If you want to know who we are….

The opening lines to the opening song have inspired our  2019 interpretation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.”   It’s a world where everyone steps up to identify themselves, or to decidedly identify someone else.

“If You Want to Know Who We Are,”  “A Wand’ring Minstrel, I,”  “Behold the Lord High Executioner,”  “Comes a Train of Little Ladies,”  “Three Little Maids from School are We”:  each sounds like a prompt from an improv show.  So that is exactly what we are concocting — an “improvised” version of “The Mikado” in which modern actors step forward from the crowd to assume characters and to further the plot.   Each with ulterior motives and an agenda.  Each eager to join in the game, but each subject to the ever-changing story as it evolves, twists, percolates, and — by fits and starts — eventually resolves.

And why?

Well, it’s fun for one reason.  But it goes a bit deeper.

Here are some of the thoughts I shared in our newsletter last fall…..

The first show I directed for the Durham Savoyards was our 2003 production of “The Mikado” — Gilbert and Sullivan’s beloved 1885 classic. At the time I joked that I was going to drag Gilbert and Sullivan into the 20th Century.

That proved a little harder than I’d thought.

I spent several months poring over “The Mikado”  – studying the libretto, listening to recordings of the score, researching its history.  And I was struck by two profound truths:  the music is stunningly varied and beautiful (as I later found most G&S scores to be); and the libretto is shockingly rife with offensive caricature and blatant racism.  Performed as it was originally presented, it’s essentially a Japanese Minstrel Show.

What to do?

Long story short: we choreographed the overture to establish an elaborate backstory in which modern American art patrons at an exhibition of Asian artifacts rebel against a controlling socialite and a bumbling security guard and improvise their version of “The Mikado.”  We hardly had to change a word of dialogue and the music, of course, remained the same.

Some people said it was brilliant.  

Some complained there weren’t any kimonos. 

(There was indeed one kimono.)

In 2010 I directed “The Mikado” again.  This time we decided to go for a more traditional approach.  But, rather than mimic Japanese characters, we evoked the style of Kabuki theater within a contemporary slapstick comedy framework.  The set was modern and modular and the make-up and costumes were an homage to classic Kabuki designs.

Some people said it was brilliant.  

Some accused us of performing in yellow face. 

(The Kabuki-Inspired make-up was technically white face.)

And here we are again.

For our 2019 production of “The Mikado” I’ve decided to go back to my original inspiration.  We will again be contemporary Americans improvising a show.  But this time the backstory involves a quarrelsome avant grade fashion designer named KoKo.  Things go awry at the launch of his new Japanese inspired collection; the models rebel; and the attending fashionistas storm the runway to show KoKo what’s what….

Will it be brilliant?

Who knows?

(But there will be kimonos.)

(And there will definitely not be yellow face.)

We open in three weeks — come see for yourself!

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