Mu Performing Arts and Skylark Opera team up for a modern makeover of the Gilbert & Sullivan classic.
Photo by Rick Allen
Mu Performing Arts artistic director Rick Shiomi admits that his experience with the storied songbook of Gilbert & Sullivan is “close to zero.” He has never been very interested in The Mikado, he says, “because it propagates Asian stereotypes.” So when Skylark Opera artistic director Steve Stucki approached him about directing a production of it this summer, Shiomi had some serious reservations. But Stucki was open to some new ideas, and their discussions ended in Shiomi directing a joint production between Mu and Skylark.
“I want to deconstruct it,” Shiomi explains. “I’m setting it in Edwardian England (the period when it was written), and I’ve cast it with [many] Asian American actors playing English people.” This reverses the tradition of English actors playing Asian characters. Then again, Gilbert & Sullivan used the Japanese setting to satirize English society, says Shiomi, and “this just makes it look that way.”
With the production thus transformed, Shiomi says he’s come to “enjoy the music and witty lyrics, without the Asian stereotypes that make me uncomfortable.” His version involves rewriting some of the text, but, he says, “the changed format is something Gilbert & Sullivan might appreciate.”
This is Shiomi’s last production as artistic director of Mu Performing Arts. Randy Reyes takes over the reins on September 1.
The Mikado runs in rep with Skylark Opera’s The Fantasticks.
June 15–23. E.M. Pearson Theatre, Concordia University, 312 Hamline Ave., St. Paul, 612-343-3390, skylarkopera.org