West Michigan Savoyards is a Gilbert & Sullivan performing company that seeks to enrich the community of greater Grand Rapids and West Michigan and make community theater available to senior citizens and students.
Our 2015 production of The Sorcerer was enjoyed by cast and public alike! Thanks to all who attended for your support. Special thanks to the cast and crew who spent countless hours rehearsing, building sets, sewing costumes, and more.
2015 was the third year for our scholarship program. Area high schools were represented with essay papers relating The Sorcerer to subjects including English, Government, Drama, Choir, and History. Click here for a list of winners, finalists, and details on our scholarship program.
2016 Production: April 21st to 24TH
Go to our Tickets page to purchase tickets online.
The Mikado as Satire of Victorian England
(excerpts from The Pittsburgh Public Theater Mikado Study Guide)
The comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan up through Iolanthe (1882) were satires set in the England of the collaborator’s time. With Princess Ida, written a year before The Mikado , Gilbert began to disguise his social commentary behind a veneer of historic or fantastic atmosphere and situation.
Despite the Japanese setting of The Mikado , the behavior, speech, and attitudes of the characters are decidedly British. Although Titipu is an actual Japanese town located a few hours north of Tokyo by train today, Gilbert merely used its name and Western images of Japan to create a Wonderland of topsy-turvy conventions, similar in tone to the writing of his contemporary Lewis Carroll. Japan served Gilbert as the looking glass in which he could reflect the restrictive social codes, self-important politicians, and moral hypocrisy of Britain in his time. As critic G.K. Chesterton wrote in 1907: “Gilbert pursued and persecuted the evils of modern England till they had literally not a leg to stand on, exactly was Swift did in Gulliver’s Travels…
There is not the whole length of The Mikado a single joke against Japan. I doubt if there is a single joke in the whole play that fits the Japanese. But all of the jokes in the play fit the English.”
In The Mikado, or The Town of Titipu , Gilbert did not directly attack specific figures, but rather poked fun at the elaborate system of values that defined the Victorian era. The absurdity of unthinking, rigid adherence to codes of correct social behavior was a recurring theme in his body of work, and The Mikado presents a world in which human conduct is carefully regulated and controlled by laws as arbitrary as they are extreme. The attempt to conform to these illogical and unnatural edicts often force Gilbert’s characters into ridiculously duplicitous behavior, and much of the comedy of The Mikado is derived from their ingenuity and deviousness in circumventing severe and unbending rules. For instance, flirting in Titipu is punishable by decapitation – an ironic commentary on the emotional and sexual prudery that defined the Victorian era. Victorians were expected to behave in accord with strict ideals of propriety, duty, sobriety, and earnestness. Inevitably, there was a gap between these ideals and reality. Gilbert delighted in showing the discrepancy between outer appearances and inner reality, and many of the characters in The Mikado are hypocrites or lead double lives: Ko-Ko is a tailor trying to be a public executioner; Nanki-Poo is a prince who disguises himself as a minstrel; Pooh-Bah’s public respectability conceals his greed and lack of ethics. The dual quality of The Mikado’s japonaiserie setting, which is not authentically Japanese but a British imitation, further embodies the dual nature of the piece’s humor.
Trained as a lawyer, Gilbert delighted his entire career in satirizing the contradictory and often absurd elements of his nation’s legal system and the hypocrisy of British government officials. A favorite target was the British House of Lords. The character of Pooh-Bah perhaps best epitomizes Gilbert’s attitude toward bureaucratic authority. Because the other officers of the state have resigned, Pooh-Bah assumes multiple, often conflicting, and political positions as “Lord High Everything Else.” He has no system of true values and changes his opinions and decrees, as he deems convenient (or if bribery makes profitable). The only lawgiver with any true authority is The Mikado himself, depicted as a benevolent dictator who alternates severe punishment with fatherly love. Although he does not appear until the second act, The Mikado is undeniably the most authoritative figure in the opera, and his beliefs and attitudes have a profound impact on the other characters.
According to Gilbert and Sullivan scholar Charles Hayter, “The Mikado himself is a Victorian character. He is not so much political ruler as a dispenser of public morality… a Victorian papa watching firmly over the conduct of his family. Taken one step further, The Mikado is an oblique caricature of Queen Victoria, whose behavior served as a moral beacon for an empire.”
If The Mikado is portrayed at moments as a harsh, often unreasonable parental figure, his subjects seem to be suspended in a never-land of perpetual childhood: “Nanki-Poo” is slang for a nappie or diaper; “Yum-Yum” echoes a phrase used to encourage children to eat; “Peep-Boo” is a variant of the shepherdess from Mother Goose or a variant of the game “peek-a-boo”; “Pitti-Sing” is recognizable baby talk for “pretty thing”; “Ko-Ko” is hot chocolate served to Victorian children too young for tea; and the terms “Pooh,” “Bah,” “Pish,” and “Tush” were used to expressed judgment, scorn or disbelief by Victorians of all ages.
Despite the fairy tale tone of The Mikado and its farcical use of disguise, misunderstanding and coincidence, the pervasive threat hanging over Titipu is death. References to execution, suicide, decapitation, and being buried alive or boiled in oil occur continually. Gilbert often complained that while he could not bear to crush an insect under his boot, many of his fellow countrymen had an inexhaustible appetite for violence and the macabre. Public execution in England was discontinued only 17 years before the premier of The Mikado. The Victorian public was fascinated, its high moral code notwithstanding, by stories of sexual deviance and the criminal mind. The gruesome murders of “Jack the Ripper” received lavish newspaper coverage, “sensation melodramas” recreated violent current events on stage, and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories all enjoyed enormous popularity. Such obsession with crime and punishment is reflected throughout The Mikado, which sardonically catalogues, numerous behaviors condemned by law- most notably in Ko-Ko’s list of “society offenders who might well be underground”- and presents capital punishment as a discipline for petty irritations.
Behind its wit, charm and romantic façade, The Mikado cleverly explores many of the darker undertones at the heart of the Victorian era. Ironically, this element of the work was lost on many of its original audience members, who respond primarily to the piece’s whimsical comedy, ingenious rhymes, engaging music, and japonaiserie spectacle. Queen Victoria herself, while enthusiastically praising Sullivan’s music, failed to grasp Gilbert’s satire and dismissed it as “rather silly.”
Act I Synopsis
Gentlemen of the Japanese town of Titipu are gathered (“If you want to know who we are”). A wandering musician, Nanki-Poo, enters and introduces himself (“A wand’ring minstrel I”). He inquires about his beloved, the maiden Yum-Yum, a ward of Ko-Ko (formerly a cheap tailor). One of the gentlemen, Pish-Tush, explains that when the Mikado decreed that flirting was a capital crime, the Titipu authorities frustrated the decree by appointing Ko-Ko, a prisoner condemned to death for flirting, to the post of Lord High Executioner (“Our great Mikado, virtuous man”). Ko-Ko was “next” to be decapitated, and the Titipu authorities reasoned that he could “not cut off another’s head until he cut his own off”, and since Ko-Ko was not likely to try to execute himself, no executions could take place. However, all officials but the haughty Pooh-Bah proved too proud to serve under an ex-tailor, and Pooh-Bah now holds all their posts—and collects all their salaries. Pooh-Bah informs Nanki-Poo that Yum-Yum is scheduled to marry Ko-Ko on that very day (“Young man, despair”).
Ko-Ko enters (“Behold the Lord High Executioner”), and asserts himself by reading off a list of people “who would not be missed” if they were executed (“As some day it may happen”). Soon, Yum-Yum appears with two of her friends (sometimes referred to as her “sisters”), Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing (“Comes a train of little ladies”, “Three little maids from school”). Ko-Ko encourages a respectful greeting between Pooh-Bah and the young girls, but Pooh-Bah will have none of it (“So please you, sir”). Nanki-Poo arrives on the scene and informs Ko-Ko of his love for Yum-Yum. Ko-Ko sends him away, but Nanki-Poo manages to meet with his beloved and reveals his secret to Yum-Yum: he is the son and heir of the Mikado, but he’s travelling in disguise to avoid the amorous advances of Katisha, an elderly lady of his father’s court. They lament over what the law forbids them to do (“Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted”).
Ko-Ko receives news that the Mikado has decreed that unless an execution is carried out within a month, the town will be reduced to the rank of a village—which would bring “irretrievable ruin”. Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush point to Ko-Ko himself as the obvious choice for beheading, since he was already under sentence of death (“I am so proud”), but Ko-Ko protests that, firstly, it would be “extremely difficult, not to say dangerous”, for him to attempt to execute himself, and secondly, it would be suicide, which is a “capital offence”. Fortuitously, Ko-Ko discovers that Nanki-Poo, in despair over losing Yum-Yum, is preparing to commit suicide. After ascertaining that nothing would change Nanki-Poo’s mind, Ko-Ko makes a bargain with him: Nanki-Poo may marry Yum-Yum for one month if, at the end of that time, he allows himself to be executed. Ko-Ko would then marry the young widow.
Everyone arrives to celebrate Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum’s union (“With aspect stern and gloomy stride”), but the festivities are interrupted by the arrival of Katisha, who has come to claim Nanki-Poo as her husband. However, the townspeople are much more sympathetic to the young couple, and her attempts to reveal Nanki-Poo’s secret are drowned out by the shouting of the crowd. Outwitted but not defeated, Katisha makes it clear that she intends to return.
Yum-Yum is being prepared by her friends for her wedding (“Braid the raven hair”), after which she is left to muse on her own beauty (“The sun whose rays”). She is joined by Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, who remind her of the limited nature of her impending union. Joined by Nanki-Poo and Pish-Tush, they try to keep their spirits up (“Brightly dawns our wedding-day”), but soon Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah enter to inform them of a twist in the law that states that when a married man is beheaded for flirting (the only crime so punished), his wife must be buried alive (“Here’s a how-de-do”). Yum-Yum is unwilling to marry under these circumstances, and so Nanki-Poo challenges Ko-Ko to behead him on the spot. It turns out, however, that Ko-Ko has never executed anyone, not even a
The Mikado and Katisha arrive in Titipu accompanied by a large procession (“Mi-ya Sa-Ma”, “From Every Kind of Man”). The Mikado describes his system of justice (“A more humane Mikado”). Ko-Ko assumes that he has come to see whether an execution has been carried out. Aided by Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah, he gives a graphic description of the supposed execution (“The criminal cried”) and hands the Mikado the certificate of death—signed and sworn to by Pooh-Bah as coroner and noting, slyly, that most of the town’s important officers (that is, Pooh-Bah) were present at the “ceremony”. However, the Mikado has come about an entirely different matter—he is searching for his son. When they hear that the Mikado’s son “goes by the name of Nanki-Poo”, the three panic, and Ko-Ko says that Nanki-Poo “has gone abroad”. Meanwhile, Katisha is reading the death certificate and notes with horror that the person “executed” was Nanki-Poo. The Mikado, though expressing understanding and sympathy (“See How the Fates”), discusses with Katisha the statutory punishment “for compassing the death of the heir apparent” to the Imperial throne—something lingering, “with boiling oil… or melted lead”. With the three conspirators facing painful execution, Ko-Ko pleads with Nanki-Poo to return. Nanki-Poo fears that Katisha will order his execution if she finds he is alive, but notes that if Katisha could be persuaded to marry Ko-Ko, then Nanki-Poo could safely “come to life again” as Katisha would have no claim on him (“The flowers that bloom in the spring”). Though Katisha is “something appalling”, Ko-Ko has no choice: it is marriage to Katisha, or a painful death for all three.
Ko-Ko discovers Katisha mourning her loss (“Alone, and yet alive”) and throws himself on her mercy. He begs for her hand in marriage, saying that he has long harboured a passion for her. Katisha initially rebuffs him, but is soon moved by his story of a bird who died of heartbreak (“Tit-willow”). She agrees (“There is beauty in the bellow of the blast”) and, once the ceremony is performed (by Pooh-Bah, the Registrar), begs mercy for him and his “accomplices” from the Mikado. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum then re-appear, sparking Katisha’s fury. The Mikado is astonished that Nanki-Poo is alive, when the account of his execution had been given with such “affecting particulars”. Ko-Ko explains that when a royal command for an execution is given, the victim is, legally speaking, as good as dead, “and if he is dead, why not say so?”
— Source: edited from Wikipedia