The Essgee Mikado (1995)

The MikadoDavid Gould
Nanki-PooDerek Metzger
Ko-KoDrew Forsyth
Pooh-BahJon English
Pish-TushChristophe Broadway
Yum-YumTerri Crouch
KatishaBev Shean
Three Little Maids
(The Fabulous Singlettes)
Lisa McArdle
Andrea Gallaher
Georgia Duder

Producer: Simon Gallaher and
Essgee Entertainment of Queensland, Australia

Director & Choreographer: Craig Schaefer
Orchestrator & Conductor: Kevin Hocking
Directed for Television by: Peter Butler
Additional Lyrics: Melvyn Morrow

Essgee Mikado Poster
Essgee Mikado Poster

After Simon Gallaher's Essgee Entertainment put on a highly successful Papp-like production of The Pirates of Penzance in Australia and New Zealand in 1994, the same team launched a production of The Mikado in much the same spirit, in 1995. Like Pirates, Essgee's Mikado proved to be a smash hit, leading to a third and final G&S production: H.M.S. Pinafore, also a hit. Their Mikado production lives on, with a new season in Brisbane as recently as 2008.

I am a big fan of the Essgee Pirates and Pinafore productions, but Mikado falls flat, at least on video. It clearly satisfied the live audience, but three years [as I write this] and half-a-world away, it just lumbers along, encumbered by overwrought jokes and a lack of dramatic focus.

The Essgee cast pride themselves on the freedom to rewrite and improvise on an almost nightly basis. But by the time this video was made — apparently, late in the show's New Zealand run — the cast were dragging out every little comic bit to a point of tediousness. A tasteless gag about nose mucous that seems to go on forever is indicative of what's wrong with the performance.

Pooh-Bah and The Fabulous Singlettes
Pooh-Bah and The Fabulous Singlettes

Elsewhere, a rope drops down from the ceiling. Jon English seizes it and swings Tarzan-like over the orchestra and first few rows of the audience. He did this in Pirates too, and there it made sense: the Pirate King is supposed to be a swashbuckler. Transplanted to another opera, it's not Pooh-Bah swinging on that rope, but just Jon English horsing around.

Throughout the trilogy, there is an ongoing "war" between Jon English and the orchestra pit. But here, the war takes over the production and keeps pulling the action away from the plot. At a certain point, it's not The Mikado any more, just an extended improvisation sketch.

Drew Forsythe as Ko-KO
Drew Forsythe as Ko-Ko

Jon English is listed in the program as Pooh-Bah, but he actually has most of Pish-Tush's part too, and he is inserted into several scenes where Gilbert didn't have either character on-stage (such as "Here's a how-de-do"). Meanwhile, to keep the show within manageable length (it is too long as it is), several numbers are cut. The Act II madrigal is perhaps the most sorely missed.

In lieu of Simon Gallaher and Helen Donaldson, who created Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum at the premiere, we have Derek Metzger and Terri Crouch. Metzger doesn't do too badly, but he struggles on the high notes. Crouch's Kiwi accent sticks out like a sore thumb.

Drew Forsythe has all the histrionic tools to make a great Ko-Ko, but he is perhaps the most guilty of dragging out his comic bits far beyond reason. I assume that the performance started out a lot tighter and just got flabby as the run went on.

David Gould's Mikado is just plain strange. He has a profoundly resonant deep bass voice, but he fails to use it to great advantage, delivering a monotonous reading that's dull as dishwater. Gould's costume is designed to show off his impressive physique, including pectoral muscles that dance on queue, but four large flags that he carries on his back are a distraction.

David Gould as The Mikado
David Gould as The Mikado

Bev Shean's Katisha is probably the best of the bunch. Her straightforward interpretation would be at home in any production.

As in all the Essgee productions, the women's chorus is replaced by three ladies dubbed "The Fabulous Singlettes". Between them, they share all the material the original libretto allots to either Pitti-Sing or Peep-Bo, but they travel as a team, so the "painful preparations" at the end of the opera are for five victims, not three. Any music involving them is rewritten in close harmony. Yum-Yum is left out of "Three little maids," so that the Singlettes can remain intact.


I might have enjoyed another performance of this Mikado, but the video version is simply too overwrought with improvised gags. As it stands, I rank this lowest of the three Essgee productions. It has been issued commercially in both PAL and NTSC formats.

There is also a CD that features just the mega-mix (extended curtain-call music) from Pirates and Mikado. The latter includes the Australian cast (Simon Gallaher as Nanki-Poo, Helen Donaldson as Yum-Yum, and Geraldine Turner as Katisha). However, it is only five or six minutes of music. This CD was on the market only briefly before being withdrawn due to a union squabble.

After I posted this review, Mel Moratti wrote with a more favorable impression:

I tend to disagree. I saw this production twice on stage and many times on video. Although there were untold 'improvisations', they were not changed nightly as you seem to suggest. The same gags were in both performances I saw, as well as the video. Nor did the productions drag. What you see on video was the same as I saw in both performances. A lot of what was taking place on stage was not captured by the cameras. There seemed to be just so much going on all the time. However the performance of H.M.S. Pinafore I saw was another matter. The entire sound system collapsed just before the entrance of Sir Joseph. The show came to a stop, and the cast certainly entertained the audience by improvising for 20 minutes.

Issue History
1995 EMI CD 8822642 A "demo" CD including just the mega-mix from Mikado and Pirates
1995 Essgee Entertainment VHS PAL, NSTC [no number]  
2001 Essgee Entertainment VHS PAL, NTSC [no number] Box set including the Essgee Pirates, Mikado and Pinafore. This set includes the New Zealand performance of Pirates.