Nancy Sasso Janis
This weekend Holy Cross Student Theatre is presenting Gilbert and Sullivan's 'The Mikado' as their spring musical in the school's beautiful auditorium. Although it is probably the best known and most often performed of the duo's works, it was a show I knew nothing about; I was grateful for the detailed synopsis in the program. The comic operetta was a challenging choice, but director Paul J. Whealon felt that not only were his students ready for it, but that the group possessed the necessary talent to present it properly. I would certainly agree.
Setting this opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirize British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. This musical romp is set in the quaint town of Titipu at a time when the ruler (called the Mikado) has made an unusual decree. If a young man is caught innocently flirting with an unmarried woman, he has two choices – to marry the woman at once or to have his head cut off.
Freshman Brandon White from Terryville played the young minstrel Nanki-Poo who comes to town looking for the lovely Yum-Yum. Sophomore Alycia Westberg from Newtown played this young girl he has fallen in love with. Mr. White used his magnificent tenor voice well in his leading role and Ms. Westberg had an impressive soprano voice with which to handle the operatic score required of Yum-Yum.
Bradd Cyr, a junior from Waterbury, scored the role of Ko-Ko, Yum-Yum's guardian who wants to marry her that afternoon. Mr. Cyr had impeccable comic timing, sang beautiful and nearly stole the show in this role, but in his red three piece suit and Poindexter hair, I barely recognized him as the young man who appeared last year as Captain Von Trapp in 'Sound of Music.' Highlights of this year's performance were when he made his entrance seated in the audience and later used his cell phone to take a call from the director and hand it off to the Dave Gardino, the conductor in the pit.
Nanki-Poo learns about Yum-Yum's marital fate from two of the gentlemen of Titipu, Pooh-Bah played by senior Justin Sanzari and Pish-Tush played by senior Dylawnie Woods. Mr. Sanzari matched his character's name as he commanded the stage as the haughty and ambitious Pooh-Bah and Mr. Woods sang beautifully as the nobleman.
The sisters of Yum-Yum, played nicely by freshman Christina Finkenzeller and sophomore Haley Cuttitta, return joyfully from school with the women's chorus dressed in school uniforms. The minstrel confesses his love for Yum-Yum and she returns it, but then he reveals a typical Gilbert and Sullivan complication to her. This complication is embodied in an elderly woman named Katisha. Senior Jenna Berkowitz from Naugatuck was a force of nature in her evil makeup and was the perfect comic foil for Mr. Cyr in their scenes together.
Tension mounts when the Mikado, played commandingly by junior Jack Bowler from Middlebury, comes to visit the town. The nonstop action is added to by a chorus of townswomen, gentlemen and school girls that are played by an impressive number of students from all four classes at Holy Cross. The chorus of girls did a fine job, but the group of young men in the Gentlemen of Japan chorus could not have been better. Dressed in 'Men in Black' suits, sunglasses and unique hair, these guys sounded fantastic as they sang and danced together. The boys made excellent use of their large fans and made their scenes among the best in the show. In true Gilbert and Sullivan fashion, all loose ends are tied together, all characters are happy in the end and the operetta concludes with rousing song and dance.
I really liked the choice to do the show in modern dress and colorful hair and only a few Japanese touches. However, the set was decidedly shiny Japanese with some modern twists. One of my favorite numbers was the "brightly dawns our wedding day" quartet. Another was Ko-Ko's updated version of "I've Got a Little List" The distinctive sound of Gilbert and Sullivan music jumps all over the musical staff and is extremely wordy, but all of the Holy Cross students mastered it.
The cast was directed by Paul Whealon, a faculty member at Holy Cross, who was assisted by Lyn Nagel. Waterbury teacher and talented choreographer Ralph Cantito created the fun dances. David Irvine did the vocal direction and David Gardino conducted the fine orchestra, and covered technical and backstage responsibilities as well. These four adults are long-time HC Student Theatre collaborators. Student stage managers were junior Greg Pomerleau from Prospect, and senior Aaron Kalat from Terryville. Mr. Whealon writes that "a mark of the pride and professionalism that Holy Cross Student Theatre fosters is that 100% of the cast and backstage personnel are students from Holy Cross."