Friday, February 14, 2014

Review: (Montreal) The Mikado

                                   Photo by Cal Cheng
Fans, fun and frolicking at fifty
McGill’s Savoy Society celebrates half-century with The Mikado
by Sarah Deshaies

Lurking beneath the colourful exterior of The Mikado is a sharp critique of Victorian-era English politics. By shrouding the story in far-away Japan, theatrical duo Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert got away with spoofing the establishment via pretty songs and corrupt stage mandarins. 

How appropriate then to have their 9th musical collaboration reborn in 2014 Montreal - a city with endless potholes, socks stuffed with cash, crumbling bridges and crane operators who are paid 24/7 to do nothing. 

The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu, can be adapted into its present context no matter the level of local corruption or scandals, and the McGill Savoy Society is treading into lush territory with their 50th anniversary presentation of the piece. As such, references to the Charbonneau commission, “lady separatists” and senate scandals pepper the dialogue throughout.

Nanki-Poo (John Cook/Gabriel Campagne) has come to Titipu to seek out his love Yum-Yum (Dallas Chorley/Allegra Johnston). When he realizes that Ko-Ko, her guardian, is planning to marry his ward, Nanki-Poo unleashes a series of comedic results that have societal tongues wagging.

Director Cameron MacLeod’s production is vivid and fun, with the leads hitting the high notes. Nathaniel Hanula-James is scene-stealingly good as Ko-Ko, and Claire Rollans is a perfectly frightful Katisha, Nanki-Poo’s aging would-be lover. Though he was battling a vocal rough patch at the press preview, Jonah Spungin was incredibly entertaining and droll as Pooh-bah, the obsequious jack-of-all trades high functionary. (Was it a cold? Exhaustion? Either way, I hope it goes away soon.) Cook and Chorley made for earnest if not slightly wacky lovers. Xavier Gervais-Dumont is appropriately low-key yet imperial as the Mikado himself. 

The singing was on point, though the choreography was a weak spot, playing out sloppily at times. Celina Krenn’s costumes are simple and colourful; villains Katisha and Ko-Ko are bathed in sinister red and blacks, while the ladies of the chorus are outfitted in lush pastel shades. Happily, there is no exaggerated and ghastly yellowface makeup or over-the-top wigs. (Save perhaps for Katisha’s deliberately kitschy ‘do and kabuki-like old lady makeup, seemingly inspired by Día de los Muertos lady zombies.) The background to all the action was Jean-Claude Olivier’s grand, art nouveau-inspired set, bathed in ever-changing swatches of colour.

That the Savoy Society is putting on shows 50 years since its inception is testament to the drive of its members of the years, and the power of theatre to bring people together. If you go, read the cast bios for signs of how the stage, and Gilbert and Sullivan in particular, can unite folks studying music, science and everything in between…there are shout outs to the castmates who’ve become like family for people from both Montreal and abroad. And: the one newly-engaged chorus member, who met her fiancé during her first Savoy show.

Feb 15 - 22

Run Time: Between 2h15 and 2h30, with an intermission. 


  1. Hi, I'm Cai Cheng, the publications director of the McGill Savoy Society. Thank you for writing such a great review! Can I reblog your article to Savoy's wordpress blog to promote the show?

  2. I am forwarding your message to the writer Sarah Deshaies - she owns all rights to the piece.


    Gaëtan Charlebois

    1. Go right ahead!
      Great show - good luck with the rest of the run.



Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.