Though my ticket said I was seeing Opera Australia’s production of The Mikado, but it sure felt like a masterclass in comedy delivered by Mitchell Butel, in one of many absurd wigs and funny glasses as Ko-Ko.
The Mikado is a sentimental favourite for mine. I saw an amateur production very early in my self-initiated exploration of musical theatre, and suddenly learnt that music could be sublime, intelligent and funny all at once. I then explored the other documented productions of the show, including the video of the original Christopher Renshaw/Opera Australia production of the eighties that this one replicates to a large degree.
What is remarkable about this particular season is just how they managed to get so many notably funny people in a room at one time. The meek ringmaster of the chaos is Butel, who tears through jokes and shtick as though it were precise choreography. He has his work cut out for him, filling every gap with a sight gag or localised riff. G&S is prime for this sort of thing, but in this case it’s genuinely funny. A supremely skilled comedian, Butel works his voice, posture and movement to it’s most potent result.
The pace is brisk and everyone is kept on their toes by conductor Brian Castles-Onion who pounds through the score, not leaving a great deal of time for comprehension of the dense lyrics. The exposed orchestra is wonderful and sounds splendid with the minimally-amplified performers.
It should be noted that Butel is not the only one getting the laughs. Jacqueline Dark (Katisha) and Taryn Fiebig (Yum-Yum) who both find new humour in their characters’ vulgarity and vanity. It is only Kanen Breen as Nanki-Poo who seems overly obnoxious in light of his situation, but his voice is a highlight of the production and is in no way less enjoyable than his peers. A suite of cameras filmed the performance, presumably for broadcast, and I’m grateful this cast is being documented.
Even though the production itself is familiar, there’s nothing at all wrong with revisiting the classics often and remembering why you loved them so much the first, second and third times. I found myself loving it just a little more this time.