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University of Iowa News Release


July 14, 2011

Gilbert and Sullivan's 'Mikado' is the UI summer opera

Gilbert and Sullivan's ever-popular comic operetta "The Mikado" will be the summer production of the University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theatre, opening at 8 p.m. Thursday, July 28, in the historic Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City. Additional performances will be at 8 p.m. July 29 and 30, and at 2 p.m. Sunday, July 31.

This "Kabuki Vaudeville" production is directed by William Theisen, artistic director of Milwaukee's Skylight Opera Theatre, who has directed more than 100 opera and theater productions coast-to-coast, including UI productions of "La Boheme," "Jacque Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris" and "The Elixir of Love." The performances will be conducted by William LaRue Jones, director of orchestral studies in the UI School of Music.

Three little maids from school, a pompous government official, a wandering minstrel and a Lord High Executioner are just a few of the hilariously absurd characters in Gilbert and Sullivan's most famous operetta.

Set in the fictional Japanese town of Titipu, "The Mikado" is a tale of the beautiful school girl Yum-Yum, who is engaged to be married to Ko-Ko, the tailor-turned-Lord High Executioner, despite her love for the romantic, wandering minstrel, Nanki-Poo. Will these two young lovers find their happily-ever-after . . . or will heads roll?

Of course, although the operetta is set in a stylized fantasy of Japan, the target of Gilbert and Sullivan's pointed satire is the follies, foibles and foolishness of British culture and institutions of their time. The humor proved to have universal appeal, and by the end of the year the show opened, 1885, it has been estimated that 150 companies were performing the operetta. And it remains one of the most-produced musical comedies of all time. It even contributed the word "Poobah" to the dictionary - Poah-Bah who is haughty Lord-High-Everything-Else of Titipu.

A Japanese Exposition in London, complete with costume exhibits and tea-serving geishas, had captured the fascination of the country, and the famed team took the opportunity to capitalize on the appeal of the exotic in a story that treats issues of life and death as light entertainment.

In conceiving this new production, Theisen looked looked not only at the world of the 1880s in England, but also at the operettas theatric and musical offspring to find something "wild and wonderful."

"Certainly I wanted some of the tradition of the original 'Mikado,' but what twist could be added?" he asked. "Looking into British operetta, I saw how it led to the music hall style of entertainment, which in America became Vaudeville. And then it struck me ... traditional Japanese Kabuki theatre mixed with American Vaudeville to present a British operetta! The parallels I found between all of these forms of entertainment were amazing. Everything fit together like it was meant to be."

The cast includes UI students Adam Webb, Casey Brant, Hye Eun Choi, Brian Dykes, Jessica Faselt, Elayne Juten, Jake Koepnick, George McTyre and Laura Roche; alumni Bryce Weber, Kaitlin Galetti, Megan Hafer and Bryan Ross; UI neurology faculty member Jon Tippin; recent City High graduate Colin Berry; and Chamber Singers of Iowa City member Michael Mothershed.

Other artistic contributors to the production include lighting designer Ed McCarthy and scenic designer Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer. Most props and all costumes are from the Skylight Opera Theatre.

Tickets -- $20 for nonstudent, $15 for senior citizen, $10 youth (17 & under) and $5 for UI student with valid UI ID -- are available at the Englert box office, 319-688-2653, or online through

The Department of Theatre Arts is a unit of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Iowa Summer Rep is sponsored, in part, by the UI Office of Summer Session.

UI arts events are searchable on the UI Master Calendar: Exhibitions are searchable at To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to, click on the link "Subscribe or Unsubscribe" then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa News Services, 300 Plaza Centre One, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Winston Barclay,