The C&B Productions Mikado (1995)

The MikadoRoy Johns
Nanki-PooThomas J. Godfrey
Ko-KoJamie Bierchen
Pooh-BahRobert Godfrey
Pish-TushJohn Ambler
Yum-YumMary Anne F. Boone
Pitti-SingSusan Demers
Peep-BoSusan M. Crouse
KatishaCheryl Burton

Members of the Florida Orchestra
Conductor: Thomas J. Godfrey

This was the second recording by Tampa, Florida-based C&B Productions. As far as I know, the group had no on-stage existence; it was just an invented name for marketing purposes. Like their earlier Cox & Box, this recording attempted a faithful recreation of a "first-night" version of the opera (or as close to it as one could get), with complete dialogue.

I sang in the chorus of this recording. When I posted this web page shortly after it was issued, I wrote that “the performance is a capable one by amateur standards.” More than a decade later, I have to admit that this assessment was too generous.

The producers, Bierchen and Godfrey, hoped that this recording would inaugurate a long-running series of first-night versions. They were able to record Cox and Box relatively cheaply (three singers, no orchestra), but The Mikado turned out to be a much more expensive endeavour. I remember Godfrey saying, “The Florida Orchestra doesn't come cheap.” This recording probably didn't sell very well, which dashed whatever hopes they had of making more of them.

To save money, the orchestra was recorded first, and the singers over-dubbed their parts later. This would explain why reviewer John Degan (below) found the orchestral playing so tentative. Godfrey had to conduct them before he knew what the singers would do. When we finally got into the recording studio (after a number of rehearsals at Godfrey's home), we sang with headphones so that we could match the orchestral tracks already laid down.

Chorus numbers were very thin. To get an adequate sound, we generally recorded each number twice. Between takes, the engineer would re-arrange us and alter the microphone placement, to try to make it sound like there were twice as many choristers as there really were.

Overall, there were too many compromises for this to be anything better than an academic exercise. Had the series continued, perhaps Bierchen and Godfrey would have found ways to improve the results. In any case, the recording is no longer available and not likely to be encountered.

The Text

The recording attempted to reproduce a first-night text. Among the musical differences:

  • The list song comes later in Act I, and is called "As it seems to be essential..." rather than "As someday it may happen...." (The chorus refrain cannot be completely restored to a first-night version, as it requires music that has not survived in Sullivan's autograph.)
  • "The sun whose rays" comes in Act I, not Act II. (It was moved to Act II at the behest of Leonora Braham, the first Yum-Yum, who complained that she could not do the number justice after singing "Three little maids" and "So please you sir" in close succession.)
  • "Were you not to Ko-Ko plighted" has two verses, not one.
  • "So please you sir" is a quintet (with Pish-Tush added), rather than a quartet as in the definitive version.
  • The "For he's gone and married Yum-Yum" section of the Act II finale is omitted, since this was a later addition.

This is the first Mikado recording to include all the dialogue, though it is the version found in Reginald Allen's First Night Gilbert and Sullivan, not the definitive version. The recording includes both instances of the "n-----" word, and thus it is not appropriate in schools or other places where difficulties might arise.

Review by John Degan

Despite the fact that I live in Florida, I had never heard of the C&B productions until I encountered them on this website, so it was with interest that I ordered both recordings. While it's good to have them for historical interest, The Mikado makes me reticent to listen to the Cox and Box, since you were less enthusiastic about the latter than the former. I suppose that as you were a participant in the production, you were reluctant to make more extensive critical comment. At the risk of offending you (as someone who participated in the production), I'll be as straightforward as I can. [I am not offended! — ed.]

First — and most important — perhaps you can tell me why the tempi are so persistently leaden! It's hard to make the score of The Mikado dull, but this conductor comes pretty close to it. Much of it is so painfully slow that it gives the effect of trudging through knee-deep mud. "Come a Train of Little Ladies" sounds as if they are describing a particularly lethargic funeral cortege. Even the dialogue partakes of this ponderous pacing.

I'm not sure whether I prefer Americans doing G&S to attempt British dialect and succeed in a hit or miss fashion, or to adopt the Kenny Baker approach of just letting their American accents out for all to see. This one is an odd mix. A few people have consistent British accents, while others slip back and forth, both in dialogue and in lyrics. Nanki-Poo has "patriotic sentiments" with the proper British pronunciation, but in the finale he and Yum-Yum sing "advance" and "dance" with American "A"s. Pooh-Bah doesn't even try a British dialect, and so his Americanisms sound less like slip-ups.

I thought both the orchestra and chorus were thin in numbers. The orchestra is generally adequate, but the strings are particularly thin, which lets me hear orchestral touches in the brass and woodwinds that should not, I believe, be quite so prominent. I know that you said on the website that you sang in the chorus; Please tell me that you aren't a tenor — or (if you are) that you weren't one of the tenors so painfully off-key in the opening chorus. [I am not a tenor. —ed.]

Of the principals, one finds the range to be expected of amateurs. But I don't understand why the gentleman singing Pish-Tush is on the CD. He simply cannot sing! It is somewhat to his credit that he hardly tries to sing, but are there no better baritones in South Florida? His lack of singing skills is as painful in "I Am So Proud" as in his big solo. The Katisha sounds more like a perky soubrette than an ominous dowager; indeed, Katisha sounds interchangeable with Pitti-Sing, and while she sings well enough, the timbre of the voice gets in the way for me. I generally quite liked the Yum-Yum and the Mikado, and I also like the Ko-Ko, despite his adoption of too many of John Reed's precious affectations. The Nanki-Poo strikes me as a better actor than singer, but the role is notoriously difficult, and for the most part he is quite adequate — kind of a road-company Kenny Baker.

Following along with Reginald Allen's The First Night Gilbert & Sullivan, I found only a few departures, mostly little dialogue fillips within songs. On hearing it, I really like Ko-Ko's "little list" song later in the act, where truth to tell it makes more dramatic sense than singing it so soon after his entrance. I never realized this in reading the first-night version as strongly as I did in hearing it.

Issue History
1995 C&B Productions CD unnumbered