Monday, July 28, 2008


I'm sure it's no real surprise to see adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan as popular as they were during this period. Arthur Johnson and May Van Dyke gave us several half-hour reworks of the G&S canon, including THE MIKADO (1940), and I gather this one is fairly typical.

What's fascinating about it is how it becomes less a parody of British society and more of an Attic Greek play, complete with commenting chorus of nobles (with Pooh-Bah at centre) that stays onstage throughout the entire thirty minutes -- almost as though G&S looked to OEDIPUS REX as inspiration.

The storyline, while edited down, is pretty much intact: Nanki-Poo, a wandering minstrel, is looking for Yum-Yum, while Pooh-Bah serves Japan as the Lord Chief Justice Commander-in-Chief Lord High Admiral Master of the Buckhounds Groom of the Backstairs Mayor and Private Secretary to Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Ko-Ko, in desperate need of *someone* to execute within the next month, appoints Nanki-Poo as the Official Executee (since Nanki-Poo has decided to kill himself rather than see Ko-Ko marry Yum-Yum. Nanki-Poo agrees on the proviso that he gets to marry Yum-Yum, since it'll only last a month.

The Mikado and Katisha enter; the Mikado gets an abbreviated version of the patter song, after which we find out that Nanki-Poo is the Mikado's son and betrothed to Katisha, but since he gets to marry Yum-Yum as part of his deal to be the next Official Executee (are you taking notes?), the Mikado tells Ko-Ko *he* must marry Katisha *and* that both Ko-Ko and Poo-Bah will have to be punished for executing the son of the Mikado -- even though they didnt know he was the son of the Mikado. The law's the law, after all. As for the execution, Poo-Bah has issued the Official Certificate of Death, so that part of the bargain is taken care of. With that, everyone sings and dances the finale "The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring", followed by "He's Going to Marry Yum-Yum", and we're done.

Whew. I think we all need a little lie-down, dont you?

Okay, what makes this adaptation interesting isnt so much how they hacked and slashed their way through a two-hour work, but the production notes that follow, detailed descriptions of the set, the lighting, and the costumes, which are surprisingly detailed.

But then we get to the really interesting stuff. With this edition, you dont need a director or a choreographer, because Johnson and VanDyke have spelled it all out for you. For example, the following is the measure-by-measure analysis of "Three Little Maids from School Are We":

Measure 1. Girls enter from DL holding closed fans horizontally in both hands across chests; heads slightly bowed; on tip toe; with mincing steps, four to a measure; across front, up R side and across back, then pose close together at centre. Measure 12, after solo, Yum-Yum minces downstage prettily, stops, holds fan horizontally with both hands under chin and bends forward a little from the waist, smiling at audience. Must be in position before Peep-Bo sings. 16, same business for Peep-Bo. 20, same business for Pitti-Sing. 22, 2nd beat, all stand upright, arms down. 23-26, dance in place holding fans rather high. 1st beat right foot and fan forward, 2nd beat right foot and fan back. 4 measures. 27, 1st beat fans down; 2nd beat turn left but faces to audience. 28-33, same business as measures 23-26 while singing. 34, very quickly turn circle in place back facing audience at 35, in time to sing. 37-38, on hold note (word: "maids") hold fans very high until dance begins. 40, 1st beat right foot and fan forward, 2nd beat back. 41, 4 quick mincing steps forward. 42, pose, half hiding faces behind fans. 43, like 40. 44, like 41. 45, a quick turn, backs to audience. 46, like 40 but upstage. 47, like 41 but upstage. 48, pose, turn faces back over right shoulder and look at audience, hold fans against left side of face. Then on 2nd beat of measure 49 break pose and turning around make picture for final chord: Yum-Yum in center slightly turned to left with knees a little bent, looking roguishly at audience over top of fan. Peep-Bo and Pitti-Sing kneel on one knee on either side, fans lifted gracefully in the air.

... all of which ends with the important notation The important thing is to know the song thoroughly before attempting to put song and dance together.

Yep, I'd say so.

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