Story last updated at 11/4/2009 - 12:22 pm
When I first agreed to produce "The Mikado" for Juneau Lyric Opera, I was not very familiar with the show. All I knew was that it was a Gilbert & Sullivan classic set in a fictional town in Japan that featured some great catchy songs, and that it was a clever satire of Western bureaucracy and social mores. Over the course of the two years that it has taken to pull the production together I became much more familiar with the plot and music, but I never actually saw it performed onstage until we began our final days of rehearsal at the new Thunder Mountain High School Theater. Much to my delight (and relief) I am really liking the show.
The plot is the classic love affair gone awry - with hilarious consequences. Nanki-Poo (played by Jay Query), son of the Mikado of Japan (David Miller), flees his father's imperial court to escape marriage with Katisha (Cheryl Crawford), an elderly lady. Disguised as a traveling musician, he meets and falls in love with Yum-Yum (Tiffany Hanson), the young ward of Ko-Ko (Mike Wittig), a cheap tailor in the town of Titipu. Yum-Yum, however, is already betrothed to her guardian. In his quest to gain Yum-Yum's affections Naki-Poo receives aid from her two best friends Pitti-Sing (Scarlett Adam) and Peep Bo (Malinda League) while rival Ko-Ko is sentenced to death for the heinous crime off flirting - and then named Lord High Executioner with the responsibility of arranging his own beheading! Throw in the ultimate government bureaucrat, Pooh-Bah (Peter Anderegg), a ponderous aggregation of conflicts of interests and Pish Tush (Wade Rogers) the village elder and you have a truly bizarre cast of characters. To make matters even more fun, the lyrics and dialogue have been rewritten just for our show to include lots of timely Alaska references - plus a totally original prologue.
Watching all these rehearsals has made me appreciate what an amazing director we have in Hal Ryder. He is a true professional in every respect. There is never a wasted moment for the thirty or so local performers who have given so much of their time to this show. But there is so much more to Hal's directing than his organizational skills. He has an amazing sense of structuring the action onstage to highlight the most important features of each scene, down to the individual line or gesture. He works with every single actor - from the leads through the chorus - on their onstage characters. Watching Hal I have learned that much of directing is not telling the actors how to perform, but rather teaching them how to make that connection with their characters that makes the performance so convincing. Cap it off with a zany sense of humor and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of puns and gags and you have a guy who is a heck of a lot of fun to work with.
But there is a whole lot more going on in these final two weeks than rehearsals. This is when "tech" becomes so important - all of the things that have to happen to make that wonderful set look magical onstage. I have spent many, many hours with Technical Director Derron Peterson as we address issues such as lighting, set modification, scene changes and dramatic entrances featuring special effects. I have learned that problem-solving in the theater business usually involves building something you need right away using whatever materials you can scrounge. For example, my friends at the Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society used a lot of scrap lumber to build packing boxes and braces for the set that they shipped us by barge last year. When we unloaded the set Derron insisted we save all the scrap - and now I know why. We have used it to build ramps, a much-needed backdrop for Act I and stairs leading up to a dramatic "secret" entrance (you'll have to come to the show to see it in action!).
I never realized just how many technical problems must be solved for a complex show like this, and fortunately in addition to Derron we have had a lot of help from many other great folks. Theater managers Ulu Mills and Lucas Hoiland have been a tremendous help, as has Jim Simard on lighting issues. TMHS junior Rusadel Buzzard is working night and day as our Stage Manager, assisted by a crew of half a dozen other TMHS students. And while all the tech work has been taking place onstage, Costume Manager Renee Fisher and Makeup Consultant Heather Sincic have been working their own special magic in the dressing rooms. All I can tell you folks is that this cast, in these costumes, on that set in this brand new theater will be one of the most colorful shows ever put on in Juneau. You won't want to miss it!
Okay, I confess to shamelessly promoting my own production. But it really is good - and I have one last suggestion for you before I close. If you can, come by early on opening night this Friday, Nov, 6. JLO and Thunder Mountain are co-hosting an Opening Night Gala celebrating the first stage performance in the brand new Thunder Mountain High School Theater. Showtime is 7:30 p.m., but the doors open at 6:30 p.m. for the gala. We will have live piano music in the beautiful commons area, Japanese tea and goodies prepared and served by Kathleen Wiests's culinary arts class, short skits performed by Dawn Kolden's theater arts class and selected songs from Marriage of Figaro sung by Juneau Lyric Opera. It should be a wonderful time to mingle, sip some tea, read through your libretto (yes, we have our own libretto featuring our own original lyrics!) and enjoy celebrating a Night of the Arts at Thunder Mountain High School. Look for me there - I'll be the nerve-wracked guy running around with the never ending to do list. This producing thing is just plain nuts!
Juneau Lyric Opera's production of "The Mikado" will be performed on Nov. 6, 7, 8 and 13, 14, 15 at the new Thunder Mountain High School, Theater. Tickets may be purchased at Hearthside Books or online at www.juneauopera.org.