Felicity [1979]

Jonathan Miller set his well-known production of The Mikado, staged for the English National Opera, in a British seaside resort of the 1920s. The result, complete with a chorus of gentlemen of Japan as cartoon-like British peers, emphatically underscores the Englishness of the satire. The occasional non sequiturs, like a bunch of gentry dressed for Ascot and singing in Japanese, are loonily fun, and no more absurd than the fantasyland Japan that Gilbert and Sullivan invented. The time frame, though, seems little more than an excuse for a smart black-and-white production design. The show's main calling card is Eric Idle as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Unfortunately, his star turn of a performance, like the production as a whole, is not as funny as it should be. There are loads of comic ideas, some of them effective (bellboys parading through the hotel lobby with "No flirting" signs), some dubious (Ko-Ko delivering a 1980s-updated "little list" song at a press conference), some worked beyond their shelf life (insanely posh accents). This video recording of a 1987 performance could have been better made; the chorus, badly miked, sounds as if it is far off-stage. The actors' heavy makeup and heavy mugging are reminders that the production wasn't originally created for the camera. Such staginess may take some getting used to, but it fits in nicely with the aggressive fakery characteristic of G&S. This revisionist Mikado is probably best after you've experienced more straightforward approaches. --David Olivenbaum

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