"The Mikado," at SCERA Shell Outdoor Theatre
by Eric D. Snider
Published on August 18, 2002
SCERA's production of "The Mikado" is a train wreck, but it's a spectacular train wreck, one where the train is moving at full power and all the passengers are having the time of their lives. Bystanders, though, should stand clear or risk being struck by conceptual debris.
Director Mindy B. Young, music director/arranger Jeremy Showgren and choreographer Sunny Claitor have made Gilbert and Sullivan's silly operetta into a rock opera, more or less, though many songs still sound approximately the way Sir Arthur Sullivan wrote them. Modern references have been added, though the costumes (by Natalie Chadwick) and makeup (by Ali Terry and Ben Gerber) remain in the ancient Japanese tradition ... except where some of the makeup resembles the rock band KISS, and where the Mikado is dressed like Austin Powers.
Some of W.S. Gilbert's lyrics have been changed to include references to Utah, implying the show takes place here -- and then in a later moment, a character suggests they "leave Japan and move to Utah."
All this is symptomatic of the greater problem, which is that there is no consistency, no sense of having chosen one concept and having stuck with it. You can't use every single idea you have; they need to fit. Unless your concept is "everything we can think of," in which case knock yourself out -- but don't expect the audience to follow you.
A loosey-goosey, throw-everything-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks attitude can work, and this production has moments that do. But overall, it's not loony enough to be a full-on spoof, nor straight enough to be just another production of "The Mikado." "Three Little Maids from a School Are We" is a fine assemblage of rock operatics and modern choreography, for example, but nearly every song surrounding it is presented without much change.
When the emperor of Japan is dressed like Austin Powers (but with no British accent) and singing a song about Utah religion and politics, that's when you know you've accumulated too many concepts and need to do some trimming.
As for the acting, I will say this: It is uniform. Every actor performs in a highly stylized and presentational manner; it is the only element of the show that indicates a consistent directorial vision. (For the record, the principal performers are: Tony Jimenez, Amanda Barclay, Doug Kofford, Ben Schlenske, Fred Lee, Michelle Sundwall, Wendy Lowe, Kate Lowder, Philip Erickson and Laura Hirose Olson.)
Unfortunately, it was a bad idea. I suspect they were going for the style of kabuki theater, but that's more an explanation than an excuse. The result is that it's flat and no character is interesting or unique. A lot of random, unison movement and odd voices are used; it's like watching a tedious demonstration of experimental theater while running a fever.
In all this jumbled mass of ideas, the story has been lost. Without a prior knowledge of the show, or without consulting the program notes, you'd be hard-pressed to know what's going on. Gilbert wrote a lot of words, and they require careful enunciation and clear singing voices. Many lyrics are lost here.
The production is the result of a lot of creative energy gone wrong. It's too unfocused, with too many ideas knocking each other over in some scenes and too little going on in others. The cast is committed; the problem is, there's just not enough for them to be committed to.
Should you go? You would do well to avoid this accident scene.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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