Fifty years ago this month, the Savoy Society was born as it graced the stage at McGill with its debut performance: Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Today’s Savoy Society is honouring its golden anniversary by presenting the same whimsical, timeless operetta with which it first premiered so many years ago.
Any Gilbert and Sullivan piece is bound to keep you on your toes and craning your neck to see every inch of the stage, and this riveting rendition is no exception. Set in rural Japan, the operetta follows the chaotic story of Nanki-Poo (John Cook), who is the son of the emperor known as the Mikado. He has disguised himself as a travelling musician to escape an arranged marriage to a cruel older woman. On his journey, Nanki-Poo falls in love with Yum-Yum (Dallas Chorley), a village schoolgirl, who is inconveniently betrothed to the town’s appointed High Executioner, Ko-Ko (Nathaniel Hanula-James). After two love triangles and almost five attempted executions, Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum try their best to dance around the Mikado’s system of justice while keeping their love—and themselves—alive.
The eclectic cast of characters provides constant enjoyment. One such figure is Poobar (Jonah Spungin), the bumbling, jack-of-all-trades assistant to the Executioner whose perfectly delivered one-liners provide comic relief during any emotionally charged scene. Claire Rollan’s portrayal of Katisha, the estranged fiancée of Nanki-Poo, is both bone chilling and hilarious.
The original show, meant to satirize Victorian-era England’s fascination with Japan, incorporates Gilbert and Sullivan’s usual pokes at British politics. This production, however, adds some unexpected relevance by appropriately taking a few stabs at Montreal government and other current events; Nanki-Poo even threatens to leave Japan and “transfer to McGill!”
The Savoy Society’s vocals are noteworthy as well. The smooth, swelling tones of the male chorus practically dominate act one and the captivating vibrato of Cook’s tenor perfectly complements Chorley’s stunning, strong soprano during their tender love duets. Finally, the female choir’s bright, succulent harmonies practically soar to the back of the auditorium as the tension builds in this crazy operetta. Musically, The Mikado does much to impress, especially considering that many of the cast and crew are not music or performance majors.
For all those who appreciate the visual aspects of a production, the artistry of the show is fantastic. Award-winning set designer Jean-Claude Olivier is part of the Savoy team—his talent and expertise shines through in the vibrant colours of The Mikado’s stage, hand painted to look like a mystical, oriental garden. The costumes are the pinnacle of Japanese expression in the show, and create a vivacious feast for audience eyes.
Steeped in tradition, Savoy is one of the longest standing and most established student groups on campus. They are a well-coalesced team, which is certainly evident in their performance.
“We really came together,” says Stage Director Cameron MacLeod. “Kind of like a family.”
From the peppy, upbeat orchestra pit to the fine-tuned lighting crew, there seems to be some sort of overall sense that they truly are all friends who love working together, creating a production that’s greater than the sum of its parts.
The Mikado mixes the topsy-turvy style of Gilbert and Sullivan with enough intelligent human emotion and sharp wit to keep the audience engaged till the curtain falls. The Savoy Society’s grand, fifty-year legacy brilliantly carries on this classic Anglo-tradition to a modern generation of McGill theatre-goers.
The Mikado will be performed at 7:30 p.m. from Feb. 20-22 and at 2 p.m. on Feb. 22 at Moyse Hall. Student tickets are $12.