From the moment the curtain went up the pulse was raised by some spectacular Japanese drumming in place of the traditional overture, with one huge drum descending gracefully from the fly gallery, and the scene was set for a vibrant and spectacular show. This pace, colour and calibre of performance was maintained throughout to the actual fireworks of the finale.
But while the traditionalists and G & S purists would have hated it, the uninitiated may have revelled in it. The still fresh and clever humour of W.S. Gilbert was almost upstaged by the experienced and talented ad-libbing, local references, repartee and natural comedic sense of a remarkable duo. Colin Lane (Pooh-Bah) stood out as an untrained but accurate conversational sort of voice, who carried off the role with a delightful self-assured arrogance, without the often obligatory pomposity. David Collins (Ko-Ko), was a fine foil for him, with rubber joints, a good voice, great agility, but almost to the brink of excess at times. (But he had a wonderful home-grown “Little List” of people who “Never would be Missed”!)
Meanwhile the music was also revamped, with orchestration, tempi and harmonisations that A.S.Sullivan could never have conceived of. Musical Director Kevin Hocking was included in the repartee, and presided over not the traditional orchestra but three keyboards, bass, percussion and drums. The result was up tempo, loud, and vigourous, and not without its appeal. This, and the singing and acting style cemented in the whole production a firm claim to be musical theatre rather than opera.
There is no denying the talent, energy and competence of the cast. The chorus of Gentlemen of Japan was impressively robust, precise and slick in their execution of Simon Lind’s fine choreography, and they all could sing as well as they could dance. The Three Little Maids (the Absolutely Fabulettes – Diana Holt, Kaitlin Oliver and Danika Saal) were all that were needed to be the female chorus.
Graeme Isaako as Nanki-Poo, and Helen Donaldson as Yum-Yum are both very pretty, and have light and charming voices to match. They made a gorgeous pure and simple couple. National Treasure Julie Anthony as Katisha and David Gould as The Mikado brought maturity and experience to the stage, both wearing gloriously extravagant – if not almost lethal – over-the top costumes by Designer Graham MacLean.
His set was bold, effective and dramatic; perfectly adaptable for the various settings of this unlikely plot which do not depend on realism for effect. The Festival Theatre’s sound system was shown off to advantage from where I sat, with big volume, and crisp transmission and lots of reverb when needed.
Perhaps musical theatre in the 21st century can no longer afford to take itself seriously and must send itself up. Only time will tell. However untraditional and unexpected parts of the production may have been, there were patches in it when, in defiance of Ko-Ko’s assertion that self-decapitation is both difficult and improper, the audience laughed their heads off. And as a new and up-beat version of a timeless classic it is thoroughly enjoyable.
Essgee Entertainment and Adelaide Festival Centre present
Sir William Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan
Directed by Craig Schaefer
Venue: Featival Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre
Dates: 7 - 21 January 2009
Times: Tuesdays - Saturdays 7.30pm. Sundays 5pm
Matinees: Wednesdays & Saturdays 2pm
Bookings: (08) 8216 8600