Courtesy photoIn fine form: From left

Lamplighters looking good at 60 with rollicking ‘Mikado’

The Lamplighters turn 60 this year, and the group is celebrating the occasion with a revival of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera, “The Mikado.”

That’s an ideal choice for The City’s own Gilbert and Sullivan specialists, who have gained a worldwide reputation for productions of the Savoy duo’s works.

Last week’s witty, colorful opening-night performance at the Lesher Center in Walnut Creek demonstrated why the company has endured through the years. Repeat performances are scheduled through Aug. 26 in Napa, Mountain View, San Francisco and Livermore.

Fans may never agree which Gilbert and Sullivan opera is the greatest, but “The Mikado” certainly ranks near the top. Composed in 1885, it’s a brilliant creation, one that skewers British politics even as it revels in the late-19th-century fascination with all things Japanese (the making of the opera was dramatized in the 1999 Mike Leigh film “Topsy Turvy.”)

When the opera begins, the young Prince Nanki-Poo has fled the court of his father, the Mikado of Japan.  Nanki-Poo’s in love with Yum-Yum, a maiden from the village Titipu, but the Mikado has ruled that he must marry Katisha, a woman of the court.  

If he refuses, he’ll be executed.  As he returns to Titipu, he learns that Yum-Yum is about to be married to Ko-Ko, the lord high executioner.

With musical direction by longtime Lamplighter Monroe Kanouse, the opera is in excellent hands. Kanouse knows that the secret to Gilbert and Sullivan is keeping things moving, and on opening night, he conducted a buoyant performance.

Director Jane Erwin Hammett adds a few contemporary references, substituting iPads and Lady Gaga, super-PACs and Smart cars for the original Gilbert text.

The rest of the show is faithful, down to favorite numbers such as “A Wand’ring Minstrel I,” “Three Little Maids from School Are We,” and the Act 2 showstopper, “A More Humane Mikado.”

The cast features standout performances by Robert Vann (Nanki-Poo), Lindsay Thompson Roush (Yum-Yum), Sonia Gariaeff (Katisha) and William H. Neil (Mikado).  Molly Mahoney and Talia Levitan are terrific as Yum-Yum’s gal pals.  

John Melis’ Pish-Tush and Robby Stafford’s Pooh-Bah make strong contributions. F. Lawrence Ewing mugged excessively as Ko-Ko, but his singing was exemplary.  

The Lamplighters chorus was delightful.  Ric Tringali’s set evoked ancient Japan, with a difference — on the horizon was Mount Tamalpais in place of Fuji, highlighting the Lamplighters’ Bay Area roots.

REVIEW

The Mikado

Presented by The Lamplighters

Where: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 700 Howard St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Aug. 16-17, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 18, 2 p.m. Aug. 19

Tickets:
$15 to $59

Contact: (415) 978-2787, www.lamplighters.org

Note: Performances also are Saturday-Sunday at the Napa Valley Opera House, Aug. 11-12 at Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts and Aug. 25-26 at Bankhead Theater in Livermore.

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