VLOC's 'Mikado' keeps high standards
Feb. 14, 2001
Susan Berlin

Joel Hoffman/Special to the Gazette

Shirley Santilhano Friedman, pictured, alternates in the role of Katasha with her mother Rosalie Santilhano in "The Mikado."



While "The Mikado" is one of the most often performed works of librettist William S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan (the others being "The Pirates of Penzance" and "H.M.S. Pinafore"), the Victorian Lyric Opera Company's solid production avoids the traps of over-familiarity by presenting a high-quality cast, well-rehearsed orchestra, and beautifully appointed set.

Gilbert and Sullivan's 1885 opera is a perfect balance of romance and absurdity, interspersing digs at bureaucracy and propriety with soaring love duets. The setting is the mythical Japanese town of Titipu, where a comic bit of flimflammery has transformed the cheap tailor Ko-Ko (John Perine), sentenced to death for flirting under the Mikado's strict moral laws, into the Lord High Executioner.

The primary romantic conflict comes from Ko-Ko's plans to marry his ward, Yum-Yum (Denise Young), a young woman not nearly so unworldly as one might think. Nanki-Poo (Joe Peck), a wandering minstrel, loves Yum-Yum himself, and she loves him, and they had hoped that Ko-Ko would be conveniently dead by now.

Further complications follow. For one thing, Nanki-Poo is actually the son of the Mikado (Blair Eig), or emperor of Japan, and on the run from a forced marriage to Katisha (Shirley Santilhano Friedman, who alternates in the role with her mother, Rosalie Santilhano), an awesome if "mature" woman of the court. The connivances eventually involve Pooh-Bah (David Williams), the snooty "Lord High Everything Else" who does anything for anyone for a small consideration, and Yum-Yum's sister Pitti-Sing (Alicia Oliver).

The production is seamless in its shifts between dialogue and music, demonstrating a strong synchronicity between the work of director Daniel Lyons and musical director Joseph Sorge. The conductor, Webster Rogers Jr., gets into the slightly lunatic spirit of the piece, and special mention must be made of percussionist (and scene stealer) George Huttlin.

As Ko-Ko, John Perine continues his string of fine VLOC performances; he isn't afraid to take a pratfall, or spend most of his first scene staggering under the weight of his double-headed axe. Equally accomplished are the hilariously impassive Williams; Peck and Young, who do full justice to their melodies; and Eig and Friedman, impressive both for their acting and their Kabuki-inspired makeup by Renee Silverstone.

The production also looks lovely; the director's set concept makes use of delicately painted, detailed backdrops complemented by Ayon Fedorcha's lighting design and the colorful costumes (especially those worn by Katisha) by Young, Gaye Freese, and Lisa Freese. The only weak part of the design is the wigs, some of which don't seem to fit well enough.

"The Mikado" continues weekends through Feb. 24 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Edmonston Road at Baltimore Road, Rockville. For ticket information, call 301-879-0220.