Story and photos by Mike Gesler
The moment I stepped into the auditorium of St. Cecilia Music Center and saw the orchestra exposed, I thought, “This is going to be fun.” Last night I had the opportunity to attend the final dress performance of Opera Grand Rapids production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” This is Gilbert and Sullivan’s ninth operatic collaboration, and arguably one of their most popular and beloved operas.
The story is a two act comedy set in the town of Titipu where a handsome, yet poor, minstrel with a secret past named Nanki-Poo comes seeking Yum-Yum, a schoolgirl his heart pines for. Unfortunately, he learns from the haughty Poo-Bah, a nobleman who holds all the official town’s posts that Yum-Yum is to marry Ko-Ko, her ward, the next day. Ko-Ko however, who is a prisoner, in a twist of fate, is made the town’s Lord High Executioner. The town reasons that in order to thwart the decrees of the Mikado and stop the beheadings, since Ko-Ko was next to be executed, if Ko-Ko is the Lord High Executioner then he cannot cut off his own head. However, the Mikado has learned that the executions have stopped in Titipu, and orders that an execution take place within a month or the town will be reduced to a village. A distraught Nanki-Poo and an anxious Ko-Ko come up with a scheme that will allow both Nanki-Poo and Ko-Ko to marry Yum-Yum and save Titipu from being reduced to a village. It all seems like a perfect plan until Katisha arrives on the scene to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband. Now folks, that’s just the first act. If you want to know how the second act resolves this crazy mess, you’ll need to go and see for yourself.
It’s not too often that I watch a production and find myself so drawn into the cast that I completely forget about set design, lighting, choreography, costumes, and all those nuances that go into a production. But last night I was completely taken in by what appeared to be a cast that so genuinely enjoyed themselves and what they were doing that I almost completely overlooked everything else. Eve Summer, a rising star in stage direction, directed this amazing cast, and she does a brilliant job with the stage at St. Cecilia’s. From the moment Drake Dantzler (Nanki-Poo) stepped on stage, I was drawn into his infectious tenor voice and radiant smile. I found myself wishing that Nanki-Poo was my friend as there would never be a dull moment with Nanki-Poo around. Andrew Potter’s (Poo-Bah) towering presence and imposing bass voice is casting brilliance.
Now I’ll admit that Steven Condy (Ko-Ko) frustrated me at first, but it wasn’t for lack of talent. Condy is one very talented baritone. What frustrated me was that he reminded me of someone else and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then it hit me. He reminded me of George Rose, and that really says a lot about Condy’s performance. But it was Grand Rapids native Rachel Mills (Yum-Yum) who stole my heart. I now have a new favorite Yum-Yum. I honestly believe that Gilbert and Sullivan had someone like Mills in mind when they composed and wrote “The Mikado.” Her comedic timing and sense of theatrical flair is spot on. Watching Mills, Dantzler, Potter, and Condy interact with each other was so refreshing and enjoyable. They took the fun I first anticipated, and brought it to levels of pure delight. Diane Schoff (Katisha) and Donald Hartmann (The Mikado) round out the cast, and are equally talented in their own right.
The set design is simple and minimal, but very effective. Images of London and English gardens are projected to help set the scene. The Edwardian period costuming is simply beautiful. The lighting design while not complex, is subtle lending to the mood of each scene. And the music is so wonderfully played by the orchestra. Conductor Ace Edeward’s passion for the music comes through with each note. All-in-all, this truly was a special production by Opera Grand Rapids that I for one am glad I didn’t miss, and sad that I can’t see one more time.
“The Mikado” is being presented this weekend at 7:30pm on both Friday, November 1, and Saturday, November 2, at St. Cecilia Music Center in Grand Rapids. As near as I can tell, tickets are sold out for Friday’s performance, and only a few single seats are available for Saturday’s performance. Any questions regarding tickets can be made by calling the Opera Grand Rapids Box Office at 616.451.2741.
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