Friday, 5 December 2014

Charing Cross Theatre : Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado ★★★★


Arthur Sullivan and W. S. Gilbert’s operetta The Mikado, which was performed 672 times at the Savoy Theatre in 1885, is popularly known for its catchy songs, amusing Japanese costumes and cheeky libretto. Now, it’s being shown at the Charing Cross Theatre under the award-winning direction of Thom Southerland, which makes a mockery of British politicians and bashes celebrity culture including witty gags about TV programmes: Towie and Goggle Box, as well as pop-icon Russell Brand and, even, Kim Kardashian.
Set in a Japanese fan manufacturer, the opera tells the story of Nanki-Poo (Matthew Crowe), the son of the Mikado who disguises himself as a second trombone to run away from his engagement to Katisha (Rebecca Caine), an older woman of his father’s court. He falls in love with Yum-Yum (Leigh Coggins) who shares mutual feelings but is told by Pooh-Bah (Steve Watts) that she is marrying Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko (Hugh Osbourne). Due to the sudden news Nanki-Poo considers taking his life but Ko-Ko convinces him to stay alive for a month to avoid his own execution, as decreed by the Mikado, and have Nanki-poo executed in his place in exchange for Yum-Yum as his wife.  Yet as comic operas go, no one is executed, Nanki-Poo wins his Yum-Yum and the opera concludes with a grand assemble song with Japanese fans and umbrellas spinning in the air. 
Just below the stage, two grand pianos are buoyantly played by musical director Dean Austin and associate musical director Noam Galperin. They add blushes of enthusiasm and fire to Sullivan’s charming and snappy score. Southerland’s production also showcases cute dance routines like tap and circle dancing, which are lightly sprinkled in with mischievous smiles and eye-boggling jazz hands.
The loud diva voice of Katisha, sung by the distinguished theatre and opera soprano Rebecca Caine, is one to envy. Although playing a bit of the witch-esque baddie, dressed like a violet feathered Morticia Addams, she spreads sorrow on the stage through her operatic prowess with her song "Alone, and yet alive.” Coggings sings as the little, sweet and dewy-eyed Yum-Yum and it’s surprising to hear the highest and most heavenly notes come out of her small body. 
Crowe as Nanki-Poo is a pleasure to watch on stage with his own version of "A Wand'ring Minstrel I” as he walks gleefully on top of a stool. Although wobbly at holding high range notes he acts as the ideal strapping traveller and lover boy.  Osborne as Ko-Ko donnes the most interesting carpet waistcoats and injects silly sarcasm and true Gilbert & Sullivan humour to the show with Chapham as the cheeky and larking noble lord, Pish-tush and the snotty Pooh-Bah with a zillion superior roles acted by Watts. Yet Watts also suffers with a few notes sounding off; but this is to no disadvantage as his characterisation was on par particularly with the befuddling look he gives to the butterly 'Three Little Maids' (Sophie Rohan, Cassandra Mccowan and Coggins) as they shuffle and shake their butts and breasts at him - fully clothed! And baritone singer Mark Heenehan, who cut it as the commanding Juan Perón in last year’s Evita tour, played as good a regimental Mikado as he merrily sang "Mi-ya Sa-ma” despite his gold studded medallions and bossy demeanor.
I can confidently say that once you’ve settled into your seat, you’ll soon forget about your life worries with Southerland’s production of The Mikado: a wonderfully upbeat and jubilant show.
Currently showing until the 3rd of January 2015. Click here to purchase tickets. 
Photos courtesy of Kevin Wilson PR