Mikado [1992]

A set of three stage performances taped in the theater by Canada's Stratford Festival in the 1980s, these productions of the Gilbert & Sullivan favorites The Mikado,The Pirates of Penzance, and Iolanthe (each is also available separately) offer the virtues and pitfalls of live-performance video. The staging is on the modest side; visual and sound quality are not flawless. But the high spirits shared by actors and audience are a delight. Unfortunately, ambitious editing undercuts that sense of immediacy. Many of the singing voices have been dubbed, and applause is unnaturally deleted at some key moments. Now and then the actors turn and address the camera. The result isn't really convincing as either a stage production or a film. The Mikado alone avoids that sort of identity crisis and is by far the most satisfying of the three. Purists will flinch at the many updated lines, but modernizing isn't a bad way to approximate Gilbert's very topical humor. For U.S. viewers, though, the Canadian jokes (about Pierre Trudeau, Wayne Gretzky, or Canadian TV) won't entirely hit home. One advantage to the collection is the fun of seeing members of Stratford's company in multiple roles. There's also the occasional Canadian star: Maureen Forrester, Brent Carver. Despite mixed results, this set is a useful introduction to the pleasures of G&S and proof of how well these pieces still play before an audience--and sustain having their jokes brought into another era. --David Olivenbaum

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