A man dressed in a kimono warns audience members to silence their cell phones at the risk of beheading. This threat opening the Yale Gilbert and Sullivan Society’s version of “The Mikado” is one you probably should heed. As in, you want to be alive for this performance.
Directed by Jacob Reske ’14, “The Mikado” opens on Nanki-Poo (Brandon Levin ’13), who has recently returned to his hometown of Titipu, ruled by his father, The Mikado (Paul Holmes ’12). Nanki-Poo had fled Titipu to avoid marrying Katisha (Catherine Leech ’11), but is unable to marry the woman he loves, Yum-Yum (Meredith Redick ’14), due to her engagement to her guardian Ko-Ko (Edward Delman ’12).
Nanki-Poo’s hopes are renewed when he’s informed that Ko-Ko will be executed for violating The Mikado’s anti-flirting law, but a few chance events lead to Ko-Ko’s appointment as Lord High Chief Executioner. “The Mikado” follows the series of mishaps that follow Nanki-Poo’s arrival back in Titipu as he strives to marry Yum-Yum despite Ko-Ko’s opposition.
There are few moments in “The Mikado” that fail to be over-the-top, but also nearly none that don’t elicit a laugh. Reske extracts every ounce of the ample whimsy in the script, drawing out the quirky character from scenes with deeper emotion, as well as from those simply ridiculous in nature.
The show’s vital and animated spirit is most present in its choreography. Movement dominates the show not only during dance numbers, but also in the many conversations between characters so excitable that they seem to be dancing even without singing or musical accompaniment. The musical’s four choreographers (Reske, Catherine Camp ’14, Juliette Jeanfreau ’13, and Elle Ramel ’11) inspire the ensemble to charmingly bring many of the songs’ motions to life with fans and parasols.
The grace of the ensemble’s movements also influences the performance’s use of the stage. Though nearly the entire cast is on stage for a large part of the show, the small cloistered feeling of the Af-Am House’s stage disappears as soon as the show begins. Previously unnoticed nooks play host to several surprising solos, adding dynamism to the visual effect of the performance despite the relatively minimalist props and costumes.
Admittedly, though the show’s charisma mostly overshadows the precision of specific scenes, the sloppiness of smaller details is clearly noticeable. The live orchestral accompaniment fails to align consistently with the rhythm of the singing, and moments of hesitation and uncertainty seem to be present during a few ensemble scenes. But even slight slips like a dropped accessory add to the show’s humor as the cast excuses them as an extension of the script’s playfulness.
But the shows’ blessings go beyond its visual aspect. The script’s original humor is augmented by Yale-specific lyrics, written by Sam Kaufman-Martin ’14 and Austin Kase ’11. Both Ko-Ko and The Mikado list those annoying individuals who deserve a good beheading, poking fun not only at modern celebrities like Justin Bieber and Rebecca Black, but also denouncing Yale stereotypes like overzealous DSers, narcissistic theater majors and girls a little too obsessed with James Franco, lending The Mikado a relatable air despite its foreign context and implausible storylines.
“The Mikado” threatens to warm a knife with your blood, but it actually kind of warms your heart.
“The Mikado” runs through Saturday, Mar. 26.
Correction: March 25, 2011
An earlier version of this article misstated the class year and full name of Sam Kaufman-Martin ’14.