Japanese Schoolgirls Rule
Anyway, finally made it out to Saint Charles to see Mikado 2005. At this point, I must confess that I like Gilbert and Sullivan. I am, in fact, a Gilbert and Sullivan FAN. The music from the Act One finale of the Mikado works on me like cocaine. I consider it a basically perfect piece of entertainment. On top of this, I have actually been fantasizing for years about a modern day Japan version of the Mikado, replacing the Victorian love of kimonos and pagodas with our present anime and school-girl-panty-dispensing-machines obsession.* You see why I had to truck it out to the superburbs.
I was very, very pleased. In terms of sets and costumes and gimmicks, they had practically everything my heart wanted: a glowing white Tokyo-style box set for the first act, men’s chorus of salarymen, women’s chorus of… well… schoolgirls…but wearing the classic Sailor Moon style uniforms**. Harajuku finery in the second act. Nanki-Poo as a punked-out pop idol. Karaoke. Karate. Bliss.
The music… well, Sullivan’s melodies are intact, but they’ve been rescored for four-piece rock band. Could have worked fine, but they were off stage, and the sound system was a bit wonked, so they sounded thin and fuzzy. They also modernized the style of the music, which worked sometimes, and which didn’t work sometimes. I guess I’m just attached to the big, fat orchestra sound. The cast was also only eight men and six women, so I kept wanting to jump in and add heft to the soprano chorus.
I think my pickiness on this subject is really a compliment- I want them to do this production with a huge cast and all the marbles.
More on the set: There were two screens flanking the stage, showing a rotating selection of Japanese advertisements- just getting into the whole Tokyo constant madness thing. The screens also displayed really excellent jokes during some of the numbers- Ko Ko’s Powerpoint presentation of “I’ve Got a Little List” being by far the best. The modernized staging gimmicks they came up with for the various songs were by and large brilliant.
In summation. Tiny heart, tiny heart, tiny heart. Noble Fool really understands how to fetishize a foreign culture without being offensive. They showed a bunch of “yellowface” clips from movies during the opening chords, as if to say “Hey, this isn’t Japan! It’s Victorian England as filtered through Victorian England’s version of Japan filtered through our version of Japan as a way of mocking the Eternal Bureaucracies, and also, having fun. Also, great tunes!” The splashy production is not about Japan, but about the way we view Japan. The play itself is… well, it’s still my beloved Mikado.
*In my head, it is a hugely-budgeted movie, with physics-defying Moulin Rouge style musical numbers. It stars Jack Black as Ko Ko. Oh god, it’s a good movie.
**Non G&S people, this is a funny sentence because they were Japanese Schoolgirls in the original version too. It just meant something different back then.