by Chris Davis
Sometimes I lose my way and start imagining the world as it might be. Take, for example, the opera. Of course, I understand the economic factors that prevent runs of more than a handful of shows. And then I see something like Opera Memphis' #superfun Mikado and I want it to play for weeks, giving the production an opportunity to become tic-tight, and to grow, and have a life. And, as word of mouth builds, to attract audiences who might not have an evening with Gilbert & Sullivan at the top of their to-do list.
If there's anybody who can accomplish that last, difficult task it's Opera Memphis' Ned Canty. He's an exciting risk taker and, with the possible exception of an Elixir of Love set in the old west, his tweaked Mikado is probably the best example of just how far the General Director is willing to go to shine new light through old windows.
In this Mikado we see Godzilla before the first note is sung and right away it's clear, this isn't your mother's Mikado. The big lizard is the first of several Asian/American icons and gently rendered stereotypes to grace the stage. Before the night is through we'll see video game characters, and a giant of international branding, blown up bigger than life.
Canty took his inspiration from Japanese video games, where costuming has less to do with period continuity, than with character type. It's a look that will also appeal to anime and Manga fans, and it fits perfectly with the show's whimsical lyrics.
It's not all about design, either, the voices assembled here are extraordinary, and Kevin Burdett's run through, "I've Got a Little List," is a perfect fusion of musical and physical comedy with a few updated lyrics designed to make Memphis audiences squeal with glee.
It's especially good to see some of the top talent Canty has brought to Memphis making a return visit. Grammy nominee and winner of the 2013 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World Competition Jamie Barton, who was such a joy as TV chef Julia Child in OM's Bon Appetite, is back in the role of Katisha, and Monica Yunus, who Memphis audiences may remember from Don Pasquale has returned to play Yum-Yum.
I do wonder at times, whether or not this Mikado lives up to its monster promise. Not because it's not delightful, but because it's the kind of show you really want to take a bath in. I can imagine the same Mikado, in a more intimate space, where scenic design can be more complete, and a dense, candy-colored lighting plot might do the gorgeous (and garish) costumes some real justice. And where I don't have to break focus to read titles for a book that's written in English.
Things were still gelling at the final dress rehearsal, but cameos by Pikachu and Hello Kitty are worth the price of admission.