Lyric Opera of Chicago presents
At the Ardis Kranik Theatre, 20 N. Wacker Drive
Composed by W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan
Music by Arthur Sullivan
Libretto by W.S. Gilbert
In English with projected English titles
Conducted by Sir Andrew Davis
Stage directed by Gary Griffin
At 7:30pm: December 8th, 11th, January 7th, 11th, 15th
At 2pm: January 5th, 9th, 13th, 21st
Running Time: Three hours with a fifteen minute intermission.
Reviewed by Katy Walsh
What would you do for love? Send roses? Sing serenades? Pledge vows? Die decapitated? Or be buried alive? The Lyric Opera of Chicago presents THE MIKADO, the Gilbert & Sullivan operetta in two acts in English with English titles. The Mikado (Emperor of Japan) has proclaimed that flirting is a crime punishable by death. A traveling musician and a young lady perpetrate the offense anyway. To make the transgression even more lethal, they’re already engaged to others. He has a bride-elect at home. She is getting married that afternoon to the Lord High Executioner. When the LHE uncovers the indiscretion, he sentences the man to thirty days marriage followed by decapitation. Initially, the couple agrees to the wedding beheading. The small print reveals the wife of a headless husband is buried alive with him. She objects to the until-death-do-us-part exclusion. Unlike a typical opera’s love fatality, Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta is a light-hearted death threat. THE MIKADO is a vibrant musical pageantry of political satire.
Another distinct operatic difference in THE MIKADO is a significant portion of the show is actually spoken word. Under the baton of Sir Andrew Davis and stage direction of Gary Griffin, Gilbert & Sullivan’s farce is performed in bright animation. The playful tempo sets the tone for fun. Proving an institution can have a sense of humor, the “List Aria” of execution prospects includes Lyric Opera shows. To slap the punchline, the projected titles flash like a commercial marquee. Singing his ultimate hit list, Neal Davies (Ko-Ko) is delightfully sleazy as an opportunist. He joins Stephanie Blythe (Katisha) in a highly entertaining “There is Beauty in the Bellow of the Blast” duet. As with her MASKED BALL performance, Blythe transforms a supporting role into a showstopper. ‘It takes years to train a man to love me,’ Blythe sings. For Chicago, it only took one season to fall in love with the wondrous mezzo-soprano. As the man headed to the sacrificial altar, Toby Spence (Nanki-Poo) is charmingly gallant in his affections. Pure diva-licious, Andriana Chuchman (Yum-Yum) sings about her beauty with an unapologetic and unfaltering clarity. James Morris (Mikado) is the authority on the crime fitting the punishment. His decapitation justification song continues to be stuck in my head. Despite dictatorial influence, the entire ensemble romps with carefree amusement.
THE MIKADO is often costumed in Japanese kimonos and Geisha-white face. The Lyric Opera has unexpectedly set the show in 1922 Japan. The ladies chorus is flapper-style Art-Deco. The men’s chorus is suited with bowler hats. It’s the businessman painting “The Son of Man” amplified and without the green apples. Costume and set designer Mark Thompson provides colorful backdrops for other design elements to pop, including; a functional water fountain and a full-size car. The magical hallmark of the Lyric Opera is expect the unexpected. Gilbert & Sullivan and Davis & Griffin make THE MIKADO a bravado spectacle of comical entertainment.
Scoring an intermission seating upgrade, Roger describes the show with ‘second row rocks.’
Production photography courtesy of Dan Rest.