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Not Your Great-Great Grandparents' 'Mikado'

Mar. 21, 2017
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Photo credit: Dale Reince

Are we to fault the Victorian Era’s Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert for not being sensitive enough to realize that their operetta, The Mikado, might be seen as offensive to a foreign culture they scarcely understood? After all, as conceived by Gilbert and Sullivan, Mikado was acted by Caucasians in over-the-top costumes, portraying Japanese people in a bizarrely laughable cultural setting. The names of the characters, too, bear no resemblance whatever to reality (one would look in vain for a Japanese person named Pooh-Bah, Pitti-Sing, Yum-Yum or Pish-Tush).

But we needn’t consign this work of undeniable genius to the scrapheap of history. Yes, traditional productions can still be found (and enjoyed, with a wince and understanding), but there’s much more here to cherish than lavish sets and costumes. Leave it to the cast and production team behind Milwaukee Opera Theatre to show us.

In MOT’s hands, a cast of 11 in street clothes performs all the roles and plays all the music—the latter with a lot of clang and bang. What emerges is a comedic triumph relevant to today and without troublesome baggage. All-too-human stories of triangular love, lust and power—and our penchant for creating rules and following them to illogical and silly conclusions—are timeless and well explored (and exploited) in this creative, amusing production.

Through March 26 at Next Act Theatre, 255 S. Water St. For tickets, visit NextAct.org or call 414-278-0765.

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