Satire and pop culture at the center of BYU’s “The Mikado”

Satire and pop culture at the center of BYU’s “The Mikado”

Director Joshua Lindsay shares why audiences will love the hilarious plot and delightful tunes of “The Mikado”

“The Mikado” has been one of the most popular and often-performed Gilbert and Sullivan operettas since it opened at the Savoy Theatre in 1885. Audiences have loved its catchy melodies, over-the-top characters and satirical look at political systems. Director Joshua Lindsay discusses the continuing appeal of the comic opera and why audiences will love BYU’s upcoming production.

“Overall,” Lindsay said, “it is just a very funny story that has to be seen to be really understood. Every time I try to tell the story, I get lost in all the twists and turns of the plot.” Much of the wit of the plot comes from the nonchalant way characters address serious topics like death. At one point, Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, calmly explains why he can’t execute himself: it would be very dangerous, and considered suicide, which is against the law.

While the story is set in a fictional Japanese town, “The Mikado” is more about Britain than it is about Japan. “It is a very British play,” Lindsay said. “It is a satire on the British political system and how convoluted it was, told through thinly veiled references. The costumes are Japanese, but that it is about it.”

Rachel Glenn as Yum-Yum, Sam Neff as Nanki-Poo and Dylan Glenn as Ko-Ko
Photo by Gabriel Mayberry/BYU

But audience members unfamiliar with the politics of 1885 will not be missing out on any of the humour. Many of the political jabs are still relevant today, such as the character of Poo-bah, the proclaimed “Lord High Everything Else.” Poo-bah embodies a stereotypical political figure who holds all the political posts in the town, and therefore collects all the salaries as well.

BYU’s production will also include plenty of pop culture references, especially in “I’ve Got A Little List,” sung by the character of Ko-Ko. The song is one of the most recognizable in the show and it is tradition to change the lyrics to fit the culture of where it is being performed.

“Ko-Ko’s ‘List Song’ is used to satirize modern political figures and events,” Lindsay said. “Expect a couple jokes about politicians and Utah culture.”

Unlike more traditional operas, Gilbert and Sullivan operettas emphasize acting over vocal abilities. “The vocal lines are more accessible for singers and audiences,” Lindsay said. “The challenge is the comedic timing. The jokes have to be timed just right.”

Lindsay praised his cast, saying they are “stellar singers and actors.” For many of the performers, “The Mikado” will be their last production before graduating from BYU and continuing their training at graduate schools. Included in the cast are Dylan Glenn as Ko-Ko, who Lindsay described as “the whole package,” and Glenn’s wife, Rachel, as Yum-Yum. “They are a very dynamic duo on stage,” Lindsay said. “The whole cast has really come together to make something special.”

“The Mikado” will run from June 13-16 at 7:30 p.m. in the de Jong Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased here.