He and David Wannen, the company's Managing Director, who also plays the imposing Emperor of Japan, the title role, summed up the company's goal for this 126-year-old Gilbert and Sullivan favorite: to have fun and spread joy.
With this dynamic conductor I fully expected the fun to begin with the overture. Though the musicians' tempos and virtuosity were most apparent, the intricate and familiar melodies did not initially soar. All seemed muted, a fact that certainly worked once the curtain rose and the singing began. From that point on, the conductor's energy kept all in motion and he and the orchestra indeed became viable characters in the ensemble.
That rising curtain also revealed many colorful Japanese scenic icons that Bergeret incorporated in the scenery of the town of Titipu: from the cherry blossoms, Japanese fir trees, and sheer misty mountains of the backdrop to the curving entrance bridge surrounded by craggy rocks, flanked by a torii gate and a monolithic trellis-like pagoda and the Shoji screens of a multi-purpose teahouse surrounded by wisteria in the foreground-all made bittersweet by contrast with current events.
Costumers Gail J. Wofford and Kayko Nakamura added more color and movement with their authentic yet fun designs from wigged heads to tabi-feet with clogs: first for Pish-Tush and the men's fanning precision in the opening recitative, then the blatant tatters of the wandering shamesin-wielding minstrel Nanki-Poo, and later the coyly arched "train" of kimono-klad "little ladies" with requisite umbrellas, but the three little maids stood brightly apart, with their butterfly hues, especially delighting the audience with "Three Little Maids from School Are We." The most outlandish round de let costume belonged to the green eye-shadowed Pish-Tush with his Lord High Everything fan; the most lavish, to Katisha, with her elongated red nails and matching hair pins; and the most glittering, to the Mikado himself with his elevated headdress. With so many competing colors and details in sets and costumes, it was sometimes difficult for me to find the focal point.
Overall, the production took liberties to update the satirical references and add to the fun by having Pooh-Bah do the Macarena and replacing "arcane references" with current ones that included American Idol, the Tea Party and even Mayor Slay, but the undertow of the tragic quake and tsunami in Japan often dampened the inane humor for me.
Of course in an operetta, it's the voices that really matter. The ensemble began with a most impressive sound. Steven Quint, a fine physical comedian, stepped into the role of Ko-Ko, The Lord High Executioner for the evening. Though he never noticeably missed a beat-that's the nature and beauty of a good repertory company-I sometimes sensed the overall timing to be a hair off. Also, his voice was not as strong as I have heard sing the role, but I enjoyed his comic shtick. When comedic Quint combined with the overstatement of Pooh-Bah (Louis Dall'Ava) and the understatement of Pish-Tush (David Auxier) for the trio "I Am So Proud," all three were at their best and the number fully realized. Both Daniel Greenwood as Nanki-Poo and Sarah Caldwell Smith as Yum Yum had wide-eyed naiveté and appealing voices, but they were even more impressive when they combined with the maturity of Pitti-Sing (Melissa Attebury) and Auxier's Pish-Tush for the Act II madrigal, which was one my favorite moments. But it was Katisha (Caitlin Burke) who stole the show from her formidable entrance onward. Her "Alone, and Yet Alive!" was full of passion and pathos and true current relevance, making her a villainess to love and garnering a standing O from most of the audience.
The entire evening concluded with a lovely catered reception, complete with wine and delicious desserts, where the principals mingled with the audience, allowing further discussion of the show and spreading more fun and joy: my compliments to the Touhill for arranging such a full-bodied arts evening.