The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Savoyards did a disservice to itself and to Gilbert and Sullivan by using an “anime” or animation aesthetic for its production of “The Mikado.” | July 27, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

For its 53rd annual summer production, Madison Savoyards Ltd. offered its eighth presentation of the brilliant Gilbert and Sullivan operetta The Mikado. It was certainly the most problematical of those eight.

Badgered by threats of protest against the “stereotyping” of Japanese culture in this work, the Savoyards decided to slither away from “traditional” presentations, abandoning the creators’ very respectful use of Japanese setting and imagery as a mask for satirizing English life.

The group has this time engaged as stage director Melanie Cain, whose ventures with Fresco Opera Theatre here have shown her commitment to presenting works of the lyric stage in anything but their original character.

Melanie Cain full face

But changes should be made to add something; hers detracted and distracted. The result, visible in a two-week run at Old Music Hall on the UW campus, was pretty anarchic in visual terms.

Working on a set that was a simplified Japanese stereotype in itself, the cast was decked out in a wild disarray of ditsy costumes and crazy wigs to create a new stereotype of pop absurdity — all in the name of supposedly following current Japanese “anime” or animation graphics.

MIkado anime 2 school girls CR Mark Frohda

Only the elaborate costumes for the Mikado himself and for Katisha, his “daughter-in-law-elect,” in their wildness, catch something of their characters, while that for Pooh-Bah, the pompous power-grabber and egomaniac, conversely suggests British spoofing.

The staging had wide ups and downs. The individual movements and the ensemble action displayed good ideas, even if they were not always executed smartly, while the chorus was given sloppy direction with inadequate drilling.

Mikado anime 4 Nanki-Poo and gentlemen CR Mark Frohda

The cast, likewise, was uneven, with only one or two soloists sub-par. Michael Ward’s Pish-Tush proved inept in both singing and movement, while Dennis Gotkowski as the romantic hero, Nanki-Poo (below left), was vocally weak and visually ridiculous — looking like a pirate.

As his beloved Yum-Yum, Angela Sheppard (below right) was visually disappointing but vocally strong. To her sidekick Pitti-Sing, Angela Z. Sheppard brought some good comic potential but her diction was uneven. Matt Marsland was too straightforward to be a successfully comic Ko-Ko.

Mikado anime 3 Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum CR Mark Frohda

Best were Anthony Ashley, who was excellent in both singing and acting as Pooh-Bah; Bill Rosholt as a majestic Mikado; and, despite some moments of blurred diction, Meghan Hilker as the dragon-lady Katisha (below center).

Mikado anime 1 Meghan Hilker as Katisha CR Mark Frohd 1

The chorus of eight or 10 women and only six men was pretty scrawny. The pit orchestra, on the other hand, was excellent under music director Blake Walter (below, in a photo by John Maniaci) of Edgewood College.

Alas, the needless use of projections during the overture (heard at bottom in a YouTube video) quite distracted the audience from listening to their fine playing of it.

blake walter john maniaci

Given the wackiness and color, the audience seemed generally entertained. But that is hardly the only proof of the pudding, when responsible fidelity to the character of the work is sacrificed for cheap effects.

As someone with my own long years of devoted involvement with Madison Savoyards, I find it painful to have to write so negatively. But let’s be frank: This was not one of the productions that, as so often otherwise, adds renewed honor to this proud company.

Will its production of The Gondoliers next summer be perverted by protests from Italian-Americans about stereotyping Venetians?

 

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44 Comments »

  1. I would point out that up to the mid 20th century, the D’oyly Carte presented Mikado with the inclusion of both original occurrences of the “N-word”, once in Ko-Ko’s List Song & once in the Mikado’s Song. In any case, it was recorded in that form by the company as late as the mid-30’s. So, yes, there is a history of controversy with this particular work. That said, the rampant nature of political correctness is having a devastating effect on current performances of the Mikado. There is a movement against any portrayal of a particular “minority” by an actor who does not share the same ethnicity. So, virtually ANY production would be controversial today, unless it features an all- Japanese or, at least, an all-Asian cast. The New York G&S Players cancelled a production last year because of this type of casting controversy. I can imagine that an anime-influenced production might also be seen as offensive by those who either find anime to be racially insensitive to the Japanese, or who feel that its portrayal by non-Japanese actors to be offensive, or both.

    Comment by P. Muhr — April 25, 2016 @ 3:45 pm

  2. I am a member of the Savoyards Board of Directors and therefore cannot be entirely objective. Professor John Barker has a long history with the Savoyards and has been a friend and supporter of the organization for as long as I can remember. His knowledge of G&S is encyclopedic and he freely shares his knowledge and expertise to our great benefit. But when he writes a review, he does so as an objective observer, not a friend or cheerleader. Over the years the Savoyards have benefitted greatly from his observations; sometimes we bask in his praise, sometimes we wince at his criticisms. And, we most often do not agree with everything he says but we always know it his honest, expert, and unvarnished evaluation. This year we seem to be wincing more than basking, but we value his input. It would be a great mistake to dismiss his review as the uninformed rantings of someone out of touch. To the contrary, he is quite familiar with the controversies about The Mikado and the concerns about offending which go back to at least 1906 and the visit to England of the Crown Prince of Japan. In that case, performances of The Mikado were banned for a time in England. When the Crown Prince arrived on a Japanese naval vessel, the band on board was playing, you guessed it, tunes from The Mikado! I would like to thank Professor Barker for giving us his honest appraisal and for stimulating more discussion than I can ever remember about any of our productions. It is great to hear all those positive reactions, and to note the less positive. Rest assured, all will be read and carefully considered by the Board.

    Comment by Evan Richards — July 31, 2015 @ 3:54 pm

    • Mr. Barker may be an expert, but the great thing about art is the fact that everyone can have an opinion on it. And that is what John Barker’s review is: opinion. Whether based on research or experience, it is my opinion that all of the opinions listed in this comment section are of equal value. What was the goal of this particular production? If it was to please John Barker, Savoyards failed. If it was to entertain the majority of audience members who attended, Savoyards succeeded.

      I figure John Barker has been in this business long enough to where he can take whatever he dishes out. He is certainly experienced enough to know he was going to get push back from his review, given the positive response from the audiences. It’s been a great debate. Frankly, I long for the days of vigorously debating interpretation. I hope this is not the last time we can have this type of discussion.

      Comment by Jeff Turk — August 2, 2015 @ 11:14 pm

  3. Speaking as an oldster, I’ve been to quite a few productions of the Mikado over the decades. This year’s performances of Ko-Ko by Matt Marsland and Pitti-Sing by Sarah Johnson were among the very finest I’ve seen, & I enjoyed the innovative staging & costuming immensely. I’m sure the production team tries hard to fill more positions in the men’s chorus. I hope they’ll have more success in the future, possibly by rescheduling around Opera in the Park or increasing the publicity for auditions.

    Comment by Cindy May — July 29, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

  4. After sleeping on this, two concerns remain: 1) does Mr Barker review any other community musical theater/operetta and if so, does he apply the same standards to it and 2) the continued viability of The Mikado. Although new to Madison, an anime treatment of the Mikado is not uncommon and has been implemented by other communities in order to put on the show without giving offense.

    Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 28, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

    • I only hope he did not compare it to a former Savoyard production or his ideal production, or apply professional standards to a community theater group. I have been to community theater here and I do not understand the trashing this got. I also hope this isn’t the last Mikado done in Madison. The End.

      Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 28, 2015 @ 3:57 pm

  5. Although I disagree with many of Prof. Barker’s criticisms of this production, I don’t care for the ad hominem attacks on him. He is a distinguished musician and critic whose views are consistently of interest and he is a longtime friend of the Savoyards and G & S. I was curious about whether he is indeed an enemy of all novel or “updated” staging, and found that he praised the Savoyards’ 2005 Ruddigore, brilliantly set by director Brian Bizzell in swinging ’60s London, saying the “Madison Savoyards brought new life to the underrated Ruddigore of Gilbert and Sullivan in a sassy updated production.”
    Barker is of course correct that Gilbert and Sullivan were satirizing British mores and politics in making use of contemporary stereotypical portrayals of Japan, or the South Sea Islanders, or the British Navy (who happily do not organize protests at productions of HMS Pinafore). On those grounds, I’m happy to defend along with him a “traditional” staging of The Mikado. But it’s not necessarily “slithering away” from controversy to see whether an alternative “Japanese” cultural trope might remind modern audiences that this was never presented in its own time as a documentary about Japanese customs.
    I went in a little bit worried about whether the animé conceit would be a distraction. I found a production which I thought of very high caliber musically, and with much visual appeal thanks to the imaginative costuming. Not every costume worked equally well for me, but the Mikado was costumed as majestically as I have ever seen him and the women with their big manga eyes and colorful locks were a delight.
    For me, the use of the Japanese-style screens with manga projections was effective. While I didn’t need the pre-plot summary during the overture, it is the kind of thing that helps make opera accessible to the young and the far-sighted–and having seen shows recently where the *only* set was projection, I’m glad the Savoyards didn’t go there. This was still a recognizably “Japanese” set and setting, but a Japanese type now commonly known to 21st century westerners.
    I agree with Prof. Barker about some individual performances–it is always wonderful to see Anthony Ashley on the stage at Music Hall–and not about others. I too would like to see a beefed-up chorus, especially the men. At the performance I attended, however, I thought the diction of the chorus was the best in some years.
    Some of us will prefer traditional stagings but be open to novelty and others may, topsy-turvy, prefer the reverse. My best vision of the Savoyards is that it will always aim for the highest musical quality; involve a cross-section of the community; appeal intentionally to a wide audience and try to draw in young enthusiasts for these operas from a bygone century; and be willing to try on occasion interpretive approaches which are rooted in fidelity but which at times may even look anarchic.

    Comment by Kay Cahill — July 28, 2015 @ 12:55 pm

  6. I was a member of the cast for this production and am a long time G&S fan.

    This production placed The Mikado in a new setting by costuming and makeup, but in most other respects this was one of the most traditional and true to original G&S productions I have ever seen or been a part of. A mere handful of words were changed from Gilbert’s original libretto. I was disappointed that the “little list” and Mikado’s crimes weren’t updated. Modern viewers don’t know what a “judicial humorist” or “parliamentary train” refers to and as the saying goes – if you have explain a joke, it isn’t funny. It is a credit to G&S that even after 130 years so many of the jokes are still funny.

    I think we do a disservice to G&S if we don’t update the shows and make them accessible to modern audiences. If we don’t update the shows they will be relegated to the museum and they are too good and too much fun to leave them there.

    Comment by Brian Webb — July 28, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

  7. Continuing my earlier comment about the lack of local critics, I want to say how very grateful John and I are for Jake’s blog commentaries and announcements. We had paid attention to Jake’s informed observations while he was on the Cap Times staff, so we were extremely happy about his online venue. That said, I wonder about what some have called the democratization of communication. This has made it possible for all with opinions to air and share to have multiple ways to express themselves. That was happening decades ago when radio networks began producing call-in programs. Venues for criticism reach certain publics on a 24/7 basis. Regardless, I despair about the paucity of local music and theater critics in the remaining print media. But the clock is ticking on that form of communication, isn’t it?

    Comment by Ginny Moore Kruse — July 28, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

    • All indication from opening night on, was this was a fun production and a fresh look at Mikado. That was the sentiment from the majority of audience members in attendance – a point that John Barker concedes in the critique. The 24/7 “real” time consensus was that the production worked and was very good. And that messaging was not coming from Savoyards or the media crew from Mikado, but rather social media accounts by patrons.

      John Barker makes it sound that it was a complete disaster which distracted from the music, which is nonsense. Yes, it was different than the last 7 Savoyard Mikado productions he has sat through, and he clearly was bothered by that.

      This was a straight forward production of Mikado, replacing the outdated Japanese pop culture stereotypes with current pop culture stereotypes.

      The production was met with audience approval and sold well, making it very successful. And then Barker drops a bomb the day following the run. If it were quibbles here and there, or simply didn’t like the costumes or performances, that would be understandable coming from a critic. However, his choice of inflammatory characterizations of this production, at times being flat out obnoxious, (the Venetian quip at the end) was unfair and disingenuous.

      I have been reading his reviews for years. He is a rigid traditionalist. In my mind, that makes his commentary on anything billed otherwise, invalid.

      Comment by Jeff Turk — July 28, 2015 @ 1:15 pm

  8. Prof. John Barker is one of the only local music critics, if not the only local music critic, who is not timid about pointing out faults and fissures in the performances he reviews. I always look forward to his commentaries. Creative endeavors require perspectives unavailable from a promotion staff or a local media unwilling to posit a point of view other than presenting a puff piece. Whether or not I agree with with Prof. Barker is beside the point. Where are the other local critics of live theater and music who might be willing to think independently and then share their opinions with the public so a local group and its audiences can benefit from such points of view? (I always wonder if the UW-Madison J-School ever offers opportunities for students to learn how to become independent, informed music and theater critics.)

    Comment by Ginny Moore Kruse — July 28, 2015 @ 11:13 am

  9. I attended two shows. I was thoroughly entertained and as a former professional dancer, not a singer, admired the vocal talent I saw on that stage. Perhaps the general public isn’t aware that several chorus members dropped out after being cast, deciding to go with another production. There are a lot of productions happening at the same time in Dane County. There were many attempts to make the staging and choreography more intricate and complex, but with volunteers and a range of dance and on-stage experiences, this wasn’t accessible for all cast members in this production. Had I been a member of this production, Mr. Barker’s comments wouldn’t make me want to volunteer my time again. High points for me were the chemistry between the leads, the wigs/costumes, and the volume produced by a smaller cast (I didn’t think it was necessary to me mic’d) and the finale, Act I. I loved the screens used to project narrative and visuals. The vision that Dr. Cain made come alive was exciting and like nothing I’d seen before. I thought it was truly innovative and a visual feast. I want the arts to be accessible to more people so that they feel the joy in performance and take risks to audition and perform. Mr. Barker’s disparaging remarks would not encourage me to take that risk. I applaud the cast and crew and I thank you for a beautiful performance.

    Comment by Jane — July 27, 2015 @ 4:04 pm

    • I agree, Jane. You bring out some great points.

      Comment by Steve Powell — July 28, 2015 @ 7:51 am

  10. I’ve come to expect Mr. Barker to find fault with anything not absolutely traditional, but it is disappointing that in his trashing, he missed the underlying parallel between this and traditional Mikado stagings: the 1880’s British fascination with the East and modern American interest in Anime. To dislike that comparison as basis for an alternate production is the critic’s prerogative, but Barker seems to think Dr. Cain threw these images on stage with no reason beyond a penchant for “ditsy costumes and crazy wigs.” Disliking something which truly doesn’t speak to you is quite different than stubbornly refusing to even acknowledge the artistic idea. Barker’s rant makes me think of him shaking his fist, telling a spiky-haired kid to get off his lawn.

    Comment by DK — July 27, 2015 @ 2:33 pm

  11. I did see the production this last weekend and I have to say, I did not like it. Here are the reasons:

    1. I understand that G&S originally intended this to be a slight on the British government and using Japanese culture as a means to make that slight. Director Melanie Cain made the choice, in an attempt to lessen the impact of the cultural appropriation, utilize Manga or Anime style characterization of the characters in the show. While I believe she did a brilliant job of this, no matter how you look at this, this show is still the equivalent of doing “yellow face”. Any time you use a culture’s imagery as a means to mock something, you insult that culture. While this presentation didn’t draw slanted eyes on it’s actors, it still used a specifically Japanese art form which had almost the same effect. To me, it seemed as if the piece was mocking Japanese culture more than anything. At the end of the day, this show shouldn’t be done. It should be retired.

    2. I thought the costuming was wonderful and very much in line with what the directorial choice for this piece. For me is was a highlight even with the comments above. If you are going to do live action anime, she nailed it!

    3. There were a number of less than strong casting/acting choices for this show. There were a number of actors that did not seem to know what was going on, they did not know their blocking and were not the strongest singers. They lost diction during the lines and consonants during their singing.

    4. None of the vocals were mic’ed. As I was sitting in the back, this was problematic as often I could not hear the singers above the music. In a place as big as Old Music Hall, they really should have had mics.

    5. Blocking. I felt that other choices could have been made with the blocking and using the environment. Often, through the show, it was 4 (or more) performers lined up across the stage. It got old. I would have liked to see levels and better use of the environment.

    Comment by Fred — July 27, 2015 @ 11:45 am

    • A very thoughtful critique. I would personally hate to see The Mikado retired.

      Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 11:55 am

      • I’m sure a number of southerners hated to see the rebel flag come down as well. But is was a symbol of racial inequity. In my research on the piece, I find that it offends a great deal of people of Japanese descent. Why continue to regurgitate such an offensive piece?

        Comment by Fred — July 27, 2015 @ 12:34 pm

      • The music and libretto are brilliant?

        Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 12:38 pm

  12. This is a very very old argument which will never be finalized. . I was in discussions like this as an undergraduate in the late 1960’s. (“How to make a classic relevant.”) The real question is: does a production work and, maybe more important, does it keep the spirit of the original. This “Mikado” does both. I have read Dr. Barker’s reviews over the years and, while I don’t agree this time, have often found them thought provoking. (He certainly provoked at lot of thought this time!!) My big revision in the G&S canon would be to ditch the Minstrel Show in “Utopia.” I’m always surprised that doesn’t get more negative feedback.

    Comment by Steve Powell — July 27, 2015 @ 11:43 am

    • How refreshing that people are talking about The Mikado!

      Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  13. I believe that if Gilbert & Sullivan were living, writing, and producing today, the Mikado would have had a similar look & feel to this production AND Mr Barker would have given them this exact same review! Just like Gilbert & Sullivan, Ms Cain steps outside the box to bring opera to a fresh new audience!

    As for the cast, this is community theater!!!! I applaud this cast for their talent & energy! The young talent, of many of the leads, shows me there is a new generation of vocalists devoting their lives to music, keeping opera alive!

    You know, the men’s chorus could have been larger if Savoyards and an ‘open air’ opera production were not scheduled on the same weekend! Both vocalists & audience have to choose!

    Mr Barker, as a professor of history, you should understand that we must learn from our past mistakes so we do not make repeat them! You, sir, have shown your unwillingness to learn and change, thus rendering your words irrelevant to the new opera audience!

    Comment by Colleen Schmidt — July 27, 2015 @ 11:40 am

  14. Even setting aside the thorny aspects of the Mikado’s treatment of Japanese culture, I have to question the judgement of having Mr. Barker review this production. As someone who openly disdains anything other than a strict adherence to original treatments, he clearly had his mind made up before he even set foot in Music Hall.
    How could this blog expect to have any kind of meaningful review from someone predisposed to dislike a thing from the start?
    A review of a steak restaurant from an avowed vegetarian is not at all useful to potential patrons of the restaurant.
    This isn’t to say that a reviewer should be a drooling fanboy: my point is simply that an honest review should address the merits—or lack thereof—of a thing for what it actually is and what it’s trying to be, and not what the reviewer wants it to be.
    So I have no problem with Mr. Barker disliking this production; of course he did, and—agree or disagree—there’s nothing wrong with that.
    It does, however, make him an exceptionally poor choice to write an intellectually honest review of it.

    Comment by Max Wendt — July 27, 2015 @ 11:26 am

  15. Well….as I try to find the words to graciously disagree with this harsh critique of a work that I was involved with; I have to remember something we all know….”opinions are like……. and we all have one”….but really is there a need to be one as well?

    Must be a hard position to be in being a critic….wearing those judgey pants and all…looking for a way to project your opinion while bashing someone else’s creativity….

    I guess then I should offer a bravo to to Mr. Barker. You’ve judged successfully and found a medium to display it. (quick someone grab a button from Poo-Bahs sash to appoint Mr Barker as lord high judgey pants)

    Lets not forget that in today’s society our arts are being criticized if not all together cut out and swept away. Isn’t it, as a patron, supporter, and member of the arts, our duty then to support, even if we don’t always “love” what we go and see?

    Congratulations to the cast who took a story into this century. Who brought laughs and color to a production which has been wildly protested for its often looked at “racists and degrading” material.

    Bravo to Dr Melanie Cain for encouraging change, supporting these local cast members, and presenting the “Mikado” in a fun and unique way. Bravo to the cast and crew who put in time week after week to make this production possible.

    Some may not like it, some people like tradition. That is OK. Somethings aren’t for everybody….

    As for the projections on the screen SUCH FUN!….I have been to many a production around this fine country of ours…..and how genius to give the audience a focal point during the playing of the overture…it encouraged attention, and faster seating for the stragglers who sometimes don’t mind missing the overture…

    Also Pitti-Sing wasn’t Angela….It was Sarah….but maybe that is just another minor detail that Mr Barker failed to address correctly in his critique…he was too busy sprinkling his judgey glitter all over….instead of getting easy facts correct in his critique….

    Comment by JD — July 27, 2015 @ 11:24 am

  16. “The Mikado” as it first existed was a mocking send-up of the few, distorted parts of Japanese culture Westerners at the time were aware of. Putting it on with an anime aesthetic just updates that concept to the 21st century — an era, I realize, that Prof. Barker may not have much personal experience with.

    I’m not sure it will necessarily soothe critics who find the whole concept of “The Mikado” offensive and appropriative (which, news flash — it is, and while that’s not an argument for cutting it from the repertoire as some extremists would have it, it’s also not something you can entirely ignore). But it’s at least both an entertaining departure from traditional staging and a nod to the absurdity — and yes, let’s be honest, the cultural disrespect, or at least trivialization — of the original.

    All this review really tells the reader — valid complaints about the singing aside — is that the reviewer is hopelessly behind the times, and burdened with an old white man’s prickly need to insist “It’s not racist if it’s done respectfully!”

    Sorry, Prof. Barker. You’re wrong. “The Mikado” has always been based on a Western popular culture’s misinterpretation of what constitutes “Japanese,” and in this day and age, there’s nowhere better to find that hopeless confusion than anime fandom.

    Seriously now. “The creators’ very respectful use of Japanese setting and imagery”? You’re just embarrassing yourself here.

    Comment by Geoffrey Cubbage — July 27, 2015 @ 10:55 am

    • God I wish I could write as well as you, Geoffrey! YES – you have captured my sentiments exactly!

      Comment by Jeff Turk — July 27, 2015 @ 11:00 am

      • Well said.

        Comment by DK — July 27, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

  17. When it comes to operatic stagings, I like and usually prefer traditional stagings AND I like Fresco Opera’s weird operatic ventures. This production kept a Japanese Fantasy element in it. If they had turned the Mikado into some sort of mob boss and Koko into an inefficient hit-man, it would not have worked and I would have hated it. Thank God, we haven’t gone as far as some of the European opera houses where the audience doesn’t know what a traditional production looks like.

    Comment by Steve Powell — July 27, 2015 @ 10:53 am

  18. I must agree with Dr. Barker. There were some standouts among the cast, to be sure, but the weird staging, garish costuming, and disregard for traditional performance practice really detracted from the show. I’m a millennial, FWIW.

    Comment by F Smith — July 27, 2015 @ 10:06 am

    • I can accept your dislike for the production. But could you clarify “weird staging”? I understand you not liking the costume choice, but other than that, this was a pretty standard staging of Mikado? What in particular was weird about the staging?

      Comment by Jeff Turk — July 27, 2015 @ 10:40 am

  19. Yeah, the production was not aimed at the traditional audience, as others have hinted at.
    I can abide by Mr. Barker’s opinions because I am part of that older, less radical New Audience. If they dug it, I do agree that, if they liked it, there HAD to be something successful about it. If we older types cannot or did not find it onstage, that is our lookout, and not the New Generation of theater goers.
    I have seen anime’, and I have seen theater with projections, so those concepts are not totally foreign to my eyes. As I did not see the production, I am surmising here, but my guess it that the most valid criticisms are about the skill and talent levels of the cast, some being either ill-suited or less-than prepared for their roles. Volunteer theater is an aspect of this that bears consideration, to be sure.
    As long as we know Mr. Barker’s general perspective, we can judge his review accordingly, as can we do the same, for ourselves, with any production we attend.
    Perhaps more of us who read the Ear can volunteer some reviews for JS.
    MBB

    Comment by 88melter — July 27, 2015 @ 9:07 am

  20. Seeing such an imaginative, colorful, and delightful production so trashed was infuriating. When the performance concluded, I wanted to congratulate each and every person involved in bringing me the great pleasure of this exhilarating experience. Risk taking in the arts should be encouraged, but Prof. Barker is like Justice Scalia in insisting that everything must remain as originally presented. That perspective is increasingly irrelevant.
    Moria Krueger

    Comment by Moria Krueger — July 27, 2015 @ 8:46 am

    • AGREED!

      Comment by Jeff Turk — July 27, 2015 @ 9:02 am

    • The performance group of which I am a part is routinely told by grant administrators to “freshen it up” and “try new things”. We seek to perpetually raise the bar and sometimes the audience doesn’t appreciate what we do by way of change. Often negative review is countered by other gushing praise. A performance troupe cannot be all things to all people, nor should they be.

      That a Medieval History teacher who also has a past history with the Savoyardes should have a response rooted in tradition is not surprising. As I told a slightly older friend who was griping about Saturday Night Live no longer being funny: You are no longer their target demographic.

      Props to Melanie Cain for mixing it up and staging a fresh take on a play that risks becoming a dusty old production. A post-mortem discussion among the principles of the show should sort out what worked and what didn’t regardless of reviews such as this.

      Now, how about an apocalyptical waters-have-risen climate change version of The Gondoliers? The flooded streets of NYC seem to be most excellent canals as substitute for Venice. The King could be any one of a number of American neo-feudal corporate oligarchs while the drunken gondolier father based on one of the cartoonish Dugger or Octomom too-many-kids families out there, or frankly, an immigrant of questionable documentation. [insert insouciant grin here]

      Comment by Nataraj Hauser — July 27, 2015 @ 10:49 am

  21. I disagree with Mr.Barker’s review on many counts. I, for one, was not distracted from the beautiful music of the overture by what I thought was the very helpful plot summary projected on the screens in a typeface reminiscent of Manga (not that I’m all that familiar with that genre),
    I found the schoolgirls’ costumes amusing and a bit of a satire in themselves. Some of the men’ scostumes were a little lame, although I think the neon suits of the chorus looked about right for anime.
    I especially liked the costume of KoKo, As young as he is, Koko dominated the stage, I think he has a real future in musical comedy.The audience clearly loved his interpretation.
    I did not feel that the costuming detracted from the music in any significant way.And I loved the very traditional backdrop for”The Moon and I” which looked very 1920’s. I thought the screen was used in many imaginative ways and was a great addition to the production.
    Although a bit jarring at first, I thought the costuming was, overall, successful. For me it certainly didn’t detract from the beauty of Sullivan’s music.

    Comment by Ann Boyer — July 27, 2015 @ 7:56 am

  22. As a former member of the Savoyard’s chorus who has been in two traditional “Mikado”s, I was not put off by the Anime version. I’ll admit that I’m sure there were some ” Anime injokes” which I didn’t get, but that didn’t stop my enjoyment. Anime was certainly better than taking it out of a Japanese milieu entirely. (My only disappointment is seeing how small the men’s chorus has gotten over the last 2-3 productions.) I thought Poo-bah’s costume was very appropriate. Katisha is ALWAYS in out-landish make-up and costume; she would have fit into any “Mikado” I’ve seen in the last 50 years.

    Comment by Steve Powell — July 27, 2015 @ 7:48 am

    • So the “scrawny” men’s chorus is not new with this production? If so, what can be done about it? Aha! I know – let’s criticize them. That’s sure to bring out more volunteers next year. Now that’s a topsy-turvy idea!

      Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 8:05 am

      • I’m not criticizing the talented men in the Men’s Chorus. I know from experience the hard work that goes into being a chorus member and I commend them all. There just weren’t enough of them. This was also true in Princess Ida last year.

        Comment by Steve Powell — July 27, 2015 @ 9:17 am

      • Nor did I think you were. As part of the women’s chorus, I appreciate your comments.

        Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 10:08 am

      • Has there been any thoughts by the Savoyards to change the opening performance dates of their shows to work around the larger arts groups in town, like Opera in the Park? I’m certain that several performers would love to have been in both productions but were forced to choose between the volunteer work at Savoyards or the stipend pay of Opera in the Park performing to 16,000 people this year. Opera in the Park has already been announced as July 23, 2016… just a thought to try and get more volunteers to join in the shows at Savoyards?

        Comment by Paul Anthony — July 27, 2015 @ 4:51 pm

      • Good Point, Paul. At one time, as far as Summertime theater in Madison was concerned, the Madison Savoyards production was essentially the only show in town. Fortunately for the Madison community, that’s no longer true, but I’d think it would make it more difficult to attract chorus singers. Probably too late for 2016, but there’s always 2017. I had to make the choice between singing in Opera in the Park or
        Savoyards a couple of times.

        Comment by Steve Powell — July 27, 2015 @ 5:02 pm

  23. Furthermore… “Given the wackiness and color, the audience seemed generally entertained. But that is hardly the only proof of the pudding, when responsible fidelity to the character of the work is sacrificed for cheap effects.”

    This is absolutely ridiculous.

    I can’t say it better than Ruby did – “I thought this concept worked brilliantly, especially when one considers how shocking and “anarchic” the original must have been for its time.”

    Comment by Jeff Turk — July 27, 2015 @ 7:40 am

    • I had to look up the concept of Topsy-Turvy just to make sure I wasn’t under the wrong impression about what G & S did in their time. It’s why I generally prefer music that has been written in my lifetime – it usually hasn’t been de-fanged yet.

      Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 8:21 am

  24. I agree with Ruby Mumm Fillan’s sentiments above. Might I add that I believe John Barker ripping this production apart was totally predictable. Anything that deviates from the original, in his mind, is simply not acceptable. He obviously does not understand a thing about Anime, and is clueless about current Japanese pop culture. All that aside, Mikado was intended to be a farce, making the current art trend of anime all that much more appropriate for. I believe Gilbert and Sullivan would have embraced the look of this production.

    Mr. Barker, I don’t believe for one minute that you were “pained” in giving this a bad review. You are entitled to your opinion, but given your history of closed mindedness when it comes to presenting material in new or different ways, you should really avoid productions like these altogether. I believe you knew before you walked through the door how you were going to review this. “Anarchic”? Really? Please. That is taking it a little too far, and truly diminishes your credibility.

    Comment by Jeff Turk — July 27, 2015 @ 7:29 am

  25. As someone who was involved in the production, I am not entirely unbiased but I can’t help but wonder if Barker isn’t holding what I believe to be a volunteer community theater to a professional standard. I don’t usually like updated versions of operas either, but I thought this concept worked brilliantly, especially when one considers how shocking and “anarchic” the original must have been for its time.

    Comment by Ruby Mumm Fillian — July 27, 2015 @ 6:56 am


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