REVIEW: Mikado shines on White Rock Playhouse stage

Clive Ramroop, Rebekah McEwan, Adam Olgui star in The Mikado in White Rock.  - Contributed photo
Clive Ramroop, Rebekah McEwan, Adam Olgui star in The Mikado in White Rock.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Good news for fans of the comic operettas of W.S Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan.

Those who hold tickets to the remainder of the run of Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society’s 30th anniversary production, The Mikado; or the Town of Titipu (it closes Saturday), can congratulate themselves they’ve picked a winner.

The show, in an unusual venue for the society – White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse – is bright, funny and almost uniformly well sung (both male and female choruses are particularly tuneful).

The set, while simple, is effective, and Christy Zaporozan’s costumes are beautiful.

The company – some 22 members – is only a little smaller than past Surrey Arts Centre levels, and choreographer Carol Seitz has provided them with interesting movement.

Severest cuts seem to have been sustained by the orchestra, due to a lack of wings space on the White Rock stage, but musical director Herbert Tsang copes well with the limited resources.

It’s only during a brutally pared-down overture orchestration that one feels, keenly, the effects of reducing the irreducible.

But artistic director Dann Wilhelm shows at every turn he understands the show well.

In fact, many bits of comedy business and underlying motivations work better here than in other versions I have seen, while the lines and lyrics are projected with a clarity that ensures that little, if any, of Gilbert’s wit is lost (while updated interpolations, such as new lyrics for I’ve Got A Little List, retain the spirit, if not the letter, of his satire).

It’s no secret this Mikado has – as one of its strong selling points – the celebrity of popular hockey anthem singer Mark Donnelly.

Donnelly delivers as the august ruler of Japan, in a performance that is, by turns, droll, quirky and amusingly manic. His Mikado is in a grand old musical comedy/light opera tradition of dotty monarchs, which helps makes sense of some of the ruler’s more arbitrary pronouncements.

In addition to his superlative singing, Donnelly demonstrates a capability for comedy, a well-honed sense of the ridiculous, and a willingness to lampoon his iconic image.

But, strong as he is, there are two others who steal comedy honours – and steal them so well they deserve to become fixtures of future FVGSS productions.

James Walker owns the stage as Ko-Ko, the cheap tailor elevated to Lord High Executioner of Titipu. Over the years he has steadily gained the experience and maturity to match his wry and unusual comedic sense and, in The Mikado, his work at times evokes the smooth delivery of Bob Hope in his prime.

Walker’s increasing mastery of timing shouldn’t distract from the fact that he’s turned into a fine singer, too.

Close on Walkers’ heels for comedy kudos is Adam Olgui – who made much out of a nothing role as Pepe in the FVGSS panto Beauty and the Beast – as the seriously corrupt Pooh Bah, holder of a dazzling array of bureaucratic posts, most of them in conflict with each other. It’s a role offering a multiplicity of possibilities, and Olgui, endlessly inventive – and blessed with well-modulated speech, and an excellent singing voice – manages to run with all of them at once.

Sean Donnelly, while apparently uncomfortable with the high tenor range required of Nanki-Poo – at least on last Friday’s gala night performance – continues to demonstrate the winning stage presence apparent in his performance as the Beast of Beauty and the Beast.

He also shows he’s adept at comedy and has an unforced assurance in romantic scenes rare in a relatively inexperienced player. His scenes with romantic interest Yum-Yum are particularly well-played and actually develop a subtext of sexual tension – not a feature of many amateur Gilbert and Sullivan productions.

As Yum-Yum, Rebekah McEwan sings beautifully. Her vocal range is perfectly suited to The sun, whose rays are all ablaze – surely one of the most lovely of all of Sullivan’s settings of Gilbert’s lyrics – and at the performance I saw, the solo was flawlessly delivered.

McEwan also succeeds in having fun with the part, portraying Yum-Yum’s pride and pragmatic inconstancy – and a continuing need to divert guardian Ko-Ko’s amorous advances – with a clear wink in the eye.

Tamara Wilhelm and Samantha Andrews also bring excellent singing and sly humour to their roles of Ko-Ko’s other two wards – Wilhelm scoring points aplenty as somewhat acerbic Pitti-Sing, while Andrews matches her as the more than slightly tactless Peep-Bo.

Jacquollyne Keath invests Katisha, the elderly lady of the court obsessed with Nanki-Poo, with a suitably chilling and intimidating presence. Her singing is also accomplished, but her performance is distinguished by the fine sense of teamwork she displays in her scenes and numbers with Walker as reluctant suitor.

Clive Ramroop delivers his most authoritative performance yet as Pish-Tush, a severe – and in FVGSS’ version, more than slightly challenged – noble.

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