Rock the Pooh-Bah
Sacramento, CA 95818
When it comes to Gilbert and Sullivan, be prepared for some silliness.
That’s what light opera is all about: getting silly with a classical form. The music itself is top-notch, and singers with legitimate voices put them to … well … thoroughly illegitimate uses.
With that caveat firmly in mind—and with tongue planted firmly in cheek—the Light Opera Theatre of Sacramento’s production of The Mikado fulfills all expectations.
While The Mikado is set in the land of the rising sun, it is to the culture and traditions of Japan what A Midsummer Night’s Dream is to the culture and traditions of classical Athens. The plot involves thwarted love, the possibility of horrible executions, and a thorough skewering of bureaucrats and snobs (hence the origin of the term grand pooh-bah, which has come to mean a self-important big shot of very little power and which originated in The Mikado’s character Pooh-Bah, the easily bribed holder of almost every office in town (played to officious perfection by Bob Schroeder).
The Mikado (Timothy Power), emperor of Japan, has decreed that flirting is a crime punishable by death, but in the town of Titipu, they really don’t much care for executions. The solution is to elevate a fellow condemned for flirting, Ko-Ko (Chris Baad), to the office of lord high executioner. Since he can’t very well execute himself, and it wouldn’t be right to execute anyone else before he executes himself, well, voilà, no more executions in Titipu. All is well, until the Mikado sends a letter demanding that the town of the town of Titipu start chopping off heads or be reduced to the status of a village.
In the middle of this is a crisis of the heart. Nanki-Poo (a fine tenor performance by Tony Ruiz), the disguised son of the Mikado, has fallen in love with Yum-Yum (Katie Baad), who is betrothed to Ko-Ko. He’s also being chased by the shrewish Katisha (a scene-stealing Susanna Lace Peeples), who aches to become the daughter-in-law of the Mikado.
As Ko-Ko, Chris Baad takes the comic baritone to nebbish, undermuscled and thoroughly funny lows. Ruiz and Katie Baad combine for some tender and lovely singing, and Peeples is a delight as she attempts to manipulate her way to marital glory.
The set, designed by Dwayne Slavin, is deceptively simple, with multiple working levels and clear sightlines. Lighting and supertitles—necessary, given the complexity of the lyrics and the operatic vocals—are by John Cavazos, and for the most part, work well.
Under the direction of Debbie Baad and Mike Baad (who are also the company’s artistic directors), the production is quite traditional (down to adding a few updated jokes about bank bailouts and a certain Alaskan Tea Partier). The real point is the music, and it is simply fantastic. Musical director and orchestra conductor Dave Möschler has assembled a full orchestra with professional style that belies its status as a community-theater group. From the overture on, the music is the star.