|The Mikado > Reviews > 1888 Revival
Pending the completion of the new operetta on which Mr. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are understood to be engaged, and which will be produced some time in the autumn, the series of revivals is continued at the Savoy Theatre, and on Thursday night, as was briefly reported yesterday, The Mikado, superseded The Pirates of Penzance, which had been running for some weeks with considerable success.
Most of these works owe their existence to some whim of fashion which is gently caricatured by Mr. Gilbert and becomes in a manner embalmed in Sir Arthur Sullivan’s graceful strains, and The Mikado was due to the taste for things Japanese which had spread from artistic circles to the general public, just as Patience was inspired by the “æsthetic” fad which is now almost a thing of the past. When this Japanese operetta was first brought out it was remarked that, beyond the dresses and “a royal Japanese march,” there was little in it that was Japanese, the author and the composer having, from their own point of view, wisely refrained from attempting anything like genuine Eastern couleur locale. This fault, if fault it was, has certainly not interfered with the success of The Mikado abroad. Berlin audiences went into raptures over Mr. Gilbert’s jokes and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s melodies while they pooh-poohed The Golden Legend and failed to see the fun of The Pinafore. Again, American amateurs, who went absolutely wild over the nautical drama, did not, comparatively speaking, relish The Mikado, and this apparent inconsistency of international taste leads us to repeat a remark previously made, to the effect that people generally like that of the operettas best which they have seen first, for the reason that their poetic and musical merits are almost equal, while the peculiar racy flavour is so much alike in all of them that each individually must of necessity appear more or less an imitation of its immediate predecessor.
For the same reason a revival of any of these pieces, when once the bloom of novelty has been wiped off, is a more than usually severe trial, and the wonder is that many of them have stood that trial as well as they have done. There is no reason to think that The Mikado will be an exception to this rule. Thursday night’s audience, including the Princess of Wales, was both numerous and well-disposed, and there was no lack of applause and of that continued ripple of subdued laughter which is even more flattering to an author than noisy demonstrations. Neither can it be said that the success thus achieved was in any sense undeserved. The story of The Mikado does not amount to much, and the music, though sufficiently agreeable, contains no such gems of simple melody as “Ah, leave me not to pine,” or such effusions of genuine humour as the mock-patriotic refrain, “He is an Englishman.” At the same time there is a great deal to please lovers of this style of entertainment.
Mr. Gilbert in his most eccentric moods never loses sight of those touches of nature which make the East and the West kin, and his “three little maids from school,” although not particularly Japanese, are at least thoroughly human, and therefore go straight to the hearts of the audience. Sir Arthur Sullivan also manages to give vent to that musical humour which he possesses in a greater degree than any other modern composer, and his sympathy with the forms of early English music – the madrigal, the catch, and the like – is so strong that even in a Japanese operetta he cannot refrain from giving us some charming reminiscences of the days of old. Fortunately for him, theatrical audiences care little about archæological detail, and as long as they hear a pretty tune or a well written ensemble it makes no difference to them whether the characters who perform it could in any conceivable circumstances have sung such music.
As far as the performance was concerned, the revival, superintended by the author and the composer, was in no sense inferior to the original production, from which, indeed, it did not differ to any perceptible degree. By this time the chief artists at the Savoy have become so thoroughly imbued with the spirit of their tasks that they perform them with the regularity, although by no means with the mechanical monotony, of clockwork. In every movement they make, every word they say, every note they sing, one feels the working of the master-mind; and it is this absolute identification of the effect intended and the effect produced which forms the chief merit of these performances. Suffice it to say that Mr. Grossmith as Ko-Ko, Mr. Barrington as Pooh-Bah, Mr. R. Temple as the Mikado, and Miss Jessie Bond as Pitti-Sing were as excellent as ever; and that chorus and orchestra, conducted by the composer, left nothing to be desired.
Neither had the dresses, some of them, one is sorry to think, purchased of old Japanese families who in these days care no longer for their heirlooms, lost any of their splendour, and the mis-en-scène was, of its kind, perfect. Mr. J. G. Robertson sang the music of Nanki-Poo, the Japanese Prince and troubadour, with neatness and in an agreeable voice, although as an actor he still has much to learn. He does not as yet, to paraphrase a French expression, “feel the stage.” Miss G. Ulmar as Yum-Yum, on the other hand, is, if anything, too much of the stage stagey, but her voice, if a trifle shrill, is fully equal to the demands here made on it; and, although not a little, she was at least a pretty, maid from school.
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