The comic core of Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado" has seldom been better realized than in Anchorage Opera's current production. Stage director Albert Sherman has choreographed every moment with broad and lively humor that beautifully matches the ridiculous with genuine empathy. His vision is realized by an able cast and competent musicianship in a way that makes the three-hour show fly by like a Monty Python production coming at you live.
The music hall antics were most conspicuous on Friday in the frantic acting of tailor turned reluctant executioner Ko-Ko, hilariously performed by Curt Olds; the pompous, long-legged physicality of Zachary James, playing the stuffy, upper-class snit Pooh-Bah with a fine baritone; and the adroit facial mugging of Jane Shaulis as Katisha, particularly in her duet with Ko-Ko.
Ryan MacPherson's fine tenor made Nanki-Poo a real joy to listen to. Sharin Apostolou sang Yum-Yum's solo "The sun whose rays are all ablaze" deliciously and her high notes repeatedly crowned the ensembles. Craig Irvin brought a big bass voice to the role of the Mikado. Glaceia Henderson-Hopkins (Pitti-Sing) and Michael Smith (Pish-Tush) were among the local talent who made a good impression in their solos and a critical contribution to the ensembles.
As has become practice, the lyrics for Ko-Ko's "Little List" number (and also for "A more humane Mikado never did in Japan exist") were changed to poke fun at contemporary foibles. I'm not sure who came up with the new lines, but they weren't too bad and drew repeated laughs by ridiculing things like people who don't clean up after their dogs, Facebook addicts, exercise routines that require mats and concert-goers who forget to shut off their cellphones. There were tweaks in the spoken dialogue too. When Ko-Ko is interrogated about where Nanki-Poo, who is supposed to have been beheaded, has gone, he responds, "Deadhorse." If I'm not mistaken, some additional effects were even tossed into Sullivan's score: "Tonight Show"-type riffs to emphasize various bits of action, all managed precisely by conductor Steven Mosteller.
But ultimately it was the staging that made this a better-than-usual "Mikado." When Ko-Ko added the stage manager "whose cues are always wrong" to his little list, the lights suddenly went out. Katisha's allegedly gorgeous elbow, a tossed-off bit of silliness among so many in the script (like a bird that sweats and death by something called a snickersnee), was transformed into a major sight gag in the closing chorus that had the audience howling.
It was 11 p.m. when the last notes in the Discovery Theatre sounded on Friday, but the crowd did not seem tired and applauded loud and long. They might have gone longer had the stage manager not sent the curtain down a little prematurely. The cheers seemed to peak for the two most notable comedians in the cast, Olds and James, but there was a fresh burst when Sherman came out with set designer Carrie Yanagawa, costume coordinator Kaie Promish and makeup designer Elle Janecek -- all well deserved.
THE MIKADO will be presented at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday in the Discovery Theatre. Tickets are available at centertix.net.