With the conclusion of its ninth production, The Mikado, it’s clear that Pacific Opera Project has laid solid foundations for continued growth. The company’s winning formula of budget-wise productions mounted with spare rehearsal time – paired with mostly stellar talent and production values (all while not taking itself too seriously) has attracted sold out performances during its brief two-year existence.
The company recently announced its spring season: The Turn of the Screw, Carmen and La Calisto. (Gilbert and Sullivan's Mikado played at Pasadena’s Porticos Art Space and Santa Monica’s Miles Memorial Playhouse.)
Pacific shrewdly chose the frothy Mikado to conclude its 2013 season, infusing it with spectral radiance, thanks to Maggie Green’s costuming talents. Green drew from Tokyo’s Harajuku teen fashions, permeated with anime, manga and uber cute kawaii touches.
Iridescent wigs, leggings, parasols, knee high lace up sneakers and a dollop of Hello Kitty saturated the production with an apt cartoonish look. The set was suitably subdued, the optimal background for all that psychedelic gloss. Lighting was by Ryan Shull.
Voices were in good form, including those of romantic leads Samantha Geraci-Yee (Yum Yum) and Kyle Patterson (Nanki-Poo) – along with the two other little maids from school, Julia Aks and Elizabeth Rigby Jones - Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo.
Standouts included Phil Meyer as Pooh-Bah whose skilled, multi-personality performance deserved its own entry in DSM-5. Robin Williams would have been hard pressed to improve on Meyer’s protean interpretation, underscored by a commanding baritone voice. Meyer last played a harrowing Sweeney Todd in Pacific’s 2012 season.
Matthew Ian Welch, decked in a silvered military uniform topped with an improbably peaked hat, gleefully played the Mikado. His youth and height lent extra relish and riot to the part that threatened to comically derail the production. He looked like a cross between Hitler and Kim Jong-il. My private fantasy: Welch breaking genre and high stepping into a rendition of Springtime for Hitler.
James Schindler portrayed KoKo, the Lord High Executioner, with suitable gusto. Schindler, wearing roundish glasses and robes, looked preternaturally like the character Harry Potter. But back to opera.
I craved for more push-pull antics amid the inseparable Pish-Tush played in a slightly wide-eyed fashion by Michael Bannett and Joey Buhler. Adelaide Sinclair delivered a Katisha with relevant shades of Kali and the chorus was well rehearsed, clear, commanding and precise in all ways.
Kelsey Namara’s updated, droll lyrics reflecting modern politics and culture were spot on. She riddled the libretto with references to the Kardashians, iPhones, Silver Lake hipsters, Bill O’Reilly, Star Trek conventions botox, Time Warner cable, Facebook – and of course twerking, among scores of other plugs.
The production was also rife with sight gags, asides and liberally drawn nuances, freshly minted for the early 21st Century.
With Mikado, Artistic Director Josh Shaw and Music Director Stephen Karr have refined their recipe of equal parts delight and trenchant stylization. Pacific Opera Project’s future will be intriguing to watch. Southern California is that much richer for the company’s presence.