Thursday, February 6, 2014

An Audience with the Emperor

By Nora Kirkham ’16

The A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel traveled to imperial Japan on January 24 and 25, its stage transformed into a Japanese courtyard complete with rice paper doors and luminous red and orange lanterns. The occasion for this transformation: Gilbert and Sullivan’s famous comic opera, The Mikado.

The event was a collaborative effort presented by Gordon’s Theater Arts and Music Departments. Directed by Professor of Theater Arts Jeffrey S. Miller and Associate Professor of Music Michael Monroe, The Mikado featured both gifted musicians and skilled actors.

The comedic genius of Gilbert and Sullivan has been a favorite for Gordon’s winter productions in recent years, with the successes of 2011's Pirates of Penzance and 2012's H.M.S. Pinafore. The quick wit and improvisational freedom that infuse these scripts find a natural home amid the talents of Gordon’s Music and Theater Departments.

The opera follows the antics of Nanki Poo (John Cunningham ’14), the son of the Mikado (meaning "emperor," played by Ben Tuck ’16), who runs away from court to avoid marrying a frightening woman, Katisha (Mary Speta ’14). Disguised as a wandering minstrel, he pursues the young woman he does love, Yum-Yum (Christiana McMullen ’14), who is tied into an arrangement with the Lord High Executioner (Ryan Coil ’14). These characters’ fates become more and more entangled as the play progresses with quirky dialogue, song and dance. Naturally, the play was highlighted by impressive performances delivered by both cast and orchestra. The characters belted out a variety of ballads and humorous songs, and entertained us with their ability to improvise banter. Noble lords were played by Daniel Alvarado ’14 and Jonmichael Tarleton ’14.

Set in imperial Japan and first performed in 1885, The Mikado explores a ninteenth-century European fascination with Asia. Thanks to the production’s creative team, the stage was beautifully designed to reflect the culture of old Japan. The costumes, however, took on a contemporary edge. Characters sung and danced in an eclectic blend of colorful kimonos and modern Harajuku statement outfits, fluttering paper fans with Hello Kitty backpacks slung over their shoulders.

While the opera’s original object was to serve as a satire of British society, Gordon’s actors and directors were able to relate its content to a contemporary audience through minor script manipulations. One song in particular shed humorous light on Gordon’s core curriculum, Facebook and pop culture.

The Mikado’s cast and crew dazzled the audience with their sheer musical, theatrical and creative talent, and the play's finale was met with a well-deserved standing ovation. 

After the smashing success of The Mikado, we have Gordon's next theatrical production to look forward to: In April, Jeffery S. Miller will be directing Metamorphoses. Scripted by acclaimed playwright Mary Zimmerman and based Ovid’s epic poem, the play takes place in a real pool!

To view the full Mikado cast, orchestra and creative team members, visit

Photo: The Mikado, performed by Gordon College student actors and musicians, transported the A. J. Gordon Memorial Chapel to imperial Japan.

Nora Kirkham ’16 is a sophomore history major at Gordon College and a writer in the Office of College Communications. She loves Portuguese culture and plants.

No comments: