Arts & Entertainment Commentary

Laughs and music in store at "The Mikado" next week.

Noisemakers and voices create a unique "Mikado" at Milwaukee Opera Theatre

We start with a ukelele, some slide whistles, drums, two toy pianos, boomwhackers and a washboard. Add in a bunch of other noisemakers – including what might be a toy accordion. Toss in some terrific singers and a couple of great comedians, and you'd get – ah, yes – the venerable "Mikado" from Gilbert and Sullivan.

The two 19th century collaborators who gave us "Pinafore" and "Penzance" along with "The Town of Titipu" (the other name for "The Mikado") might roll over in their graves if they could see the Milwaukee Opera Theatre's version that opens next week.

That's the common wisdom, but it's also possible the two men might smile at each other and offer a hearty, "Well done, mates." The composer and librettist, who some call the fathers of the musical theater we love today, had an abundance of talent as well as a sense of humor that still delights audiences today.

Of course, once Jill Anna Ponasik and her band of merrymakers get hold of something as revered as "Mikado," the only thing to expect is the unexpected.

Two years ago, she and her cohorts staged this production of "The Mikado" to rave reviews. Now, this year's production will be co-directed by Ponasik and Catie O'Donnell, with Ruben Pirainen and Paula Foley Tillen directing the music and James Zagar handling the choreography.

If that sounds like some kind of disciplined approach to G&S, forget it. Discipline will have long left the building before the lights go on at Next Act Theatre on March 17 for a two-weekend run.

The opera, set in Japan, is a satiric take on British politics and institutions.

It is one of the most frequently performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas and is especially popular with amateur and school productions. The work has been translated into numerous languages and is one of the most frequently played musical theater pieces in history.

Setting the opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satirize British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. Gilbert used foreign or fictional locales in several operas to soften the impact of his pointed satire of British institutions.

Leapfrogging off the original's satire, the MOT production is long on humor, as well as the kind of top flight singing Gilbert and Sullivan demand. While this production takes some liberties, the music directors make sure that the music remains, well, the music.

If the production of two years ago is an indication – and word is that it's a perfect remounting – this show is going to feature some wonderful singers and some of the great musical theater comedy actors this city has. Jason Powell creates Ko-Ko, Nathan Wesselowski does Nanki-Poo and the always riotous Doug Jarecki plays the title character, a casting decision that alone is worth the price of admission.

In addition, Doug Clemons and Kelly Doherty will split the role of Pish-Tush and one of my favorites, Diane Lane, will create what is sure to be a memorable Katisha.

Information on showtimes and tickets is available here.

Broadway at the Marcus

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, along with Associated Bank, has announced the 2017-18 season, and it features some exciting productions.

Twenty years ago, the musical "Rent" opened on Broadway and paved the way for a string of rock musicals. It will kick off the season on Oct. 3. The season will continue with "School of Rock" in November featuring a kids rock band actually playing instruments onstage.

In January, "Waitress," with music by Sara Bareilles, comes to town. It's a touching and emotional story about finding your place in the world. "Finding Neverland," the musical based on the famed "Peter Pan" author J.M. Barrie, will be on stage in February.

A limited run in March will unveil "Les Miserables," one of the great musicals of all-time and with some of the most soaring and fierce music you've ever heard. In May, "A Gentleman's Guide to Love & Murder" will provide the first look of the season at a production that combines great music with some of the funniest situations any musical has ever created.

Between the two will be "An American in Paris," the new Tony-winning musical about an American soldier, a mysterious French girl and an indomitable European city, all yearning for a new beginning in the aftermath of war.

It's quite a lineup, again, and information on showtimes and tickets is available here.

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