Chicago Theatre Review
If You’re Wondering Who We Are
The Mikado – The Hypocrites
This remount of the theatre’s highly popular and critically acclaimed, re-imagined version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic, comic operetta is imaginative, energetic and, quite simply, an absolute joy to experience. Much like Sean Graney’s new reverse-gender “HMS Pinafore,” which opened a week ago and plays in rep, also at the new first-floor Den Theatre space, this production features the same Monty Pythonesque, high-energy style. G&S purists may not be pleased with the Hypocrites‘ streamlined version of this work, but the show has a lot to offer contemporary audiences.
First, instead of replicating the fictional exotic Japanese town of Titipu, this production relocates the operetta to America, inside a carnival. Michael Smallwood’s vibrantly-colored set places the audience within a large, red and white tent that sports a shooting gallery, to challenge both the audience and actors’ basketball skill, a two-ring circus filled with hundreds of bright balloons and a spinning wheel of chance. A working bar is also available to keep each patron’s glass filled. And, as with their other G&S productions, audiences have the choice of enjoying the production by sitting, standing and moving about the playing area amongst the action; or, for those not wanting to get up close and personal with the characters, there’s comfortable permanent seating situated upon risers on either side of the space.
The same exceptional actor/singer/musicians cast in “HMS Pinafore” create the roles in “The Mikado,” often playing more than one character. The two most impressive actors in this production are Emily Casey, who takes the part of the delightfully flirtatious Yum Yum, as well as the Emperor, himself; and Shawn Pfautsch, who not only portrays the handsome hero and wandering minstrel Nanki Poo, but impressively in drag becomes an elderly, evil villainess. Both actors effortlessly take turns stealing the show, with Ms. Casey’s diminutive size comically creating a toweringly powerful Mikado and Mr. Pfautsch lending his strong falsetto to the wicked Katasha’s musical moments.
Robert McLean plays an impressively humorous Ko Ko, the Lord High Executioner; and Matt Kahler, the strong actor recently seen as the stalwart Boxer in Steppenwolf’s production of “Animal Farm,” is hilarious and proves to be an accomplished singer/musician as Pooh Bah, the Lord High Almost-Everything-Else. Yum Yum’s harmonious schoolmates are Dana Omar as Peep Bo and Christine Stulik as Pitti Sing. The rest of the company are the Gentlemen of Japan, including Erik Schroeder as the noble lord Pish Tush, Doug Pawlik and Lauren Vogel as two singing mice, and Kate Carson-Groner, accordion strapped to her tiny body, as the carnival barker. She serves as the mistress of ceremonies for the proceedings.
The individual and collective instrumental and vocal sound produced by this company of ten highly-caffeinated, multitalented performers is astounding. For all of Sean Graney’s adapted lyrics and edited songs, Gilbert and Sullivan would’ve been proud of the show he’s created. Clever and melodious ditties, like “If You Want to Know Who We Are (We Are Gentlemen of Japan),” “A Wand’ring Minstrel I,” “Three Little Maids from School Are We,” “I’ve Got a Little List,” “The Sun Whose Rays are All Ablaze,” “Here’s a How-di-do” and the comical “Willow, Tit-Willow,” and many others make a big splash with the audience.
Younger theatergoers who never knew Gilbert and Sullivan’s satirical musical creations before this, as well as patrons familiar with their wonderfully comic characters and songs, will enjoy Graney’s fast-paced, 70-minute adaptation and marvel at his unbridled inventiveness. This slap-happy production grabs the audience from the moment they enter the three-quarter round theatre space and never lets go until a happy ending surprises everyone, with confetti and balloons filling the air.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 11-February 7 by the Hypocrites at the Den Theatre, 1329-1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by going to www.the-hypocrites.com.
Additonal information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.