Make us your home page

Review: Freefall's 'The Mikado' is silly but smart

This is a promo photo to go with a Weekend Hot Ticket for The Mikado at Freefall Theatre. Photo credit goes to Scott Daniel and Eric Davis.

This is a promo photo to go with a Weekend Hot Ticket for The Mikado at Freefall Theatre. Photo credit goes to Scott Daniel and Eric Davis.

"This isn't The Mikado I remember," a woman behind me said at intermission. As a matter of fact, I can recall several more traditional performances myself.

Freefall Theatre's production, on the other hand, is a hilarious, up-to-the-minute, gender-bending romp: Gilbert and Sullivan by way of Charles Ludlam, with a bit of the Three Stooges thrown in.

This is not to say the performers, who seem to be having the time of their lives, sell Sir Arthur Sullivan's music short. There is discipline behind the silliness, and Freefall's singing actors handle the intricate lines with aplomb, weaving and dancing about the stage all the while.

On the two nights I attended, the full-house audience ate it up.

The Mikado, as Freefall artistic director Eric Davis reminds us in a program note, isn't really about Japan. Premiered in 1885 — when Japanese art, crafts and clothing were all the rage in Britain and France — the setting provided librettist W.S. Gilbert a safe distance from which to skewer the stuffy pretensions of London. The Freefall production portrays it all: the bureaucratic double-speak (think of Lewis Carroll), the snobbery of the upper class (corrupt and mercenary all the while), the bloodthirsty and arbitrary absurdity of poorly drafted laws. Patrick Ryan Sullivan, as the emperor, gently strokes the hilt of his sword while listening to an account of a beheading; he seems in almost erotic reverie.

Current politicos and bugaboos also get their due. The operetta provides two songs whose catalogs of cultural annoyances can be updated, and the verses written by Davis and the ever-funny Matthew McGee hit some wonderful targets. I won't spoil the fun. Let's just say the name of a once-and-future governor, or so he hopes, rhymes with "I've Got A Little List," and another governor "known as Voldemort" is coupled with a candidate who always seems "a few votes short."

Do you have to know anything about Gilbert and Sullivan to enjoy this show? Absolutely not. These characters can speak for themselves.

Larry Alexander, as Pooh-Bah, the aristocratic holder of every local office, is a supercilious sycophant. "I can't help that I was born sneering," he says. By facial expression, gesture and snide remark, he's every prig you ever knew. Turns out he's rather a simpering coward, too. (Score an assist for Scott Daniel's brilliant makeup.)

Glenn Gover plays the Lord High Executioner, whose purposefully tremulous voice and clumsy entrance with an oversized ax immediately identify him as the sad clown, the butt of the show's plot. Gover makes good use of his rubbery face, and if he borrows a couple of mannerisms from Curly Howard, they do fit.

Dick Baker is boyishly charismatic as Nanki-Poo, the emperor's son masquerading as a street musician to escape one marriage and to pursue another. His tenor voice and the baritone of Robert Aronson as Pish-Tush are the strongest in the show.

Emanuel Carrero is a fluttering, eyelash-batting Yum-Yum, the blushing object of two men's desires. I suspect even some straight men in the audience found him/her appealing. In my second viewing, I noticed Carrero as one of the Japanese nobles in the opening chorus. Not the same character. I believe it's known as acting.

The other drag roles — if you don't count Pooh-Bah as a man in flowing skirt and lady's headdress — go to Gavin Esham and Mark Vincent Mansilungan as Yum-Yum's catty companions, and to Matthew McGee as the ugly old woman who wants to marry Nanki-Poo. In frightful orange wig and multi-colored split-toe socks, McGee would steal the show if the other performances weren't also so good.

The set and props are simple. But Davis's costume designs are colorfully elaborate and perfectly reinforcing of character. What color should Pooh-Bah's tight-fitting jacket be? Why, mustard yellow, of course.

.if you go

The Mikado

Shows run Thursdays through Sundays through May 18 at Freefall Theatre, 6099 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $20-$44. (727) 498-5205.

Review: Freefall's 'The Mikado' is silly but smart 05/02/14 [Last modified: Monday, May 5, 2014 2:10pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Top things to do in Tampa Bay for Sept. 27


    Sleeping With Sirens: The alt-hardcore outfit tour in support of their album, Gossip. 6 p.m., The Orpheum, 1915 E Seventh Ave., Ybor City. Start at $22. (813) 248-9500.

    Handout photo of Sleeping With Sirens, performing 9/27/17 at the Orpheum in Tampa. Credit: Chris Sullivan
  2. Shriek peek: Top haunted events lurking this Halloween season


    Here are some of the top Halloween events and parties that are looming in the coming scary season.

    “Thriller” music video featuring Michael Jackson with Vincent Price and Ola Ray. Scary movie comes true on a date, while Michael and zombies dance. ?? 1983 Optimum Productions Songwriter: Rod Temperton Album: Thriller Director: John Landis Production Dates: Late 1983 Primary Production Location: Los Angeles, CA.
  3. Halloween season is upon us: Our top 5 wild and mild haunted attractions


    Halloween has become a profitable scare season oozing well into September and past November. That means more time to meet grim, grinning ghosts, get your pants scared off by nightmarish clowns and fill your treat bags to the brim.

    Scare actors roam the grounds of Busch Gardens in Tampa during their annual Howl-O-Scream Halloween themed event. Howl-O-Scream continues on select nights through Oct. 29 at the Tampa theme park. Howl-O-Scream is a separate ticket event and has seven haunted houses, five scare zones and the chance to ride coasters in the dark. [Friday, September 22, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  4. Wine of the week: Leese-Fitch 2015 California Sauvignon Blanc will cool you off

    Bars & Spirits

    September is still summertime in Florida, and we can still use a cool white wine at the end of a hot day.

  5. Anna Maria City Pier to close for year after 'extensive damage' from Hurricane Irma


    ANNA MARIA — While Hurricane Irma's last-minute shift helped spare large swaths of Florida cities from catastrophic damage, the Anna Maria City Pier didn't fare so well.

    A damage assessment following Hurricane Irma suggests repairs for the Anna Maria City Pier can take at least 12 months. [LUIS SANTANA for Visit Florida]