A la D’Oyly Carte – God of the Machine
Jan 182003

The production of The Mikado that I saw last night featured references to junk bond salesmen, Saddam Hussein, the Marx Brothers, cell phones, “checkout girls at Rite-Aid perpetually pissed” (special liberties were taken with “I’ve Got a Little List”), and an amusing meta-reference to all of its modern references. I found this patronizing, although most of the audience seemed to like it. The Mikado‘s contemporary relevance ought to be apparent — the “statesmen of a compromising kind”, “happy undeserving A” vs. “wretched meritorious B”, “to let the punishment fit the crime”, etc. — without filching stuff from the newspapers. If not, why put it on? And after all, there are few or no explicit references to British current events of the 1880s and 90s in the originals. I enjoyed the show notwithstanding, because a well-sung Mikado is impossible not to enjoy.

My commentators may now inform me what a curmudgeon I am. I will construe silence as agreement.

  5 Responses to “A la D’Oyly Carte”

  1. Impossible not to enjoy Gilbert and Sullivan? Or impossible not to enjoy this one particular work? Hmm, I feel the same way about most Wagner and Copeland. But I know there are those that disagree with me.

    Anyway, my experience is that I enjoy modern references being put into plays or movies that occur some time in the past. Not sure why, but I do. And I am sure there is a name for it. Wished I knew it:)))

  2. Impossible for me, anyway. I meant The Mikado in particular, not G&S in general.

  3. Including modern references in the patter song is a long-standing G&S tradition. Lighten up — it is, and was, supposed to be fun.

  4. I knew I could depend on you. But is that true of D’Oyly Carte productions too?

  5. I typically share your disappointment in clever topical replacements of original material (Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at Nuremberg!). Notably, despite the initially promising casting of Eric Idle as Ko-Ko, I failed to be charmed by a television program adapting an English stage production of the Mikado set in jazz age Blackpool.

    To reinforce your observation, I aver that trick productions do more to obscure the relevance of the work than to highlight it. After about four years of obsessive fascination with the work, words and music, I find The Mikado to be the most twentieth-century thing to have enjoyed success in the nineteenth. It is a breathtaking argument against the Romantic, drawing attention to the poor quality of reason under our assumptions and agreements, a spun-sugar kick in the teeth of young Werther.

    (I read somewhere that "tut-tut-tut" and "what’s-his-name" and likewise "you-know-who" were intended as opportunities for the singer to pantomime the characteristic pose of whatever celebrated goat had captured the attention of a fickle public.)

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