Jacqollyne Keath portrays the bloodthirsty and vengeful Katisha opposite James Walker as Ko-Ko

Jacqollyne Keath portrays the bloodthirsty and vengeful Katisha opposite James Walker as Ko-Ko

Musical mayhem

Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society ramps up the comedy for The Mikado at Coast Capital Playhouse.

The Fraser Valley Gilbert & Sullivan Society and producer Kate Bethell are pulling out all stops for the 30th anniversary production, The Mikado, which comes to White Rock’s Coast Capital Playhouse May 9 to 19.

There’s star quality aplenty in this version, directed by Dann Wilhelm, who played the role of ‘wandering minstrel’ Nanki-Poo in the society’s outstanding 2006 production (though a first time director for the society, Wilhelm has wielded the baton as musical director for several productions).

First and foremost there’s tenor Mark Donnelly – renowned as ‘Mr. O Canada,’ anthem singer for Canucks games – who takes the title role as Mikado (ruler) of Japan in W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s witty, tuneful, and thoroughly ridiculous, 1885 operetta.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever worked with Mark before – he’s a very talented and very funny guy.”

Wilhelm promises the role will be a revelation to anyone who knows Donnelly strictly through his more serious classical concert side, or even his spirited leading of the anthem – and holding the microphone up so that fans at the arena or at home can sing along too.

The director said Donnelly has been cracking up fellow players at rehearsals both with his droll, dry manner and his newly penned lyrics to the Mikado’s introductory song in which he “does poke some fun at himself as anthem singer.”

“Who knew he was this funny?” Wilhelm added.

Actually cast before the elder Donnelly was his son Sean (who scored a hit with a winning portrayal of the Beast in the society’s most recent pantomime, Beauty and the Beast).

In his inherited role of Nanki-Poo, turns out to be the Mikado’s son in the show as well as real life.

“It was actually through Sean we got Mark,” said Wilhelm, who noted he’s known the younger Donnelly through his chorus work with the society.

“We were having a bit of trouble casting the Mikado,” he added. “We were asking around:  ‘do you know anybody who can sing and can move a little bit?’ – we have to humour Carol (long-time G&S choreographer Carol Seitz) after all!”

“Sean messaged me ‘my dad might be interested.’ I said ‘Get out of here!'”

The younger Donnelly is doing fine work as Nanki-Poo, Wilhelm said.

“He’s getting more comfortable with his talent – he’s naturally talented,” he added, noting that older sister Colleen has been seen to advantage in a number of G&S productions, including the last Mikado, in which she played Peep Bo, one of the ‘three little maids from school.’

“It’s like Sean says – ‘you can’t be a member of my family and not be involved in music.'”

There’s a strong family connection for Wilhelm, too – his wife, Tamara (a G & S veteran), plays the role of Pitti Sing, one of the other maids, while Samantha Andrews (another society reliable) takes the role of Peep Bo this time.

“Fortunately, Tamara and I have pretty much the same sense of humour – and fortunately for our three kids, we have family and a small army of babysitters to take care of them,” Wilhelm said.

Among other scene stealers in the cast are Adam Olgui, notable for his supporting role of Pepe in Beauty and the Beast, as the pompous Pooh-Bah, and Jacquollyne Keath as Katisha, the Mikado’s fearsome daughter-in-law elect, who threatens the blossoming romance of Nanki-Poo and ingenue Yum-Yum (Rebekkah McEwan).

“She’s funny and scary at the same time,” observed Wilhelm.

Cast in the plum comedy role of Ko-Ko, tailor turned Lord High Executioner, is James Walker, well known to both White Rock and Surrey audiences for his somewhat off-kilter sense of humour.

“You cast him, and you get the ad-libs as well,” Wilhelm said. “Some of them I have to say no to, but others add to the show.

“It’s going to be a very traditional-looking Mikado – kimonos and sliding paper doors – but we’re leaning towards getting as much comedy as we can in there, and I’m stealing as many jokes as I can from Monty Python and the Three Stooges, anything that will make it even funnier.”

Not that the musical side will be neglected, with the vocal talents involved and Herbert Tsang, Wilhelm’s conducting mentor, returning to the society as musical director.

“I’m really very pleased with the company – we’ve got some great singers, some great dancers and some very funny actors,” said Wilhelm.

“I have a hard time not laughing during rehearsals – even at jokes I’ve heard half a dozen times before.”

Evening performances are Wednesday to Sunday at 8 p.m. with a 2:30 matinee May 13.

To reserve tickets, call 604-536-7535, or visit www.whiterockplayers.ca