Composed by William Gilbert
Libretto by Arthur Sullivan
Premiered at the Savoy Theatre, London on March 14, 1885
July 8, 9, 15, and 16 [8pm]
Presented in English with projected English supertitles.
UAO’s production of The Mikado is being updated and will be set in a 1920/30’s style gentlemen’s club. No actor will appear in yellowface for this production.
Jackson Mitchell*+ – Ensemble
Directed by Eric Gibson
Conducted by Scott Schoonover
1920’s cocktail hour in an English gentleman’s club
A group of English nobles revel in their characteristic staunchly traditional and arrogant behaviors. Nanki-Poo, still masquerading as a musician, returns to Titipu eagerly seeking Yum-Yum, as he has heard that Ko-Ko was condemned to death for conspicuous and flagrant flirting that is counter to society’s established norms. He introduces himself, and, to his dismay, he learns from Pish-Tush that although Ko-Ko was indeed to have been executed, he was reprieved at the last moment and appointed to the post of Lord High Executioner instead. As the ‘criminals’ must be executed in order, and Ko-Ko was next to be executed, no one else can be executed until Ko-Ko executes himself.
For a small fee, Pooh-Bah, representing a ponderous aggregation of conflicts of interest, reveals that Yum-Yum is on her way home from school and will be wed to Ko-Ko this very afternoon.
The nobles herald the appearance of Ko-Ko, and Ko-Ko appears to explain how he became the Lord High Executioner. He is full of ideas for his first official victim. He discusses with Pooh-Bah the plans for his forthcoming marriage.
A procession of school girls arrives, followed by Yum-Yum and her sisters, Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo. Yum-Yum greets her betrothed, decidedly less enthusiastically than she does Nanki-Poo. Ko-Ko introduces Pooh-Bah, who reluctantly greets the girls. They respond teasingly. Taking advantage of a few minutes alone with Yum-Yum, Nanki-Poo declares his love and shares with her the secret of his true identity. Because of the excessive ‘moral’ laws against flirting, Yum- Yum urges him to stay away from her. Nanki-Poo devises a plan to flirt by considering what they could do if it weren’t for such an unfair law that condemns their unconventional relationship.
Meanwhile, Ko-Ko has received a letter from the Mikado, who is concerned that there have been no recent executions in Titipu and threatens severe repercussions if one does not take place within a month, including reducing the town to the rank of a village. Although, as Pooh-Bah points out, Ko-Ko is next in line for that honor, Ko-Ko understandably would prefer to find a substitute. Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah, and Pish-Tush debate who should be offered up for execution to satisfy the Mikado and his traditionally-bound constituents.
He comes across Nanki-Poo, who is preparing to terminate his existence rather than face life without Yum-Yum, and the two men strike an unconventional bargain: Ko-Ko agrees to let Nanki-Poo marry Yum-Yum now, and, in return, Nanki-Poo agrees to let Ko-Ko execute him at the end of the month and marry his widowed lover.
The townspeople demand to know how Ko-Ko will comply with the Mikado’s decree. Ko-Ko introduces Nanki-Poo as his volunteer, and Nanki-Poo embraces Yum-Yum. All rejoice over this creative resolution, but the festivities are rudely interrupted by the appearance of Katisha. All cower except Pitti-Sing, who taunts Katisha. Katisha grieves her lost love. Furious at Nanki-Poo’s rejection, she attempts to reveal his true identity. She is silenced by the crowd, but vows revenge.
Yum-Yum’s sisters and sympathetic friends are helping her to get ready for her wedding. She concludes that she is more lovely than any other woman because she is a child of nature and takes after her mother.
Yum-Yum and her sisters are very sad at the thought of the very brief marriage, and Nanki-Poo enters and tries to lift their spirits. The wedding plans are disrupted upon Ko-Ko’s discovery that, under the Mikado’s law, when a married man is executed, his wife must be buried alive next to him. Yum-Yum’s enthusiasm for the marriage is suddenly diminished.
To spare Yum-Yum this grim fate, Nanki-Poo decides to kill himself at once. This, however, would leave Ko-Ko without anyone to execute. Just as word arrives that the Mikado is at this very minute approaching Titipu, Nanki-Poo offers himself for immediate execution, but Ko-Ko is not able to take such a drastic action. Ko-Ko realizes that he can accomplish the same purpose by swearing a false affidavit that he has done the deed, provided that Nanki-Poo leaves at once and never return. Since Nanki-Poo will not leave otherwise, Ko-Ko sends Yum-Yum with him, and the happy couple goes off to be married just as the Mikado enters the town.
As the Mikado enters, he describes how he, in a paternal and protective way in the interest of society as a whole, governs everyone, including each special interest group and disagreeing faction. Then he describes how he wants to make the punishment meet the crime.
The Mikado is delighted to hear that an execution has taken place, and is eager to hear the details. Ko-Ko, assisted by Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah, recounts a highly creative description of the execution.
The Mikado’s visit, however, concerns another matter. At Katisha’s prompting, he is seeking the whereabouts of his son. Unfortunately, this turns out to be Nanki-Poo, the man Ko-Ko has just testified that he executed. Ko-Ko and his accomplices are declared guilty of “compassing the death of the Heir Apparent” and they are scheduled to be executed “with boiling oil or melted lead.”
The Mikado declares that he is sorry for them, but it is an unjust world, and virtue is triumphant only in theatrical performances. Their only hope is to admit the falsehood of the affidavit and of their testimony, and produce Nanki-Poo alive and well. Nanki-Poo, however, having already married Yum-Yum, is no longer free to marry Katisha, and therefore, he cannot reveal himself without risking both the secret of his own life and his new wife’s life. Ko-Ko is left with no other choice but to woo, win, and wed Katisha herself.
Katisha is very upset over the loss of Nanki-Poo. Katisha at first refuses Ko-Ko, but he then sings a touching ballad to her, and she accepts him. Nanki-Poo then returns to life and presents himself with his new bride to his traditional father. Ko-Ko devises a creative explanation of his subterfuge that satisfies the Mikado, who commutes his death sentence to one of life with Katisha. All ends with laughing song and merry dance.
Adapted from the Gilbert and Sullivan Archive
A note from the director, Eric Gibson:
What relevance has a piece like The Mikado in 2016’s cultural landscape?