An all-male cast performs Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera “The Mikado” in the freeFall Theatre Company’s production opening in downtown St. Petersburg Friday.
“It’s very funny, very silly and still politically relevant,” says freeFall artistic director Eric Davis, who is directing what is arguably the most popular of the W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan musicals.
Davis says it’s “refreshingly lighter” than some of the more serious works freeFall is presenting during this “Season of Outcasts,” featuring plays such as “The Normal Heart,” “American Monkey” and “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
Set in Japan during the late 1800s, “The Mikado” is a satire on politics, power and romance. The freeFall Theatre Company calls its interpretation “a mix of Kabuki theatre, Vegas floor show and ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race.’ ”
Patrick Ryan Sullivan (Broadway’s “Forty Second Street” and “Beauty and the Beast”) has the title role of the Mikado of Japan; Larry Alexander (Broadway’s “Les Miserables” and “Chess”) is Pooh Bah; and one of the Tampa Bay area’s popular actor/drag performers Matthew McGee portrays Katisha, the elderly lady.
Also in the cast are Dick Baker as Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel; Glenn Gover as Ko-Ko, a tailor who becomes the Lord High Executioner; Emanuel Carrero, Gavin Esham and Mark Vincent Mansilungan as, respectively, Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, sisters and wards of Ko-Ko.
The story has the Mikado outlawing flirting, making it a crime punishable by death. The Mikado’s son, Nanki-Poo, has fled his hometown to avoid an arranged marriage with an elderly woman because Nanki-Poo is in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum who is betrothed to the older Ko-Ko.
Ko-Ko had been sentenced to death for flirting but is given a reprieve because the town elders feel too many heads have rolled. Ko-Ko is promoted to executioner so he can’t lop off anyone’s head until he cuts off his own. When the Mikado finds out about the lack of executions, he threatens the town.
To get out of his fix, Ko-Ko offers Nanki-Poo a month of wedded bliss with Yum-Yum if Nanki-Poo will take Ko-Ko’s place on the chopping block. The lovesick Poo accepts but the deal turns sour when Yum-Yum learns that a wife must be buried alive with a condemned husband.
This farce is set to Gilbert and Sullivan’s songs and music, orchestrated for this production by Nicholas J. White and performed by a band under the direction of Emi P. Stefanov. Designers Eric Davis and Scott Daniel have created lavish costumes, wigs and properties.
Jim Sorensen, freeFall’s managing director, says the production will be “full of spectacle, theatricality, and a wealth of topical jokes that play right into Gilbert and Sullivan’s clever look at bureaucracy and imperialism.”