Greenville Light Opera Works’ ‘Mikado’ charms

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Paul Hyde | Greenville News

There’s a moment in Greenville Light Opera Works’ production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado” that, by itself, is worth the price of admission. The Lord High Executioner, Ko-Ko (superbly played by DeMar Neal), recites the famous List Song of people “who never would be missed.”

In this updated version of the ditty, Neal’s Ko-Ko, with incisive diction and antic glint in the eye, proceeds to skewer everything from texting teens to Lady Gaga and South Carolina political ogres who oppose arts funding.

It brings down the house.

That’s just one highlight of a “Mikado” that brims with wit, charm and beautiful singing. Jenna Tamisiea’s clever and zesty staging of this 1885 G&S classic at Centre Stage animates the operetta’s convoluted plot, which satirizes Victorian British politics and is set in Japan. Never mind the particulars, though: At the heart of “The Mikado,” with Sullivan’s tuneful songs and Gilbert’s brilliant lyrics and dialog, is the familiar story of old people trying to thwart young love.

Tamisiea’s colorful production is largely traditional with an impish anachronism or two. The updating of the List Song (with pointed lyrics by GLOW’s general director Christian Elser) is, in fact, entirely consistent with the tradition established by the D’Oyly Carte, the ultimate G&S authority. Tamisiea’s direction, though broadly comic, resists the temptation to slip into parody. She nicely varies the generally breezy pacing of the operetta, for instance adding some graceful Kabuki-style movement to the ingenue Yum-Yum’s Act II ballad “The Sun’s Whose Rays.”

The real treat of the show are the three leads: Anna Steenerson (as Yum-Yum), Wesley Morgan (Nanki-Poo) and the aforementioned DeMar Neal (Ko-Ko). Steenerson is an implacably prim and sweet Yum-Yum with a radiant voice, soaring impressively in “The Sun’s Whose Rays.” Morgan, as Nanki-Poo, has a ringing tenor and a gift for suave phrasing. Neal, however, is the scene-stealer. His Ko-Ko is bitingly crisp in expression and action — a performance artful and frequently hilarious. Neal possesses the soul of a true Savoyard.

Luke Browder is a robust Pooh-Bah, the holder of every official post, and Browder appealingly speaks with a comically different accent for each official. In a unique bit of cross-gender casting, Jonathan Kilpatrick dons long fingernails and appropriate hauteur for Katisha, who thinks the famed beauty of her left elbow is enough for her to have the much younger Nanki-Poo as her husband. Thomas Dickinson is a sonorous Mikado. Several others deliver solid performances: Regina Torres (Pitti-Sing), Sara Magun (Peep-Bo), Jason Kossol (Pish-Tush) and Maurice Hendricks (Go-To).

The entire ensemble, when singing as a whole, produces some glorious sounds — although it’s at those moments that diction tends to lose clarity. Crisp enunciation is an absolute must in G&S. Marion Sprott conducts a small but serviceable orchestra. Two more performances remain of this genial and effervescent production of “The Mikado.”

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