Carefree Satire Definitely – Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan’s ‘Mikado’ closes Dayton Opera season

If you want to know who we are, we are gentlemen of Japan!” Thus begins the energetic opening chorus of Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic masterpiece, The Mikado. But please don’t take the chorus at their word. The Mikado (or The Town of Titipu) is a rollicking good satire of late Victorian English society, set in delightfully fictitious Titipu, Japan, costumed in kimonos and put to some of Sullivan’s finest music. It’s hard to imagine a more upbeat close to the Dayton Opera season than this rambunctious, wacky operetta, one of the most enduringly popular works ever written.

Brought to Dayton by the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players May 14-16 at the Schuster Center, The Mikado promises great fun for the whole family, not to mention a succession of familiar songs and choruses to keep your toes tapping between the laughs. Not surprisingly The Mikado boasts a wealth of tuneful hits. A partial list would include: “A Wand’ring Minstrel I,” “Behold the Lord High Executioner,” “As some day it may happen (I’ve Got a Little List),” “Three little maids from school are we,” “The sun whose rays are all ablaze,” “Here’s a how-de-do,” “The flowers that bloom in the spring” and “Willow, tit-willow.”

David Wannen, managing director of the New York Gilbert and Sullivan Players, is 
enthusiastic about the upcoming production. “The Mikado is a wonderful show. It’s such a great satire of human nature that it lends itself perfectly to topical updating. Our company adds in updates. For example, you’ll hear about Tiger Woods and Bernie Madoff in the list songs. It’s a great thing for the audience. The tradition of updating actually dates back to Gilbert and Sullivan, who would update their shows as they toured them to keep them fresh for their listeners.”

Speaking of the physical production, Wannen elaborates, “It’s a beautiful show with authentic Japanese kimonos and costumes. We also use real Kabuki makeup. We pay attention to fan work and traditional moves with the fans.”

About Gilbert and Sullivan

Though they were never close friends and a quarrel strained and ultimately ended their partnership, librettist W.S. Gilbert and composer Arthur Sullivan were fantastically successful as a team in their day and continue to enjoy enduring international popularity. The two were joined by a third, producer Richard D’Oyly Carte, who helped bring them together and nurtured their collaboration from Trial by Jury to their last joint creation, The Grand Duke. It was D’Oyly Carte who built London’s Savoy Theatre in 1881 to showcase their operettas, which became known as the Savoy Operas. The Savoy was the first theater to use electric stage lighting and the first public building in the world to be lit by electricity. With a total seating capacity of 1,292, it is comparable in size to the present-day Victoria Theatre. The D’Oyly Carte Opera Company continued to perform and promote Gilbert and Sullivan’s works for over a century until it closed in 1982. It enjoyed a revival after reorganization between 1988 and 2003. The Savoy Theatre is presently the West End home of Legally Blonde.

Each of the pair was a recognized master of his craft, though Sullivan received his knighthood under Queen Victoria while Gilbert had to wait for his from the hand of her son, King Edward VII. Long before he met Sullivan, Gilbert developed his unique “topsy-turvy” style, where the humor came from setting up a ridiculous premise and working out its logical consequences, however absurd. He was rarely at a loss for a memorable phrase, and his “What never? Well, hardly ever!” and “let the punishment fit the crime” entered the English language.

Sullivan was the son of a military bandmaster and by the age of 8, he was proficient with all the instruments in the band. At 14 he received the first Mendelssohn Prize and studied at the Royal Academy of Music, with later study in Leipzig. Some of his orchestral works were widely praised and his “Onward Christian Soldiers” and “The Lost Chord” once enjoyed wide use. Nevertheless, Gilbert and Sullivan achieved their greatest popularity as a team. Of all their successes, The Mikado had the largest opening run and has likely been honored my more adaptations than any other, including The Hot Mikado, The Swing Mikado, The Black Mikado, The Cool Mikado, The Jazz Mikado, The Metropolitan Mikado and The Condensed Mikado. To sample some before leaving home, enter Mikado in and choose from more than 13,400 entries! Young friends might particularly enjoy “Three Little Maids” sung by Alvin and the Chipmunks and they may already know the music from Disney’s Mulan II.

The Mikado will be performed Friday, May 14 and Saturday, May 15 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 16 at 3 p.m. at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets. Tickets are $19-$96. For tickets, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit

Eric Street is Professor of Music at UD with a doctorate from Indiana University. His Carnegie Hall debut led to performances in 36 countries on six continents. An opera lover, he’s taught Opera History and accompanied over two-dozen singers from the Metropolitan and NYC Opera. Reach him at

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