In their 46th season, the durable Madison Savoyards Ltd. places high in Madison's summer offerings. Addressing The Mikado; or The Town of Titipu - perhaps the most popular of the "big three" Gilbert and Sullivan operettas (H.M.S. Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance being the others) - the Savoyards achieve their most dazzling and consistently satisfying show in some years.
As director, veteran Savoyard and local theater virtuosa Terry Kiss Frank has realized skillfully both the humor and the beauty of the Victorian collaborators' wedding of words and music. If some criticism must be made, it is that too many people are frequently crowded onto the limited stage space of Old Music Hall, beyond needs of action or facilitating movement. As the ultimate test, though, Kiss Frank draws splendidly idiomatic work from her cast.
The elegantly fanciful set designed by Michele M. Fields provides a fine all-purpose frame, while longtime Savoyard Karen Brown-Larimore parades a gorgeous array of costumes, constituting a veritable Japanese fashion show, especially for the ladies.
The cast is sprinkled with singers a cut above the local amateur or student standards that once prevailed. As the sweetly innocent Yum-Yum, Amanda Compton is lean on soubrette confidence and sparkle, but she sings prettily. Likewise enjoyable, if also a tad pallid vocally, is the Pitti-Sing of Sarah Z. Johnson. But, demonstrating the sympathetic as well as the grotesque dimensions of the formidable Katisha, Kathleen Butitta is the strongest among the ladies in a truly wonderful portrayal.
The male leads make outstanding impressions. Governor Harris (familiar from UW Opera work), as the nobleman Pish-Tush, delivers the most solid work I've yet heard from him. Bert Adams, long active on Madison stages, still creates an impressive Mikado. James N. Kryshak brings a truly beautiful lyric tenor voice to the romantic lead, Nanki-Poo.
Donavon Armbruster is perfect as the patter-song man, Ko-Ko, milking the comedy in his character without slipping into the silliness some others bring to it. Truly awesome is Anthony Ashley as the infinitely pompous and corrupt Pooh-Bah, a kind of inverted Sarastro - the latter a role this gifted and experienced basso has sung elsewhere.
The chorus is unusually full and strong. Christopher Ocasek, in his Savoyards debut as music director and conductor, fuses his performers into a smoothly integrated ensemble.
Three more performances, on July 25, 26 and 27, remain for this must-see highlight of the summer.