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'More Cowbell!' In Milwaukee Opera Theatre's 'The Mikado'

Milwaukee Opera Theatre
The ensemble cast of 'The Mikado'

Productions by the Milwaukee Opera Theatre are always a little offbeat and a lot of fun. But their staging of The Mikado makes those standards seem a bit modest. The show, a reprise of their 2015 production, opens Friday evening and features some instruments Gilbert and Sullivan may not have imagined when they composed the operetta.

The staging includes toy pianos and other toy instruments, along with as they put it “even more cowbell” than before. 

Gilbert and Sullivan's plot involves the son of Japan's mikado, or emperor, who leaves his father's imperial court to escape marriage with an elderly woman. He disguises himself as a traveling musician, and folly ensues - including his falling in love with a young woman in a small town who is the ward of the town's tailor. 

Credit Milwaukee Opera Theater

Despite the fact that the original The Mikado was written in the late 1800s by Englishmen and performed with the idea of impersonating Japanese culture, the Milwaukee Opera Theatre's artistic director, Jill Anna Ponasik, says the company is excited to do their own version.

"We knew we had to find something that would feel appropriate for 2017 and authentic to the values of our company," she says."[Ultimately,] we're not pretending to be English pretending to be Japanese."

"It's so different from a traditional production because if [the actors] are not in a scene, they're accompanying that scene on percussion," Ponasik explains. "Often they're playing and singing at the same time which is a different kind of coordination that we're used to doing on stage. So, it's quite the cerebral adventure."

The show opens Friday, March 17 and runs through next Sunday, March 26, at the Next Act Theatre space in Walker’s Point.  

Credit Milwaukee Opera Theater

Bonnie North
Bonnie joined WUWM in March 2006 as the Arts Producer of the locally produced weekday magazine program Lake Effect.