The Mikado (or Hotel Titipu)
by W.S. Gilbert & Arthur Sullivan
Victorian Lyric Opera Company
F. Scott Fitzgerald Theater, Rockville, MD
Performed June 2017
Music Director - Joseph Sorge
Assistant Music Director - Rebecca Henry
Rehearsal Accompanists - Ross Capon, Judy Gardner
Stage Manager - Briana Capps
Costume Design - Denise Young
Lighting Design - Colin Dieck
Set Design - Bill Pressley
Nanki-Poo - Rishabh Bajekal
Ko-Ko - Gary Sullivan
Yum-Yum - Evelyn Tsen
Pitti-Sing - Amanda Jones
Peep-Bo - Teal Thompson
The Mikado - Blair Eig
Katisha - Jenete St. Clair
Pooh-Bah - Bob Gudauskas
Pish-Tush - Kevin Schellhase
Emily Ames, Brian Beard, Kayla Cummings, Kris Devine, Noah Friedlander, Rand Huntzinger, Ralph Johnson, Carlton Maryott, Christina Massimei, Stevie Miller, Joshua Milton, Mary Mitchell, Reginold Moore, Bill Rogers, Sarah Seider, Natalia St. Jean, Ed Vilade, Karen Wahl, Maria Wilson, Kent Woods, Gwen Yetter
... a vivid and intensely humorous production – and not to be missed... Kudos to Aberger for her fully-realized vision superbly supported by the design team..."
Hello, Operetta! article on the show by CultureSpotMC
A Change in Direction
Welcome to the Victorian Lyric Opera Company’s production of The Mikado.
Warning: This production is not the traditional version!
As most G&S enthusiasts know, The Mikado has become mired in racial controversy, encountering backlash from critics, audiences, and the public-at-large. A traditional The Mikado at face value looks like a shameful lampooning of a foreign culture with non-Asian actors playing Asian characters (a practice referred to as “yellowface”); complete with thick white face paint and ridiculous mannerisms. But traditionalists cry “Censorship!” if Mikado is not done exactly how it was “performed historically” or “how Gilbert and Sullivan intended.”
It’s time to debunk theater history. Gilbert himself said: The Mikado "was never a story about Japan, but about the failings of the British government. The Mikado of the opera was an imaginary monarch of a remote period and cannot by any exercise of ingenuity be taken to be a slap on an existing institution."
I grew up loving traditional Mikados, enamored with the bright kimonos and snapping fans, really unaware of white actors playing Japanese. And when the opportunity to direct the piece arose, I was pulled strongly towards that aesthetic again. But after much research, outreach to scholars, and viewing other productions, I had to put myself in the shoes of "the other." Like blackface, yellowface is now recognized just as racially vicious and deprecating. “Yellowface is not just about makeup; it’s about damaging caricatures,” writes Rehana Lew Mirza, a playwright and filmmaker. My place of white privilege had to be abandoned to be sensitive to the inherent controversial qualities of the piece. I realize this may not be to everyone’s taste, but as a director, it is my responsibility.
As such, I decided to refit the biting satire in 1920s London at the Hotel Titipu. I don't imagine Gilbert & Sullivan could quail much at the piece's resetting. Our friend Gilbert was quoted in the New York Daily Tribune in August 1885 saying, "I cannot give you a good reason for our ... piece being laid in Japan. It ... afforded scope for picturesque treatment, scenery and costume..." The device of a London hotel gives an alternate picturesque treatment, stripping away the cultural association and adding a different disguise over the original butt of the joke. No cultural appropriation needed.
Our cultural sensibilities have changed. And so must theater.
-Helen Aberger, Stage Director
Photo credits: Harvey Levine