When it comes to taking liberties with production values in the Gilbert & Sullivan canon, The Mikado; or The Town of Titipu is probably the most robust of the operettas bringing the words of W. S. Gilbert together with the music of Arthur Sullivan. The most notorious example probably came with a televised production in 1960 that cast Groucho Marx as Ko-Ko. Marx was apparently an enthusiastic Gilbert & Sullivan fan. However, I remember that broadcast; and Marx was out of his depth. The role of Ko-Ko just could not be interpreted as another version of Rufus T. Firefly or Otis B. Driftwood.
More interesting have been the efforts to transplant the operetta to some “exotic” location other than Japan. The English National Opera (ENO) wins the prize in this category. Director John Michael Philips set the operetta in a British seaside resort with a male chorus of proper English gentlemen in white tie clearly pretending to be “gentlemen of Japan” by having their fingers hold up their eyebrows in a slant:
Eric Idle (in tennis whites with a tennis racket, rather than a executioner’s sword) took the role of Ko-Ko in this production, although he was succeeded by Dudley Moore when ENO took it on their United States tour. (This version also included an entirely new stanza for Ko-Ko’s “little list” song consisting entirely of contemporary references.)
All this should prepare local audiences for the announcement by the Lamplighters Music Theatre that next month’s production of The Mikado will be set in an unnamed little town in Renaissance Italy. Stage director Ellen Brooks offered the following thoughts on her decision:
Transferring The Mikado from its first creative home in Gilbert and Sullivan’s fantasy “Japan” has been nothing short of a revelation. Italian exuberance and joy in life colored every choice we made… In the earthy Lombard countryside, Gilbert’s wry and wicked humor, his observation of human foibles and sense of irony are stronger than ever and through this new lens (certainly of Venetian glass) - made even more ridiculous.
“Ridiculous,” with all of its positive connotations, is definitely the operative adjective through the Gilbert & Sullivan canon; and The Mikado has no shortage of opportunities for belly-laughs based in absurd turns of both plot and language. Indeed, this operetta is so popular that next month’s run will be the 22nd production given by Lamplighters since 1953. Chances are, there will be no shortage of audience members who have committed the classic D’Oyly Carte recording, with Martyn Green singing Ko-Ko, to memory and will be able to detect (and, hopefully, relish) every liberty taken with the original. (Fun fact: Green was recruited to direct that telecast that had cast Marx as Ko-Ko.)
As is the case with every Lamplighters show, this production will be given four performances in San Francisco at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA). There will be two evening performances at 8 p.m. on Friday, August 19, and Saturday, August 20, and two 2 p.m. matinees on Saturday, August 20, and Sunday, August 21. Music Director and Conductor will be Baker Peeples.
The theater is located at 700 Howard Street on the northwest corner of Third Street. Premium Orchestra tickets are $60, those in Center Terrace and the remainder of the Orchestra are $50, and those in the Side Terrace and Boxes are $45. Seniors (aged 62 or older) are entitled to a $5 discount in all sections; and a $10 discount per ticket is available for a Group Rate of ten or more tickets. $20 tickets are available in all sections for children (aged seventeen and under), students (aged 25 and under), and K12 educators. Finally, student rush tickets are available one hour prior to each performance for only $15 with presentation of appropriate identification. The Box Office can be reached by telephone at 415-978-2787, and YBCA has an event page with hyperlinks for purchase of tickets to all four performances. The Box Office is closed on Mondays and opens at 11 a.m. on all other days. It closes at 8 p.m. on Thursdays and closes at 6 p.m. on the remaining days. The Box Office also opens 90 minutes prior to each performance.