Gilbert and Sullivan operettas are such a stock staple of amateur dramatic societies in the English speaking world that one might think they were easy to stage. They are not. They are a tricky genre; entirely sui generic and strewn with as many pitfalls as the field at Bannockburn. The first and greatest is the primacy of the text and, embedded in that, W.S. Gilbert’s relentless guying of English Victorian society. A director really has to choose to go with that or come up with something really rather different. In Toronto Operetta Theatre’s new production of The Mikado director Guillermo Silva-Marin hasn’t really done either. There’s nothing very new in this production which seems to focus mostly on the visuals; streamer twirling and fancy fan work. One senses the mostly young cast have been left to develop their own characters without a whole lot of help. It’s a big ask and the result is that much of the time, even when the words are fully audible, one senses the players aren’t really aware of what and where the joke is. It’s no surprise then that it’s the veterans of the cast who get closest to the essence of the piece. Both David Ludwig as Pooh-Bah and Giles Tomkins as The Mikado perform with sly wit and excellent diction. The Katisha of Mia Lennox is quite idiomatic too but perhaps lacking a bit of bite.
It’s not that there’s not to like in this show. There’s some very good singing from some of the younger members of the cast. Lucia Cesaroni is a sweet toned and distinctive Yum-Yum. She’s a pleasure to listen to but the Valley Girl high school antics that the young ladies are given don’t really help her develop the character. Adrian Kramer too is an interesting Nanki-Poo. It’s been, and continues to be fun, watching his transformation from baritone to tenor. Last night he seemed more willing to float high notes than I have heard before and his upper range sounded more natural. He’s still very much a baritenor in his lower range though. Acting wise it was decent too though “goofy” in a way that pervaded much of the acting. One can’t help feeling that such a talented comic actor could have been helped to make something edgier of the humour. Joseph Angelo’s Ko-Ko was a bit odd. One doesn’t expect vocal fireworks from the comic baritone but one might have hoped for a slightly crisper patter song. Maybe it was first night nerves or maybe it was meant to be part of the overall slightly campy interpretation.
Still, it’s a holiday season Mikado. All the tunes are there and one or two of the updated jokes are pretty decent. Just don’t expect to be challenged. The Mikado runs at the Jane Mallett Theatre until January 4th.