Young Victorian Theatre Company G&S since 1971 in Baltimore, MD USA

Show Info

A Note About The Mikado

An Open Letter

On behalf of the entire Young Victorian Theatre Company, We would like to extend our warmest welcome to you during our 48th consecutive season of Gilbert & Sullivan in Baltimore.

We are thrilled to announce that this summer marks the beginning of a three-year celebration leading up to the Young Vic’s 50th season in 2020, which will feature an anniversary production of The Pirates of Penzance, a wonderful gala in July 2020 that will include many Young Victorian Theatre alumni, and the anticipated successful completion of our 50 Year Anniversary endowment campaign.

It is hard to believe that all this grew out of a group of talented high school kids who, in March, 1971, had just finished performing a joint Gilman/Bryn Mawr high school production of The Mikado.

How fitting, then, to lead off our golden anniversary celebration with the very Gilbert & Sullivan classic that led to the creation of the Young Victorian Theatre Company (initially Gilman Summer Theatre) in the summer of 1971.

For years, The Mikado (along with HMS Pinafore and The Pirates of Penzance) had been one of the Savoyard “Big Three,” guaranteed to lure large audiences, and there was quite a buzz surrounding this Gilman-based high school musical, the first to be produced by the school in years.

There is an old saying that “The Sun Never Sets on The Mikado” – just as it never sets on the British Empire – because for many years, The Mikado was always being performed somewhere in the world. No show, past or present, has ever matched the memorable melodies and salient, topical political humor of The Mikado.

The influence of the show doesn’t stop there. The 2000 film Topsy Turvy, about the creative process Gilbert & Sullivan themselves faced in making The Mikado, won the New York Film Critics Award for Best Picture. The melodies from this show are pervasive in modern culture, from shows such as HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm to modern day movies such as Foul Play and Chariots of Fire.

The Mikado has given us familiar expressions used as much today as in 1885, such as “Let the Punishment Fit the Crime,” “The Flowers that Bloom in the Spring,” and “There’s Lots of Good Fish in the Sea.”

However, over the last few years, The Mikado has been criticized for being culturally insensitive. Some have suggested that the show encourages caricature of Asians and Asian culture and should no longer be produced, that it’s simply an anachronistic product of its time. Several G&S groups have stopped performing the show, while others have completely revamped its setting, dialogue and lyrics.

This all presents a dilemma for companies like the Young Victorian Theatre Company, and, after much careful deliberation, we have decided to produce a classic Mikado, with minor adjustments to respect the need for appreciation of and sensitivity to the concerns of all cultures. There are a number of reasons for this decision.

To begin, and what needs to be remembered, is that The Mikado was created as a satire of the British people and culture, not the Japanese. As the Wikipedia page on the show so aptly writes:

The work has been translated into numerous languages and is one of the most frequently played musical theatre pieces in history. Setting the opera in Japan, an exotic locale far away from Britain, allowed Gilbert to satire British politics and institutions more freely by disguising them as Japanese. Gilbert used foreign or fictional locales in several operas, including The Mikado, Princess Ida, The Gondoliers, Utopia, Limited and The Grand Duke, to soften the impact of his pointed satire of British institutions.

And, as the noted British humorist G. K. Chesterton observed, “I doubt if there is a single joke in the whole play that fits the Japanese, but all the jokes in the play fit the English.”

Much of the criticism leveled at the production centers on show elements that could potentially be viewed as insulting to Asian culture, e.g., Kabuki style make-up (something YVT has never done), shuffling strides and exaggerated wigs.

As part of our process, we also reached out to the Asian American Center of Frederick, Maryland and had a very productive dialogue. We have structured our production of The Mikado with the deepest sensitivity to all cultures in mind.

We intend to produce and perform this show as it was originally crafted, as a scathing satire of British culture, politics and mores, with a healthy infusion of contemporary American culture and political satire added for updating, to make everyone giggle. Our practice of contemporary updating is nothing new by the YVT and was embraced by Mr. Gilbert in his day.

We are ever proud of our history and hope you enjoy our production of this all-time musical classic. When the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company came to Washington, DC in 1978 with Pirates, Pinafore and Mikado, The Washington Post wrote:

…life is full of many nice things, but very few perfect things, and The Mikado was that rarity: a perfect piece of musical theatre.

With respect to all, and with the most sincere of artistic and musical intent, we hope you enjoy the show.

Brian S. Goodman
General Manager

Anne C. Stuzin
President, Board of Directors

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The Young Victorian Theatre Company is a nonprofit professional summer repertory theatre.