OREM — Few artists’ works are as timeless as Gilbert and Sullivan’s. Gilbert’s blend of comedy and rhyme make his lyrics a delight, and Sullivan’s alternatingly jaunty and just-plain-lovely tunes make his music unforgettable. UVU directors Rob Moffat and James Arrington, however, took upon themselves to improve Gilbert and Sullivan’s dazzling wit and bright melodies by replacing the overarching theme of satire that characterizes The Mikado with the more accessible comedic tool of slapstick.
The lights dimmed on a set of intricately designed Japanese paper-screen sliding panels (Steven Purdy and Brian Healy). The audience was informed that the bus carrying the entire lead cast had broken down in Pocatello, but that the understudies, who knew their parts but had never performed them all together, had taken to heart the old adage, “the show must go on,” and would give their very best efforts. The actors entered the scene, whispering stage directions and lines loudly back and forth. One actor named “Jerry” (Chase Grant) required constant prompting for forgotten lines and melodies.
It was quickly apparent that the “understudy” cast was the true cast, and this bumbling was intended to add to the evening’s comedy. The lighting (Zach Lambson, Michael Larsen) and sound (Stefan Oberlander, Jordan Cummings, Coral Chambers, Aubrey Jeffreys, and Tasha Hickman) teams both performed some dexterous feats, as the play employed several gag “technical difficulties.” Actors often made quick costume changes so they could stand in for “missing” chorus members, and occasionally prop dummies were used to comedic effect. I was impressed by the intricate detail of makeup (Natasha Hoffman) and wardrobe (Alan Stout), which sometimes had to serve the dual function of looking lovely for the ostensible performance of The Mikado, in addition to being used as part of some slapstick routines of the “understudy farce” that was simultaneously underway. The same was true for the stunningly detailed set that occasionally “malfunctioned” for the sake of slapstick.
The actors filled the dual roles of both the bumbling understudies running an unpracticed play and their characters in The Mikado. As such, it was hard to discern between true failings and intentional farcical stumbles, but each member of the cast displayed obvious talent in juggling their sham-gaffs with their written parts. The few parts that were left pretty much as Gilbert and Sullivan wrote them were my favorites, whether due to their adherence to the play’s original genius or due to those cast members’ superabundant abilities, I can’t say. James Buonous’s vocal talent, matched by his comic timing and preening pomposity, made him a pleasure to watch as the leading man, Nanki-Poo. Kyle Oram‘s comedic flare and conceited inanity never failed to evoke a laugh, and I was particularly delighted with the modern-day modifications added to his song, “Behold the Lord High Executioner.” And Julie Suazo filled the role of the cougar Katisha with was a hilariously fierce coquettishness.
Having just praised the display of so much undeniable talent, I would feel remiss if I failed to warn readers that I did not actually enjoy this play. I love Gilbert and Sullivan and had been looking forward to seeing the dazzling wit and jaunt their comic operas promise combined with the stunning performances I’ve come to expect from UVU’s theatre department. This show, however, masked all of those things in a misguided comedy of errors. I love a good farce, but I found the bumbling to distract from the story. My guest told me afterward that she still wasn’t sure what the plot of The Mikado was because this performance was more about a crew of understudies putting on a show than about a Gilbert and Sullivan play. For me, this play added insult to injury by not only luring me in under false pretenses (the promise of a well-executed performance of The Mikado), but also concentrating most of the gaffs over the more text-heavy parts of the script. It was as though the director didn’t believe a modern audience could appreciate wit and chose to “improve” upon Gilbert’s language by steeping any word-heavy scenes in cheap gags.
I don’t want to give the idea that no one could enjoy this play. Some people certainly did. I do want to make it clear, however, that if you’re looking to see The Mikado to get your fix of Gilbert and Sullivan’s respective talents in language and song, then this is not the performance for you.