Carole Berry wrote: I have to say that Katisha is the funniest and most interesting of all G&S ladies - she also gets all the best tunes!
[ARCHIVIST'S HEALTH WARNING - NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED: There follows a very long discussion on whether or not Nanki-Poo should be considered the villain of the piece. This is a question on which strong opinions are held and these were fortrightly expressed and argued over in the discussion. Of course, if you have strong views on this question the discussion is a must however, if it has never even remotely occurred to you that Nanki-Poo is anything but the Romantic Lead and one of the all time Good Guys, then read on and be prepared to experience a completely different world view.....]
Andrew Crowther wrote in response to 1.2 above: Wet seems the perfect word to describe Nanki-Poo. Anodyne and utterly unmemorable. To me, Alexis wet - unpleasant, of course, but at least he's got character. Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum remind me somewhat of Hero and Philia in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way to The Forum - who were, I believe, deliberately designed to be utterly boring and, yes, "wet".
Derrick McClure indignantly asked: What IS this perverse streak that makes some Netters describe Nanki-Poo as "the villain of the piece"?? [See David Craven in section 1.7] What's villainous about him, for Heaven's sake? In the realm of high drama, that word is applied to Iago or Richard III: presumably nobody thinks Nanki-Poo resembles them. In the realm of light opera, it might perhaps be applied to Kecal or Dr Falke. What has Nanki-Poo done to deserve classification with even that company? He flees the court rather than marry Katisha - what's wrong with that? He hadn't made any promise to her. If a man is faced with the choice of (A) marrying a Gorgon, (B) getting his head chopped off, or (C) running away, he surely doesn't have to be a villain to choose the last. He persuades Ko-Ko to marry Katisha (I assume this is what David means by "letting others pay for his mistakes while he goes off in bliss and joy"). OK, but Ko-Ko has only TWO choices - marry Katisha or boiling oil and melted lead. Nanki-Poo gives him an escape by suggesting the easier alternative - that's not villainous, surely? And what "mistakes" of Nanki-Poo's are "others" paying for? He hasn't made any mistakes at all: he's "succeeded in all he does", and left everybody rejoicing. Have some sense, David!
Rica Mendes replied to this: In all fairness, Nanki-Poo does not make these suggestions for Ko-Ko's own good, but to get Katisha out of the picture. Nanki-Poo leaves it not only to Ko-Ko, but to Pooh-Bah (who is always getting his oars entangled into things) and Pitti-Sing to cover his tracks. Come to think of it, it isn't Nanki-Poo that is willing to face Katisha, but Pitti-Sing! Hence, in comparison, Nanki-Poo is among the three bad-doers in the show.
As did David Craven: It is all relative. In terms of Light Opera, Nanki-Poo is a villain of the first order, up there with "the greatest villain unhung" Col Fairfax (and no other) and the arrogant ignorant blue blood Alexis Poindexter. What has Nanki-Poo done? I will explain. Fleeing the court is the first of his many sins. Whether or not it was just, Nanki-Poo is under a legal obligation to marry Katisha. Many marriages in history have been made among heads of state for dynastic or other purposes which have little, if anything to do with love. In this case the Mikado COULD have made an exception for his son, but to do so would have created the presumption that the Mikado and his family are above the law. The greater good was served by this marriage, and Nanki-Poo, for his own selfish reasons, chose to risk the greater good for his own personal comfort. Tom Shepard suggested: What Nanki-Poo has done is to choose to have a life, and at no one's expense, not even Katisha's, since her "claim" on him was false.
David Craven replied to this: I am sorry. I really don't see how we "know" that the claim was false. We have a Monarch who is very very scrupulous about following the law. He won't even exempt his own son or parties to whom the administration of the law would be unfair. He is, in many ways, a literalist. As such, is it not equally reasonable that he would examine Katisha's claim and, UNDER THE LAW OF THE MIKADO, determine its validity. The claim might not be "fair" in a 20th (or even 19th) Century Western way. It might not be Just... but there is no reason to suspect that it is "false".
Tom Shepard continued: Fairfax was obviously cavalier and cruel, and Alexis was a great idealistic and selfish moron. All Nanki-Poo wants is to live and love, and not to inflict his views or attitudes upon others. What is going on here with all this N-P bashing? Why begrudge a nice princely young guy his chance to be happy? I can't believe that WSG would ever have intended such revisionist attitudes of villainy to apply to Nanki-Poo. This is all the more curious to me because most of the characters in The Mikado are truly unsympathetic; they are about as cold-blooded as WSG ever created. But N-P is practically the exception: he's a hell of a nice guy, and he is surrounded by people whose agendas are far less agreeable than his own. Everyone else is on the take or on the make or around the bend or whatever-----but Crown Prince Nanki-Poo just wants to live and let live. To which David Craven had this to say: Yes. That is the twist. The villain is the apparently nice guy who is twisting the knife, ever so kindly to get his way. Heroes don't have to be likeable guys... in fact heroes are often rather lousy people from the Greek hero Heracles who killed his music tutor for daring to correct him, who killed his wife Megara and their children, his fiend Iphitus.. to War heroes who outside of the military are drunks and wife beaters. And some of history's great mass murderers have been "nice quite guys". Don't be fooled by outward appearances.
Tom Shepard replied: But Nanki-Poo is just not a villain. I'll (grudgingly) grant that he broke his father's law, but this in itself doesn't make him so much a villain as perhaps an opportunist who happens to be very much in love with someone who loves him. In his pursuit of happiness, he upsets Katisha quite some and no little, but I would claim that she is the villain for pursuing and persecuting a guy who clearly doesn't want her, and she then enlists the law of the land to try to force him into a loveless relationship. She's been around the planet about 20 years longer than N-P, so she had at least a two-decade head start to corral someone other than the Crown Prince who she virtually blackmails. Who can blame Nank-Poo? Just suppose any of us were grossly misunderstood and then pursued (in the courts) by an unrelenting harridan? If N-P had given in to Katisha's demands, would he THEN be a hero, and K the villain? Putting WSG aside for a moment, and quite seriously, a contract for a lifetime relationship is pretty important and is not to be undertaken lightly or without some thought of what the future will bring. If we believe this, then let's look at WSG again, at Nank-Poo, and figure out why he should sign up for a miserable life because if he doesn't, then we'll all call him a villain. Relationships at best are tough. It is not villainy to try and create one that gives promise of being mutually satisfying. If we begrudge this of N-P, then we really do NOT wish him happiness and good fortune.
Deborah Sager, returning to the original thread, asked: How is the greater good served by this marriage? Katisha is not a foreign royal of a country that Japan is at war with, or any other diplomatic necessity. She is a lady of the court, and the only good that will be done is that the Mikado keeps her, and maybe her family happy. Now the director can interpret the events prior to the show any way he wants to (including, as suggested here, a pregnant Katisha), but there's nothing in the script to show a larger, more important purpose. David answered with: I suggest that this is, in fact, grounded in the script. The Mikado makes it very clear when he agrees that the law is unfair (thereby ordering the deaths of Pitti et al) that he must follow the law as written. Nanki engaged in some conduct which resulted in the imposition of a legal burden upon him - he was legally obligated to marry Katisha. To exempt Nanki-Poo from this law, merely because he was the son of the ruler, would result in a government of men, not laws. (In fact, many would argue that much of the present problems in DC arise out of various members of the government acting as if the laws do not apply to them) A key ingredient to a proper social order is that laws must apply fully and fairly to everyone. Nanki-Poo, however, does not want to follow this rule.... and much like the punishment for Chelsea Clinton for smoking Marijuana (not that she ever would) must be firm and strong, so to must be the enforcement of the law on Nanki-Poo. He may not like it, it may not be "fair" (in a 20th century shifting values way), but it is correct. And for him to avoid his legal obligations is, if not villainous, at least Cravenly.
Tom Shepard asked: Where does this legal obligation appear in the libretto? I confess that I cannot find it. And Rica Mendes observed: It must be a legal obligation, or else the Mikado would not have come along with Katisha to reclaim Nanki-Poo etc. But Tom Shepard reckoned that: This doesn't compute, as they say. The Mikado may just have gotten so sick of Katisha that he made the trip in order to shut her up. It was perhaps a family problem, but I don't yet see the legal connection.
David replied: Nanki-Poo states:
"She misconstrued my customary affability into expressions of affection and CLAIMED me in marriage, UNDER MY FATHER'S LAW. My father.... ordered me to marry her".
In other words, Katisha made a claim before the appropriate legal authority (the Mikado) and the appropriate legal authority issued an order. We may dispute whether the legal authority was CORRECT in making this decision, but that does not alter the fact that such order was made. This is a legal obligation. For example if you sued me for slander on the grounds that I had unfairly sullied Mr. Poo's reputation and the judge issued an order in your favor, I would not be free to ignore the order. The order from the court, whether in fact the judge had any real basis (for the judge ignored the basic fact that Mr. Poo, like an honest lawyer or politician is an imaginary character), would be a legal obligation unless and until it was either satisfied or overturned by a higher legal authority and in Katisha v. Poo the opinion is from the highest (earthly) authority and not subject to appeal. Courts in the US have issued stupid orders which have been overturned by higher courts.... but violate one of those stupid orders, even if subsequently overturned, and you will still have trouble. It is the difference between a system governed by the rule of law and a system governed by the rule of a mob. To which Tom Shepard admitted: You are right. Mea culpa.
David continued his original argument: (While this may seem trivial, think of a War. The general must send someone out to face near certain death in order to save the army. If this person thinks like Nanki-Poo, he will not take the risk, resulting in the loss of the army or even the country.) Acting for one's personal benefit in lieu of the greater good is villainy. At which Deborah Sager observed: It is the job of the General to go fight enemies (his personal life has almost no bearing.) Maybe you can argue that's its the job of the prince to marry whoever his father tells him to, but marriage is highly intimate, and its for life. To this David noted: Historically, it has been one of the jobs of Royalty... even within G&S... we have several examples, the most prominent of which are the Crown Prince of Barataria and the Daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro and the Daughter of King Gama and Crown Prince Hilarion. At this point Eugenia Horne observed: But Gilbert and Sullivan's monarch had made a very public "love match" which kind of influenced things later on for royal marriages. The Crown Prince of Barataria (Luiz) and the Daughter of the Duke of Plaza-Toro (Casilda) were kind of nuts about each other even before Luiz knew he was the Crown Prince, so this pair wasn't exactly unhappy about the end arrangement anyway. (Okay, if Nanki-Poo is running around in disguise as a "second trombone" and Luiz (unknowingly "in disguise") is "His Grace's Private Drum", are there enough G&S Crown Princes for a whole band?)
Deborah asked: How old is Katisha anyway? What if Nanki-Poo wants kids? To which David had this to say: His father made the determination, and in any event, if Katisha is really THAT old, then it is probable that Nanki-Poo can take a child bride when he is much older... one of his own choosing. After all Henry VIII had several wives of his own choosing.
David continued his original argument: Nanki-Poo, when it is discovered that a number of people are to be executed, but that he can stop the execution merely be revealing that he is alive, refuses to do so. A "hero" certainly would be willing to give up his life for the life of others. (Witness the heroes in wartime who dive on grenades) Is it the act of a villain? Well it is at least cravenly. To which Deborah: He's already married Yum-Yum at this point. Anything along those lines would affect her too. As NP himself points out: Nanki-Poo: Katisha claims me in marriage, but I can't marry her because I'm married already - consequently she will insist on my execution, and if I'm executed, my wife will have to be buried alive. But David observed: And he is deciding that the lives of two are worth more than the lives of at least three.... in any event, Nanki-Poo can go and face his death with honor, while Yum-Yum can run away.
David continued his original argument: He is prepared to marry Yum-Yum in full knowledge that she will be buried with him upon his execution. In other words, he is willing to throw away another's life for a month of PERSONAL bliss. Deborah asked; Which time do you mean? At the end of the first act, he doesn't know that Yum-Yum would be buried alive. (David: I suspect that he does know this.) Ko-Ko tells them this in Act 2, where he lets Yum-Yum go. He doesn't marry her until Ko-Ko tells them both to leave in safety.
David continued his original argument: Alternatively, if he believes that the punishment will not be implemented once his true identity is disclosed, then he is engaged in manipulation to serve his own pleasure, without regard to the horrible consequences to the Town of Titipu... which will be demoted in rank. Deborah remarked: Huh? He left home in the first place because he knew that he was not exempt from his father's law. To which David replied: As administered by his father - not by lesser mortals. Nanki-Poo shows a disregard for the law, and would undoubtedly use his position of power to convince those with less power than his father to let him off. (Much like a Supreme Court Justice here in Illinois who reputedly flashed his judicial id card to get out of various and sundry traffic stops.) I suspect that Pish-Tush would give in, after all, ALL of the officials in town (Pooh-Bah) have shown a susceptibility to corruption.
David continued his original argument: With regard to Ko-Ko and Katisha, he is forcing Ko-Ko, AT THE THREAT OF DEATH, to do what he, Nanki-Poo has refused to do. Does Ko-Ko shirk his duties by running off (in a Nanki-Poo like fashion)? No. He is a true man, willing to face the consequences of his actions. And Deborah: Well, what I said about forced marriage for Nanki-Poo also applies to forced marriage for Ko-Ko. But Ko-Ko has duties of his own that he shirks.
NP: Very well, then - behead me.
Ko: What, now?
NP: Certainly, at once.
Ko: ...I can't kill anybody!
Although, this is not such a bad fault, come to think of it. But anyway. David pointed out: And Ko-Ko is not being asked to perform his duties at the proper time and place. Merely because Ko-Ko is the executioner, does not give him power to perform executions except at the designated time and place. (For example, if Ko-Ko, the tower of London's designated headsman) were to sneak into Col. Fairfax's cell the night before the scheduled execution and cut off his head, it is likely that Ko-Ko would be charged with and convicted of premeditated murder....) In this case, Nanki-Poo is surprising Ko-Ko with an unreasonable and unexpected demand. At some point during the time period Ko-Ko might well have gotten his nerve up. But Mr. Manipulator cannot wait until then and must control everything.
David continued his original argument: The fact that everything turns out well is not fully relevant. It certainly had nothing to do with Nanki-Poo's actions. Based on Ko-Ko's conduct, I suspect that had Nanki-Poo not turned up, Ko-Ko, being the honorable man that he is, would have eventually cut off his own head. That his passing would have been noted in the papers and mourned by his family (and maybe, just maybe, a little bit by Yum-Yum). That time would have passed in the town. That Yum-Yum would have married Pish-Tush and the town would have settled down to as normal a life as possible in a town in a country with a leader with as bizarre a sense of humor as the Mikado. In time, the Mikado would have died and the new Mikado, Nanki-Poo (with his wife Katisha) would have risen to power and the lives of the people would have been improved... (although that does not make a very good show.) Deborah insisted: But this way Ko-Ko lives, Peep-Bo can have Pish-Tush, and Nanki-Poo can still rise to power with a determined wife. Pooh-Bah and Pitti-Sing can be the powers behind the throne, Titipu stays a town, and Ko-Ko gets to live a life of ease (maybe. How long does Katisha hold grudges?) To which David had this to say: And social morals breakdown. Pish-Tush is arrested for ordering the cover-up of the break-in of the opposing political parties headquarters and Pooh-Bah is eventually forced to resign after he and his wife are found to improperly been involved in a land scheme... all because the placing of a man, Nanki-Poo, above the law, resulted in a loss of respect for the law.
Rica Mendes wrote: I concur with most everything that David says in this regard. But I would like to take this point further - in fact, all is not at all well in the state of Titipu. Though (for the time being) Titipu is out of danger and Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum are together, what about Katisha and Ko-Ko? Does it really turn out well for either of them? There is no evidence in the libretto that Katisha is pleased with things by the end of the opera. Is Ko-Ko? Well, that depends on the interpretation - has Ko-Ko REALLY been in love with Katisha all this time (an interpretation one could use) or has he been tricked into it by Nanki-Poo?
My guess as to why Nanki-Poo showed up in the first place was a) for the finale and b) because Yum-Yum dragged him back to save her fellow ward, Pitti-Sing, from death! He has no reason other reasons to show his face. As far as the potential greater good as a result of the marriage of Nanki-Poo and Katisha, I don't know what the basis for the marriage was, so I won't fight that battle.
Andrew Crowther observed: I think this discussion is getting a bit out of hand. If you're going to analyse all Gilbert's characters and judge them on their willingness to sacrifice themselves for the greater good, you're going to have a pretty thin time of it, I think. One of the basic assumptions in his comic plays is that everyone is looking out for Number One. (All right, all right, there are exceptions - e.g. the horrible fate of J.W. Wells, but let's ignore those for the moment.) Everyone in the world of The Mikado takes this as read. Everyone is in pursuit of selfish desires (Rica Mendes interjected here: Excuse me, for what selfish reason are Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo acting? Or, for that matter, Pish-Tush?) But Andrew continued: - as is more or less obligatory in farce - and the beauty lies in working out a way for these selfishness to coincide to create a Happy Ending. How incredibly dull it would be if Pooh-Bah reminded Ko-Ko of his public duty to execute people, and Ko-Ko, chastened, was recalled to his senses; if, in return, Ko-Ko told Pooh-Bah to stop taking bribes and assuming multiple offices; if both, reformed characters, ensured Nanki-Poo faced up to his civic responsibilities and married Katisha - etc., etc.
Tom Shepard suggested that: Perhaps one's opinion of Nanki-Poo is something of a litmus test of the opinion-holder. I have seen some pretty judgmental things said about him, his putative obligations to a manipulative crone, his (God forbid!) desire to have some personal happiness. I just don't get the obviously hidden agendas of the Poo-blasters because Nanki-Poo is never unkind, sacrifices much to win the girl he loves, offers himself to Ko-Ko to be beheaded, - he is nothing but charming and kind, fleeing the court of a tyrannical father and his daughter-in-law-elect. He never vowed to marry Katisha; he was only polite to her. He never apparently argued with his father. He spent quite a lot of time before pursuing Yum-Yum again. I'm sorry to be so uncharitable to those who disagree with me, but I can't help but feel that only an unhappy or frustrated person would twist this innocuous little story in order to begrudge Nanki-Poo his chance for happiness.
Gwyn Aubrey observed that: The main point is, Nanki-Poo is the heir to the Chrysanthemum Throne. This should be first and foremost in his mind. Private happiness is all well good, but duty comes first to public people. And from Katisha's extremely haughty attitude, it can be hypothesized that she is not ill-connected in the hierarchy of Japan. If she is snubbed, it is a lack of face for her AND her entire family, possibly leading to civil war. So the Mikado is no fool, and orders his son to marry the woman HOWEVER he has behaved, whether or not she has misconstrued his affability, it is politically expedient to marry her. And that's why concubines and second wives were invented!
And Sara Kane made this impassioned plea to the inestimable and incomparable author of the Thespis discography (set to a possibly recognizable tune):
Oh, Mr. Schlotter, what's to be done?
They're turning a wand'ring minstrel
Into Lieutenant Pinkerton!
This is comic opera, not Wagner, Freud, or Jung,
Give us the Mikado, not Gotterdammerung.
Nick Sales observed: If David Craven SERIOUSLY thinks N-P is a baddie on a par with Alexis and particularly Fairfax, then he must be going off his chump. To which David Craven replied: I guess so. For I feel that he truly is a baddie at least on a par with the aforementioned cads. I think that what we may be experiencing is a case of "All About Eve-ness". (If you have not seen this marvellous film, don't read this message as it will diminish the initial impact of the film).
[You must now avert your eyes if you have not yet seen this great film!]
All About Eve, as you may remember presents the rise of a young girl through the Broadway theatrical ranks. She is, at least very early in the film, portrayed as a sweet innocent young thing. Yet her actual conduct is horrid and she quickly slashes her way to the top. Yet everything turns out rather well for everyone. The playwright gets a new hit with a young star capable of doing his work justice. The theater critic gets a new protégé. The young actress wins a Siddons award. The old star gets her true love. And so on.... Yet the villain is CLEARLY Eve. In a similar fashion, we have a very appealing character in Nanki-Poo. He is young and Handsome. He is in love with the girl and the girl is in love with him. He spouts all sorts of platitudes about love and honor. Everything turns out well at the end... yet if we really analyze the conduct, and are not taken in by the external trappings... we see that he really is a disreputable cad of the first order. In fact, this is one of the strengths of Gilbert. He is able to clothe his heroes and his villains in the garb of the other in order to get the audience to misadjust their expectations. Some of his true heroes (Katisha and Dick Deadeye to name two) are made to look like stereotypical villains while some of the most vile characters (Alexis, Dauntless, Nanki-Poo, Fairfax) are given all of the outward characteristics of heroes. Yes, I believe that Nanki-Poo is a villain, and I submit that the support is present if we analyze his true conduct and are not fooled by the outward trappings. (For a more current example, I am reminded of the Bloom County (a late lamented very left wing comic strip) Episodes involving a space alien who looked like a cute puppy dog. He was quoted as saying that he had come to destroy the earth.... but as he looked like a cute and friendly puppy dog, no one viewed him as a threat.
Nick Sales replied: Sorry, David, I still don't buy this. No, not even a little bit. Gilbert was brilliant, an unsurpassed genius (IMO), but disguising N-P to to be a hero when he's actually the villain of the piece? To use one of my least favourite anachronisms - give us a break! (And as for Katisha being the heroine of the Mikado? I'm getting that old familiar ache about the temples........) To which Rica Mendes quipped: Never fear, Nick... no one is arguing that Katisha is the heroine. After all, as pointed out, the true heroine is Pitti-Sing. [See section 5.4 below.] Andrew Crowther answered this with: From their own selfish points of view, the best thing they can do is clearly to stay on the sidelines of the fraught and highly dangerous plot of The Mikado. For this reason they submerge their characters almost completely, so that the casual observer might suspect that they had very little character at all.... Pitti-Sing, however, isn't as good at this as the others, and gets caught in the crossfire when the Mikado is spraying execution orders about the place. Or something like that. Rica Mendes replied: Excuse me. There is only one scene, really, where Pitti-Sing goes to the sidelines where, logically, she could have some play, and that is only because Gilbert has scripted her off-stage - the scene that prompts "I Am So Proud". Pitti-Sing is constantly helping for the good of Yum-Yum & others through out the show, proving she has little fear, for no selfish reasons whatsoever!
1) She scouts out the "tremendous swell"
2) She faces Katisha head on when Nanki-Poo is ready to run away - AGAIN - and Yum-Yum is quaking in her boots
3) She gets the chorus riled up against Katisha BEFORE Yum-Yum even thinks of any kind of proactive "Ah-hah!"
4) She leads the chorus for "Braid the Raven Hair" in honor of Yum-Yum
5) In a very sweet manner, she tries to keep Peep-Bo from hurting Yum-Yum's feelings re: Nanki-Poo's beheading
6) Pitti-Sing goes along with pulling the wool over the Mikado's eyes with "Criminal Cried"
How can you say she is in the sidelines? Andrew Crowther responded thus: Very easily. As to why I said so, it was really just a desperate attempt to justify an opinion which I feared wouldn't stand up to much examination - which was, if you remember, that all the characters in The Mikado acted from entirely selfish motives. A former British Prime Minister (Wilson?) had this very wise saying: "If you're in a hole, stop digging." I now propose to stop digging, and will therefore not rack my brains trying to make Pitti-Sing seem more peripheral to the plot than she is. Instead, let me reformulate my original theory about The Mikado: All the characters act from selfish motives - except the ones who don't. I think that covers it.
And David had this to say to Nick: I am very sorry that you can not see it. To me, it is clear. I know that I would not trust Nanki-Poo one bit in any kind of a crunch. He is likely to do what is best for him and to h*** with the consequences for anyone else. And I think that it adds another layer of colour to the show. Without this underlying streak of villainy, Mr. Poo is a pretty dull character... and I don't think that he was intended to be dull. Would you at least concede that the vast majority of Mr. Poo's actions are UN-heroic (Fleeing rather than facing a legal obligation, manipulating someone into giving up something he deemed valuable to him, placing others in deadly peril in order to save your own skin, forcing others to do what you yourself will not do)? (Neil Ellenoff asked tartly: Do you think Nanky is related to Winnie the?) David continued blithely: I think that Gilbert has clearly disguised the villains as the hero in a number of cases. Fairfax and Alexis are two other prime examples. And I do not deny that it will not "work" the other way, but I think that the show loses some of the bite which is clearly there.... and I think that the All About Eve analogy makes a great deal of sense. Of course, all of this may well revolve around how one defines the term "hero". PS And for the familiar ache - I would suggest a dram of whisky followed by a restful night of sleep. Joy Dalton observed: All About Eve is one of my favourite films, and I thought the message was that Eve was lonely and unhappy at the end (even though she won an award) thus not profiting from her evil ways - N-P, however, ends up very happy indeed.
Don Bartholomew wrote: Really, David Craven has had me rolling amongst the "dust-bunnies" here in my office. He has taken you all over the edge with his satiric assertions that Nanki-Poo's behaviour patterns are villainous. David is an intelligent person who realizes that he is discussing an imaginary character in the Victorian equivalent of a Broadway musical. He knows that no character in G&S can or should be analyzed in the same fashion as Ibsen and/or Chekov. So, will all of you please quit arguing with David so vehemently. It's a joke. Well, it is a joke; isn't it, David? You don't really believe what you've been saying, do you? Please, you're not really that far out-of-joint?
Bruce Miller lamented: If anyone needed evidence to highlight our cultural decadence, he or she need look no further than the recent Nanki-Poo - as - villain thread on Savoynet. The wilful twisting of a rather uncomplicated story, as found in The Mikado, into the psycho-babbling nonsense we've seen here recently is typical of the kind of thinking going on at colleges and universities - not to mention "cutting edge" thought in theatre. In the exciting new world of academe, 2 + 2 do NOT equal 4, white is black (or chartreuse), good is evil, and so forth. Orwell was right, he just got the date wrong. Neil Ellenoff offered this: I am not sure but isn't there a song about this sort of thing in Haddon Hall? I can't imagine that grown-up people would undertake the Nanki-Poo discussion seriously. But then the analysis and moping over Jack Point went on endlessly. Agreed, he is a more serious character but the wailing was, to my mind, at least excessive. It would be interesting to ascertain how many SavoyNetters are in High School. And Andrew Crowther pointed out: My problem is, I agree with the main point - that Nanki-Poo can't really be called a villain by any reasonable understanding of the conventions - but Bruce's terms are so, um, forthright that I almost start to sympathise with the opposition. Gilbert is taking a slight dig at the usual hero, as he so often did. Nanki-Poo is, I think, not very interesting as a character - he's just a pastel-shaded cardboard cut-out who's convenient for the plot. But a villain?? Oh, my reason totters on its throne! My head is swimming! Aargh! Aaargh!! Aaargh!!
And David Craven rose to the bait: Cultural decadence? Psycho-babble? You have to be kidding. If someone in real life were to behave like Mr. Poo, the FIRST people to complain would be the conservative element and they would cite it as an example of the decadence of society. Lets look at Nanki-Poo's conduct.
1. He fled to avoid a legal obligation imposed by the legal authority in his country.(note: The question of whether the obligation is JUST is very much a current day issue.... and usually the right wing cite the failure to follow the letter of the law as cultural decadence. Now you are citing following the letter of the law as an example of cultural decadence. Which is it? It can't be both.... can it...) To which Tom Shepard replied: What was this legal obligation? Where is it stated in the libretto?
2. He managed to turn the affections of an engaged woman away from her fiancee. Tom Shepard observed: Yum-Yum apparently never had affection for Ko-Ko.
3. He assisted in providing false documents to the government. Tom Shepard asked: But exactly how did Nanki-Poo assist in providing the documents?
David continued: All of these are certainly examples of the breakdown of social values... and you claim that the person who is the primary actor is a hero.... I suspect rather that you are calling something names because you truly don't know how to engage in anything beyond a superficial analysis. Or don't you have anything substantive to say beyond name calling. Give Gilbert some credit, he did craft a "complicated story."
Ted Rice wrote: I see the deal on Nanki somewhat differently. If, in fact, he flirted with Katisha, he is ipso facto condemned, whether or not he marries the woman later on. So she must then be looking only for revenge in her search for him. Now, since it is a well-known fact that married men don't flirt, and that the flirting act doesn't apply to married men, Nanki should be completely safe after he marries Yummy. Even if he should loose a non-connubial sigh in Katy's direction (Buddha forbid !) he should be exempt from capital punishment. Except, possibly, at the hands of YumYum.
Derrick McClure opined: I still think some folk are making themselves look awful silly in this thread, but just to keep it going for fun. A villain, on any showing, is somebody who acts MALICIOUSLY - that is, he wilfully and deliberately seeks to harm others. In that sense (and that IS the sense of the word), the ONLY villains in G'n'S are (A) Scaphio and Phantis, unequivocally; (B) arguably Dick Deadeye, though there's the mitigating factor that his motivation is basically honest; and (C) Richard Dauntless, though in the comic context in which he operates it seems inappropriate to use as serious a word as "villain" of him. Now, regarding Alexis, Nanki-Poo and Fairfax. First of all, they have nothing whatever in common, except that they're tenors (and we can't call them villains on THAT account - they can't help it). Their dramatic contexts are different: in The Sorcerer the comedy arises from the introduction of one crazy element into an otherwise realistic setting; in The Mikado the entire dramatic situation is one of comic lunacy; in Yeomen you have a romantic melodrama with no crazy or topsy-turvy elements at all. Alexis is a figure of fun - the laughter is directed at him, for his besotted notions about love and the fantastic step he takes to promulgate them. Nanki-Poo is a COMIC romantic hero - his words and actions are funny because the whole play is funny, but he's not held up to ridicule. Fairfax is a rather unsuccessful attempt at a SERIOUS romantic hero - a brave warrior who faces vicissitudes with courage and wins through to love and happiness. NOT ONE of them is guilty of malicious or wicked actions. Alexis is an ass (that means "donkey", norteamericanos, not anything else), but his intentions are of the noblest - OK, we know what the road to Hell is paved with, but a man who brings about disastrous results when acting from good motives is not a villain. Nanki-Poo - well, to my mind the Nankiphobes who have been contributing to this thread should be in the opera themselves. Fairfax, admittedly, shows up as callous and unfeeling in his treatment of Jack Point; but even so, he doesn't act out of spite: he has no actual ill-will towards him, they just happen to be in love with the same girl, and they can't both win. Now can we stop bandying the word VILLAIN about where it simply doesn't apply?
And David Craven replied: I guess it all depends upon your definition. My primary point is, and continues to be, that the portrayal of Nanki-Poo as this resplendent hero, which appears to be the primary method of portraying him, is paying far too much attention to the "flash" of the character and too little attention to the actions. My somewhat hyperbolic statements about Nanki-Poo as a villain were, in large part, intended to get people to see that the character is more complex than often portrayed. And I think that our performances would be better served by adding this additional layer to the performance. Too often modern G&S performances miss the bite and the satire by merely focusing on the trappings and missing the underlying issues. Mikado is, for the most part, not a love story, rather it is a play on how following the strict letter of the written law can create rather bizarre situations, and how "natural" law, in which love, truth and justice reign supreme, is the better system. In order for this to work, it is important that Nanki-Poo, therefore, play the role straight, which in turn emphasizes the strangeness of the end result, thereby strengthening the underlying message. To me, in the context of G&S, a villain is one who avoids his responsibilities and is willing to let others answer for the consequences of his action. The only major arguments that I have with your position, is that I think Deadeye (and I will discuss this at a latter date) is arguably the most heroic figure in Pinafore, and I simply cannot agree that Nanki-Poo is a "hero". Aside from the fact that he gets the girl and gets to sing some nice songs, he displays none of the attributes that one associates with a hero. A lead, yes. A major character, yes.. the chief protagonist, yes.. the first bow, yes... but the hero? That is like saying that Macbeth is the hero of the play of the same name.
Chris Wain replied to this: This is an unusual definition of villain. That would make Pontius Pilate the villain of the Passion story - not a usual interpretation either for Christians or for others. And Macbeth is the hero! We all learnt at school that a tragic hero is a good man (courage) brought down by a fatal flaw (ambition). I'm afraid I think Nanki-Poo is neither a hero nor a villain, just a bore! And David Craven shot back with: I must be dense. I don't see, in any way, how Nanki-Poo is a good man. To me, he is just a typical self-centered individual who doesn't give a d*** for anyone else. (The kind of "I, I, I,.. Me, Me Me.. type that is now so prevalent in society... whose primary question appears to be how will "I" benefit from this...) Those kind of people bother me a great deal in real life and I see those traits significantly manifest in Nanki-Poo. I just don't see any good in him.... And I realize that this is a minority opinion. To me, since he is not a good man, the concept of the tragic hero does not apply. Alexis, in contrast, is far more likely to meet this definition. He is well meaning, but he has a fatal flaw (he is as dumb as a box of rocks...) And Chris replied: I think you misunderstand me. I was talking about Macbeth. I said that Nanki-Poo was neither a hero nor a villain.
Harriet Meyer wrote: Although I, too, see Nanki-Poo as hero, not villain (as well as dashing and lots of fun), I appreciate David's perspective. It is extremely interesting to see the natural-Vs-written law theme emphasized, and this emphasis brings out more layers in Mikado. The theme appears elsewhere in the canon. For instance, Strephon asserts the primacy of natural law, and Ida feels she is following an imperative higher than arranged marriage. But, David, I thought you had found Nanki-Poo villainous because he was flouting (thanks, Judith & Ann) his father's law. You had argued eloquently that disregard for the law resulted in chaos. Deadeye is a tattletale, but a soothsayer. The truth emerging from a source not believed because of outward appearance, like the fools in Shakespeare. The unpleasant truth embodied in an unpleasant form (like Gama). (Sorry for incomplete sentences.) I think Deadeye's great, too! Alexis means well but he don't know, as DD says. But, is he dumb or just one or two hundred years ahead of his time? He is cushioned by his social stature, of course, but is he not a young idealist? Of course, "It's bad to fool Mother Nature" as the old commercial said, and he shouldn't tamper (kind of back to the nature theme again).
Tom Shepard suggested: Poor Nanki-Poo, no rocket scientist he - just a man in love who tries as best he can to get for himself a pleasant future. But he's a prince, and therefore has a few hurdles to get over. BUT HE ISN'T HAMLET - he's just a comic tenor - and he withers and disappears under the microscopic scrutiny he has recently been subjected to. His character is just not ambivalent and/or fleshed out enough to withstand this psychological probing. This has turned into revisionist character analysis and is getting increasingly tedious. And admittedly I am not helping matters any by my continuing to stir up the pot. But I do hope we can leave the poor princely guy alone. He is sinking under the detritus of adolescent psychobabble (I have no idea what I just said, but it felt so good to say it!)
George Timson averred: I will reiterate my Humble Opinion that the Mikado himself is the only villain in G&S who both 1) drives the entire plot by his villainy and 2) himself appears on-stage He's a tyrannical sadist (the famous dentist-chair fantasy). He enjoys watching decapitations. I don't see how you all let him off so easily.
Jeff DeMarco capped it all with: The only comment we have from WSG in this connection:
The amateur tenor whose vocal villainies...
Now, Nanki-Poo is a tenor, but is he an "amateur?" Yes! As he tells Yum-Yum, "I am no musician!" Therefore, he has vocal villainies, and by topsy-turvy extension, he must be a villain. QED!
David Duffey wrote: When I gave the first in what has turned out to be a long line of Pooh-Bahs, Mary Reddich played Yum-Yum and gave an eye-opening performance as quite the self-knowing, gold-digging, eye on the main chance little lady. The look of alarm and disagreement followed by calculated wheedling on hearing, "I would merge all rank and station", is one I have used as a yardstick ever since, and have only rarely seen emulated. When I have directed the show, several Yum-Yums rejected the idea out of hand, or were unable to carry it through.
Aaron Hunt wrote: I've read several interesting posts on choices for the soprano in our OOTW; I, as someone else mentioned, find this lady much more interesting than many of the other G&S leading ladies because I feel that she can be easily portrayed as a passive/aggressive "textbook" case. Ko-Ko doesn't rule, not really. Pooh-Bah is busy with his "insults". Pish-Tush is IMHO, "Figaro-ing" himself into a frenzy keeping the town of "Pu" running. Seems to me that Yum-Yum gets her way, in that arch little Japanese way of hers, about absolutely everything. When the chorus goes along with her whispers in the Act I Finale, covering whatever gossip Katisha is about to spread, don't you think this is a town of people who are adhering to the wishes of the "favorite daughter"? In the Aria, which, as has been mentioned, a "b" to deliver successfully, Yum-Yum states her Credo, showing that she is the dominant personality that we guess her to be up to that point, in the phrase "I mean to rule the Earth...". She does mean to rule the Earth. She rules the town, and the Government of the Town, and all of the ladies in the town, even the Pooh-Bah of the town is subjected to her whims, and she has captured the heart of the prettiest boy in town. Quite a young lady, I would say, I force to be reckoned with. Kitten with a whip, I'd say. Hum...
Larry Byler replied: I ! (what's to be done with this 'ere 'opeless chap?) :-) I think the chorus is being a typical Gilbertian chorus, agreeing with whatever has been most recently propounded by a lead, any lead. All that's missing are the "yes, yes, yes"'s. Consider:
Katisha appears and berates Nanki-Poo. Chorus agrees (if a little faintly ("if true her tale...")).
Katisha berates Yum-Yum. Chorus agrees (with the same reservation).
Pitti-Sing tells Katisha, "Hey, Kat babe, knell THIS." Chorus agrees.
Yum-Yum "squawks 'Ha-ha, I know" (thank you Rica) [See section 4.3 above]. Chorus agrees ("oni bikkuri shakurito!").
Rica Mendes replied: I, too, disagree. Though Yum-Yum is passive save in one fleeting moment, she doesn't do squat to help her situation. She flits in, is told what to do, may complain a bit or try to keep strong etc., but then, inevitably, flits back out. Keep in mind that passive aggression, technically, is not being passive and having what you want happen to you by chance. Passive aggression is the use of passivity to be aggressive - for example, ignoring someone in a conversation until they get so frustrated that they give in. Aaron Hunt responded: I must continue to disagree with Rica. Yum-Yum is being passive/aggressive as far as her station allows her in the society that she is working. The behaviour of many folk, men and women alike, that I would call passive/aggressive is that they realize their boundaries, and, rather than attack them "head-on", smile, and appear to be working "within the system", while in reality, they are guarding their winsome reputations in order to gain control over those who are not clever enough to see their plan.
Leta Hall observed: Actually this one is fairly easy to explain. While it's true that the usual G&S chorus agrees with whomever they've just heard (except, I think in the Ruddigore Act I finale, when their condemnation of Robin is pretty consistent), if you keep in mind the concept of Duty v. Desire, it's very easy to play. Yum-Yum is your friend, especially if you're a member of the women's - er, girls' - chorus, but "if true her tale" Katisha does have dibs. It's your duty to support Katisha's position, but you'd much rather support Yum-Yum's. Why does the chorus then shout Katisha down? I don't know for sure, but I'd guess it's because Yum-Yum was whispering something like "Don't let her talk - please! I'll explain later!" which would allow you to do to help out your friend, without entirely abandoning duty. Far easier than dredging up a laugh for one of Hugh Ambrose's groaners. It isn't that Yum-Yum is passive-aggressive because she doesn't confront things head on, she is merely acting according to the dictates of her time and country. Acting "ladylike" has always involved a certain degree of non-straightforward behaviour. And as Rica points out, Yum-Yum largely doesn't anything, she lets situations be resolved for her. If she were truly passive-aggressive, she could find all sorts of ways to be seemly sweet but actually very destructive, all in a very non-confrontational way. Aaron Hunt replied to this: You seem to suggest that Yum-Yum's "ladylike" behaviour is "non-confrontational" as a dictate of society, and therefore, not passive-aggressive, since that sort of character would design to cause harm. What I am suggesting is that Yum-Yum's characterization is more plausible, at least to me, and more in keeping with her private moment in the aria, if she is not merely shy and retiring, but a young lady who knows how to work the system, and does so. In order to "flesh out" this somewhat stock soubrette, I would suggest that the soprani who aspire to breathe more life into her, and to have a better time, find places, not necessarily attached to dialogue or music, for Yum-Yum to show this "internal" working. I think you are having a problem with this idea, because you feel that the term "passive-aggressive" denotes a person who wishes to be "destructive"; This is not my understanding, rather, I believe that many folk who suffer/enjoy this fetish usually have what they believe to be everyone's best interest at heart.
Rica Mendes murmured: You had me agreeing with you with the idea of using her private moment until that last statement "and does so". Her aria clearly shows that she see herself as bold etc., but she act on that. The only time that she does is in her song. Ok, ok... she does let Nanki-Poo approach her and give her a peck or two (or however many the pair can fit into the rests during "This Oh This") - but "Sun Whose Rays", "Ah-hah! I know!" and that scene with Nanki-Poo are THE ONLY SCENES where we see her take ANY action - and the results aren't really that great. She does not, however, work the system. It is Ko-Ko/Pooh-Bah/Nanki-Poo/Katisha/Pitti-Sing who do anything like that.
Mind you, INTERNAL. Yes, it makes her far more interesting, and I am all for that, but to say that she is a proactive heroine is simply false. Josephine, Gianetta, Tessa, Ida etc. are pro-active. Yum-Yum, on the other hand, simply is not. No, I am not having a problem with this idea. But someone who is passive with an aggressive result. Yum-Yum is passive, but without an aggressive result (hence the term). An example of a passive-aggressive G&S moment: The Bell Trio. Josephine is being very obliging with her father and Sir Joseph knowing full well that by being passive, she is getting the result that she wanted - allowing them to open up and, without their knowing it, agree with her.
Your final point is hardly correct because: a) The term "fetish" is completely wrong - passive-aggression is not a sexual turn-on on it's own (though some people use passive-aggressive behaviour as a fetish). b) It wouldn't be listed as a defense mechanism/psychological disorder if it were for anyone's best interest but the passive-aggressive person.
Dan Kravetz sent this reminder: Don't forget Yum-Yum's greatest moment, when she says to Nanki-Poo, "Darling--I don't want to appear selfish..." and then proceeds to break her engagement to save her life. This is the moment when a conventional heroine is supposed to tell the man she loves that she will gladly die with him. You could even change the name of the opera to The Mikado, or, I Don't Want To Appear Selfish, if it would help illustrate the importance of this line. Ko-Ko's "Bother Yum-Yum!" later on is an even stronger variation on the same theme. That's what Mikado is really about--looking out for Number One, and Yum-Yum does it as well as anyone. Tom Shepard applauded: In my opinion, this is as good a summation of The Mikado as I have ever read. Whereupon Rica Mendes exclaimed: ACK! Good point! I stand corrected - I completely forgot about this scene. (smacks self in the head). HOWEVER, I still don't think that this ranks her as being a passive-aggressive protagonist. I still say that her actions do not make as great an impression as other characters in the show. But a good point, nonetheless.
Rica Mendes wrote: I blush for shame in throwing this out there, but... In my opinion, the true heroine of this show is Pitti-Sing. Proofs:
She's the only one (and the first one) to stand up to Katisha ("Away, nor prosecute your quest... "
She is the only one who has any guts, really (save Nanki-Poo, but, well, not quite...) After all, she is the first one to approach the "tremendous swell".
Not to mention that she jumps in for "Criminal Cried" to help out her Yum-Yum (whatever their relationship is) not for personal gain, but because she feels the need to protect those that she loves.
Whether tis nobler to be Yum-Yum or Pitti-Sing, the answer is clear! Huzzah to Pitti-Sing!
Mary Finn wrote: We've heard some arguments that Yum-Yum [Section 5.3] and/or Pitti-Sing fill the role of "heroine" in The Mikado, and how they possess craftiness or chutzpah or whatever. If that is true, WHY AREN'T THEY EVER PLAYED THAT WAY? In every production I have ever seen (even ones I thought were generally excellent), Yum-Yum was a ditz, Pitti-Sing was hammy clown, and the female chorus did nothing but giggle like munchkins. (Tee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee-hee. It's even worse when one is in the chorus, and has to titter like that!) This is one of the major reasons that Mikado was far down on my list of favorites. To this Rica Mendes replied In case you hadn't noticed, I am adamant about the fact that Pitti-Sing is really a wonderful character. I never played her as a hammy clown, but rather as a bold, meddlesome, mischievous girl (the eldest of the T.L.M's). Then again, even before rehearsals started, just from the script, I never got the idea that she was a . Peep-Bo is more of a clown than Pitti-Sing. I think the reason why Pitti-Sings and choruses can be seen as shallower than they really are is simply because it is easier that way. My guess is that directors have less time to devote to character development as operetta involves music and therefore time must be taken from somewhere and/or they take for granted that performers are already aware of the characters. In addition, I doubt that many performers really do that much independent character development work - I think this is a fault in general of amateur & musical theater - the performers take the scraps that the director throws at them as gospel without realizing that they aren't the full picture.
Aaron Hunt chimed in: The relationship between Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing, as I see it, is very similar to the relationship between Ruth and Eileen in Wonderful Town; Yum-Yum (Eileen) is quite conscious of her effect on those around her, and works her magic by appearing helpless while others take care of her, and Pitti-Sing (Ruth) is the sister, not as attractive, definitely the "caretaker", covering her need to be needed and cared for with her firecracker whit and outspoken behaviour. To my mind, that makes our soprani passive/aggressive. Does that make Pitti-Sing the heroine? I would never be silly enough to argue directly with Rica about this character. I will leave that to those of you who know not where the bee sucks. Leta Hall replied to this: Rica is correct, passive-aggressive behaviour isn't the absence of direct action, but instead indirect action on which one can't be specifically called. I think that the difference between Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing can be compared to the difference between Scarlet O'Hara and Melanie Wilkes; one is bold, the other more acceptably retiring, etc.
Aaron Hunt wrote: I had the chance to play Ko-Ko for the first, and maybe the last, time last year in a production that has been mentioned in this discussion as championing a Director that missed the boat, no that would be Pinafore, missed the gong, there we are. Some of you may remember that I found Ko-Ko NOT to be the comic lead, as Sir Joseph may be, but to be the straight man(only in the comic sense, I could think of NO other way to say it) much like Captain Corcoran, to Pooh-Bah, Pitti-Sing, and even the Arch-Villain, Nanki-Poo-Poo. It seemed to me that the "jokes" and "bits" all belonged to the bigger "characters" that revolved around Ko-Ko, and that poor Ko-Ko is left on stage for the entire Ring Cycle, in uncomfortable shoes, to set up everyone else's laughs and to sing middle "c" incessantly until he bleeds. Now that I have read a post by someone who actually SAW this thing, maybe I felt at sea, not because of the way that Ko-Ko is written, but because of what was going on around me. Still and all, Ko-Ko was the LEAST fun of the patter-singers that I have had the privilege to portray, and I don't think I will be hunting him up again until I get better shoes. Andrew Crowther was bemused by this: Speaking as a spectator of, rather than performer in, G&S, I really can't understand how anyone could say Ko-Ko doesn't have enough comic opportunities. Surely this role is one of the best "Grossmith" roles in this respect? He's at the centre of the plot - I always say he's the real hero of The Mikado, because it's him (he?) who pushes the plot forward, not that passive dummy Nanki-Poo. He's the typical farce hero. (I've said this before, I know, but do try and hide your yawns.) He's the ordinary bloke who only wants a quiet life, pushed into a desperate spot and desperately trying to struggle back to safety. This, surely, is one of the few sure-fire jokes in literature? He's vulnerable, he's out of his depth - he's ingenuity on the edge of panic. He needs to be ordinary to gain the sympathy of the audience - hence the touch of indomitable cheekiness, the friendly relationship with the audience, which the "tradition" has built up round the part. Having thought about it in tremendous depth for about thirty seconds, I think it's quite right that he should be allowed to clown about as he is - much more than the other "Grossmith" roles. Apart from winning the audience, it fits in with the idea of the setting being an ersatz Japan, which isn't supposed to fool anyone for an instant. Possibly. Anyway, that's what I think.
Henry Odum agreed: He strikes me that way too - as out of his depth. For me at least, a good deal of the humor involving Ko-Ko is his constant failure to be in control of the situation. He seems to feel he's on top of things - yet you could diagram each of his schemes and how each of them falls through. In fact with each "brilliant idea" he comes up with, he only seems to dig himself in to deeper trouble requiring more desperate ideas. In Act Two in particular his situation grows more and more desperate, and simultaneously so do his attempts to gain control of the situation. In fact in ACT II the only two efforts on his part that are truly bear fruit are:
1. Wooing Katisha - which he was initially loathe to do - and wasn't even his idea anyway but Nanki-Poo's, and
2. the desperate (at least I read it as desperate) "rabbit out of a hat" as 't'were, that he pulls out to explain Nanki-Poo's appearance to the Mikado. Anyway, FWIW I find that most amusing & entertaining about the character.
Ken Krantz made this observation: Pish-Tush, as we all know, almost disappears in Act 2 after being fairly prominent in Act 1. His appearances in Act 2, brief though they are, show a noticeable change from Act 1. In Act 1 he is shown, from his first line on, to be distant with Nanki-Poo and closely allied with Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah in the political arrangements of the town. From the original scheme to circumvent the flirting law by Ko-Ko's appointment, to the delivery of the Mikado's letter and the search for a substitute, Pish-Tush (despite holding no formal office) is involved with Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah. When the scruffy minstrel arrives he coldly asks what may be his business with Yum-Yum. Later, when Ko-Ko says to take Nanki-Poo away, Pish-Tush removes him.
In Act 2, Pish-Tush has nothing to do with Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah other than to tell the Mikado that their execution is prepared. His former allies are on their own through the various schemes (discovery of the burial alive law, decision to fake the execution, etc.) which drive the plot in Act 2. He is never on-stage with them except when the full chorus is on-stage. In his only scene without the chorus he accompanies Nanki-Poo on for the madrigal scene (I know that vocal exigencies sometimes require use of the artificial character Go-To, but the scene was written for, and generally staged with, Pish-Tush). Why is Pish-Tush now acting for all the world like the best man in Nanki-Poo's wedding? It is possible that his cordiality is part of the general effort to make the doomed man's month of wedded life happy, but I suggest that there is more to it than that.
IMHO, by the end of Act 1, Pish-Tush knows Nanki-Poo's identity. Consider: a shabby musician appears in town asking after Yum-Yum and is promptly put in his place. For complicated reasons, the shabby musician is allowed to marry her for a month. So far, all very comprehensible, even if a bit complex. Now something happens that is not so comprehensible. A fancy upper-class lady blows into town claiming the shabby musician in marriage. When the chorus sings "If she's thy bride restore her place" they might more appropriately be thinking "If she's thy bride who the hell are you, really?" Katisha is drowned out when she tries to sing the M word, but she does manage to sing enough to make it clear that he is not really a minstrel (and, unlike Yum-Yum, she is sure of it without hearing him play) and that the most important thing about his identity, the thing she most wants to tell, is whose son he is. Finally, unable to secure him on then and there she warns those around her to prepare for woe because she is going "Mikado-wards." To sum up, the supposed minstrel is the son of somebody important, is claimed in marriage by an aristocratic lady, and the lady is going to the Mikado to seek redress.
I think Pish-Tush is sharp enough to put all of these clues together. Pooh-bah and Ko-Ko might be as well (though the point is certainly arguable. I think Pish-Tush has the greatest political savvy of the three) but they are not on-stage to hear it. Ko-Ko exits after "Take her, she's yours" and Pooh-Bah after the "Long life to you 'til then" cadenza. They may hear about it from witnesses, but it was a sudden confusing scene, with the probability of witnesses contradicting each other and misquoting what was said. Pish-Tush had the opportunity to hear every word and the shrewdness to put it all together. He knows who the gentleman really is, just as surely as if it were written on his forehead, or even his pocket handkerchief (if he had a pocket handkerchief which, being Japanese, he doesn't). If you accept that Pish-Tush has it figured out, his actions, and non-actions, in Act 2 make perfect sense. With Katisha off to fetch the Mikado, something odd is bound to happen, and whatever it is, self-interest suggests that the safest course is to be cordial to the disguised prince and keep one's distance from the schemes of Ko-Ko and Pooh-Bah. Incidentally, you may doubt that Katisha's Act 1 scene is sufficient to tip off Pish-Tush (or any other astute listener). Even if that is so, the combination of that scene with her next entrance makes things crystal clear ("He'll marry his son, he's only got one, to his daughter-in-law elect"). Read together, these two scenes are positively Euclidean in the clarity of the conclusion they suggest: Katisha is engaged to Nanki-Poo. Katisha is engaged to the Mikado's son. Therefore . . .
Michael Rice quipped: It sounds as if you have a great motivation if you should ever play the role on stage! And Jeff DeMarco applauded: Perhaps he has a good ear for rhyme! Seriously - excellent points, Ken.
Ralph MacPhail threw out this challenge: Here's something to hash over in the last seconds of OOTW-Mikado: It's been said by some that the only reason for Pish-Tush's existence is to provide parts for musical ensembles. Indeed, if I remember correctly, he is missing entirely from Gilbert's "The Story of The Mikado". Perhaps Gilbert originally intended for there to be no Pish-Tush. We remember that the one he cast wasn't able to sing the bottom line of the madrigal, and so Go-To was invented (or the chorister who sings "Why, who are you who ask this question?" was named, then pressed into service for the madrigal in Act II). Can you imagine The Mikado with out Pish-Tush? Cathlin Davis replied: Yes. Oberlin has difficulty finding men, so we didn't have one. Pitti-Sing did "I am so proud" up an octave, Pooh-Bah did everything else. It worked, and provided an explanation for why Pitti-Sing gets involved in the first place.
Derrick McClure mused: Can we imagine The Mikado without Pish-Tush? Certainly not - but on the other hand, is there another instance in the canon of a part of that size and prominence about whom we really know so little? We've had some superbly entertaining posts on the question of "Who is Pish-Tush, what is he?"; but at the end of the day his function and identity remain indeterminate - or rather, they're whatever the actor, producer, or Savoynet critic of the moment wants to make them. Musically, there has to be a light baritone to contrast with the bass-baritone and comic baritone parts: did G simply bring in a totally unnecessary character (dramatically speaking) for this reason, identify him with then vague label "A Noble Lord", and then simply fit him in where he could? I still find him a remarkable but enigmatic figure, unlike any other character in the series. Arthur Robinson replied: I'd agree; but. The TV production of The Mikado (directed by Martyn Green, starring Groucho Marx, ca. 1960) actually eliminated the character of Pish-Tush, since the opera had to fit into an hour-long broadcast minus commercials (as I recall from Martyn Green's notes in his TREASURY). Pooh-Bah was given some of his plot-necessary lines (including a short snatch of "Our great Mikado").
And Ernie Fosse volunteered this: Actually, I can not only a "Mikado sans Pish", I have done it. I played Pooh in such a production, where our baritone was suddenly indisposed. Ko and I split most of Pish's music and dialogue -- where we could do it appropriately, and in character -- Pitti-Sing took the rest. Ko and I did "I Am So Proud" as a duet. Very little was actually cut. And Rica Mendes added: I, too, have done it, and, as previously mentioned, if Pitti-Sing sings Pish-Tush's line in "I Am So Proud", it makes her later appearances as a co-meddler with KK & PB a lot more logical as she was with it from the beginning. Ronald Orenstein cautioned: Remember that Pish-Tush and Pooh-Bah were originally a single gentleman, namely "haughty Pish-Tush-Pooh-Bah" in the Bab Ballad "Borria Bungalee Boo". I suspect that when Gilbert came to re-use the name the idea of splitting it between two characters came fairly naturally. Fortunately, the original's dietary habits did not make it into the operetta.
Page created 16 March 1999