The Mikado

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.

In one of the songs where the lyrics were changed to reflect Utah society, some of them were altered to include a reference to me. I had been warned about it, so it didn't catch me off guard, and the line was funny, so it didn't bother me. The song was about people they could get rid of and no one would miss, and I was among them. One of the lines said something about how I don't like anything the theaters do, which in this case turned out to be quite prescient.

I received this angry e-mail from a cast and/or crew member:

Mr. Eric,

I just wanted to say that I thought your review of the Mikado was very rude to say the least.Mindy B. Young has more ideas and imagination than you will ever have in your pinky finger.I don't care how much you know about theater or how much you think you know, or how witty you may be, The Mikado was found to be very entertaining and clever. [Found by whom? You, a cast member?]A traditional version of this very unknown musical would never of sold in Utah Valley. (You probably would of ripped up a traditional version just as much.) [Why wouldn't it "of" sold? "Pirates of Penzance," also by Gilbert and Sullivan, does well enough. And trust me, no one is rushing out to buy tickets to "Mikado" once they've heard how this production is.] As crazy and wild and idea driven as it was, it was creatively fabulous to say the least.I believe that a wise man once said, "IMAGINATION IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN KNOWLEDGE."- Albert EinsteinDon't be bitter- just because you don't have any imagination. -

A member of the Mikado cast and crew.

Ah, that old chestnut: "You only ripped on the show because you're jealous of their talent." It's a favorite among angry-letter writers who are teen-agers.