic “The Mikado (or, The Town of Titipu).” The intrepid Nanki-Poo (Sam Bolen ’10) has assumed the disguise in order to dodge the advances of his ex and then win the love of the fair maiden Yum-Yum.
With that name, who wouldn’t?
This well-traveled comic operetta receives a thoroughly enjoyable Elm City production this weekend at the Off-Broadway Theater, directed by Joe Hendel ’07, produced by Joel Pattison ’09 and stage managed by Edith Sangueza ’10. The plot is light and entertaining, centering around a fierce competition between Nanki-Poo and the creepy tailor Ko-Ko (Arden Rogow-Bales ’10) over the love of the self-fawning hot girl Yum-Yum (Rachel Cohen ’09). While Yum Yum is supposed to get married to Ko-Ko, her heart belongs to Nanki-Poo. And who would blame her? Bolen’s charm and vocal range serve to fill out Nanki-Poo’s Playboy robes with panache.
Further conflict arises when we discover that Ko-Ko, as head executioner of Titipu, must execute one town member. He says he will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum Yum, as long as he can execute him in one month. But the reappearance of the Mikado (Nathaniel Granor ’08) thwarts this plan. Rogow-Bales, master of appearing perpetually pained, was an endearing and perfectly-fitted foil for Cohen, mistress of appearing perpetually desired.
A series of foibles follows, including a raucous tea party (in which Margaret Plouffe ’09 as Peep-Bo is especially memorable) complete with a flask, pills and Krispy Kreme. We are also introduced to Pish-Tush, the loveable Nat Zingg ’07 and Katisha (Liz Picker ’09), Nanki-Poo’s jealous and ugly ex-lover. (Make-up and glasses can do a lot to make a pretty girl ugly, as we all saw in “She’s All That.”) Picker is magnetic, dominating every scene in which she appears with an operatic voice and hilarious mannerisms. Tim Karpowitz ’09 is also notable as the haughty, but lovable, Pooh-Bah. His fleshy dance moves highlight the effective use of choreography and physicality to add humor to the show.
Costume designer Liz Picker ’09 embraces the play’s political incorrectness by exaggerating its stereotypical portrayal of Japanese culture with modern touches like Hello Kitty bags. In fact, inserted anachronisms add much humor to the production. One song (a list of people who would not be missed if executed) is recomposed for a Yale audience almost entirely of references to pop culture, including Mel Gibson, scientologists, heiresses who forgo underwear and the guy who sued Princeton. The show also features some makeshift props, which while entertaining, do not mesh with the polished set, designed by Elisa Iturbe ’08.
The show is music directed by Rebecca Blum ’07 and features a live orchestra on one side of the stage. The singing alternates between serious and humorous but is almost always well-done, with many singers exhibiting excellent command over the late-19th century music. A series of reprise renditions is the most impressive, with each one getting more frantic and exaggerated than the last. Constant mood and tempo changes helped keep the musical — which runs a little over two hours — from dragging.
Katisha, the ugly one with attractive elbows, said, “It takes years to train a man to love me.” And while it usually takes years to convince me to actually go to play with music in it, “The Mikado” surprised me by creating a captivating and charming evening.