Friday, April 10, 2009

The Punishment Fits the Crime

So Pierce Watters, a fine gentleman who works for Paizo Publishing, writes reviews for Kobold Quarterly, and teaches Tai Chi, gifted me recently with a CD of The Mikado. The Mikado is one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular comic operas, and this particular recording was from the Bell Telephone Hour version of the 60s, starring Groucho Marx as Ko-Ko the Tailor-turned-Lord-High-Executioner.

I've been listening to it over the course of the week on my commutes, and now cannot get it out of my head. Bad enough the songs of Misters G & S are infectious, throwing that bit of Groucho into the middle of it is enough the drive one mad.

In general recap,it is a general madcap G&S - Minstrel Nanki-poo loves maiden Yum-Yum, who is supposed to marry her guardian, Ko-Ko, who in turn was appointed Lord High Executioner by the town of Titipu because he was himself the next to be executed (and he would not be able to execute any until he had lopped his own head off, a novel solution to capital punishment). But the ruling Mikado notices the lack of death in the town, and demands an execution. Nanki-poo, bereft from Yum-Yum, decides to kill himself, but Ko-Ko makes a deal with the Minstrel - Nanki-poo can marry Yum-Yum if at the end of the month he agrees to be executed. But it turns out the Nanki-poo is the Mikado's son, on the run from his father's own whimsical justice. And then things get wacky.

The end result is a rather sunny musical in which all the characters sing about death. No one dies, mind you, but there are all sorts of threats of death, suicide, and punishment. It is practically bouncy in its morbidity, and only after it is all said and done do you realize that no one perishes, and the worst punishment doled out is marriage.

The Bell Telephone presentation is an adaption, which means that content was edited for time and to fit the venue. Some minor characters disappear, the town's own complicity in the various shams is minimized, and Katisha (who is the closest thing to the "heavy" in the plot, though you would think Ko-Ko, who is initially keeping the lovers apart, should be) loses her initial appearance before the end of the first act. As a result, some of already intricate and dodgy logic is handwaved away entirely.

One reason that the role of Ko-Ko does not require as much vocal ability, and can be played by someone with good stagecraft but not an operatic voice. I've seen a version with Eric Idle in the role, and one that shows up on local cable fairly regularly starred local radio talk-show host Dave Ross. That allows more "stunt" casting as opposed to the talent casting, which actually helps is trying to untangle the plot.

And Groucho works adroitly, with enough of his "You Bet Your Life" persona, and in Ko-Ko's courting of Katisha (which provides part of the resolution of the pretty mess everyone is in) evokes his earlier romances in film with Margaret Dumond (in particular in "There is beauty in the bellow of the blast"). And Groucho is eminently listenable to, as he hurtles through the Gilbert's libretto.

But, as a kid with too much Halloween candy, I have overindulged, and now I've got a little list trapped in my head, and it is keeping me up at all hours.

More later,