Reviewed by Tony Villecco
The Summer Savoyards’ has successfully mounted a fun, colorful and energetic production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s perennial favorite operetta, The Mikado. Friday’s house (July 17) at Binghamton University was quite full with an appreciative audience who kept up with the unique British humor sprinkled with modern-day references.
After a clean, if somewhat literal, interpretation of the overture, the fine orchestra kept a brisk pace throughout under the direction of Kimberly Bemis Tyler. This particular group of musicians played very well with only an occasional disconnect with the soloists.
In a large cast of principals and chorus, two secondary leads set the comedic pace for the evening. Dylan Ruffo as Pooh-Bah not only was in fine voice but his acting and natural flair stood apart. Pooh-Bah’s pathetic and manipulative connivings were well-drawn, and he kept an attentive audience on alert. As Katisha, the love-gone-wrong ugly duckling, Lauren Bass was magnificent. While not as impressive vocally, her interpretation was reminiscent of Gloria Swanson’s demented Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard. Her body movement and facial expressions are noteworthy.
Although the Savoyards have a long reputation of being “community” theater, there were several up-and-coming professional soloists in the cast including former Tri-Cities Opera resident artist Rebecca Heath, whose Yum-Yum was vocally delicious and her acting convincing. Binghamton University voice major Cole Tornberg has grown vocally, singing with pleasing tone and sensitivity, and was quite the dashing hero as Nanki-Poo. Nikolas Arden, a young baritone who projected well as the Mikado, is pursuing his Master in Music at BU.
As a rule, the other principals did very well. The cast includes Craig Hawkins as the dead-pan Pish-Tish, Danel Vaglica as Pitti-Sing and John Carroll as Ko-Ko with Katrin Baxter as Peep-Bo. The ladies and men’s chorus also sang pleasingly though at times some of the words were lost either due to projection, lack of diction or the fast patter tempi, a problem not isolated in the chorus.
Director Wm. Clark Snyder kept the pace smartly moving, with only a few noticeable missteps in some of the dance moments. Costumes coordinated by Julia Adams were lovely and colorful as was the effective lighting by Richard Vollmer. The simple stage set by AmArA added the appropriate Japanese touch.
Since its inception in 1961, the Summer Savoyards has managed to become a staple in the culture force of the Southern Tier and has retained a passionate following. Based on this performance and the many hours of community involvement and dedication required, it’s a safe bet that, whether you’re a Gilbert and Sullivan fan or not, The Mikado deserves your attention.
IF YOU GO: The second (and final) performance of The Mikado is at 3 p.m. Sunday (July 19) in the Anderson Center Chamber Hall at Binghamton University. Reserved seats are $20 (seniors 60 and over, $18; under 12, $10). Tickets are on sale at 607-777-ARTS (777-2787) and at www.binghamton.edu/anderson-center.