Nanki-Poo, the heir to the Mikado of Japan, has fled his father’s court disguised as a wandering musician to escape marriage to the elderly (and undesirable) Katisha.
On a previous visit to the town of Titipu, he fell in love with the beautiful Yum-Yum, but fled on learning that she was engaged to the cheap tailor Ko-Ko, who is her guardian.
Act I begins as Nanki-Poo returns to Titipu after hearing that Ko-Ko has been condemned to death for the “crime” of flirting. But he is informed by Pish-Tush and the haughty Pooh-Bah that Ko-Ko has been reprieved and elevated to the office of Lord High Executioner. Titipu’s authorities reason the flirting executions will halt, that is, until Ko-Ko cuts off his own head.
Yum-Yum enters, accompanied by her sisters Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo, and greets Nanki-Poo with obvious affection – but admits that all notions of marriage are hopeless, despite their mutual passion.
Meanwhile, Ko-Ko has his own problems. The Mikado is displeased that no executions have taken place in Titipu and demands the situation remedied within a month.
With no good alternative to executing himself, Ko-Ko encounters a rejected and despairing Nanki-Poo on the verge of suicide. Upon hearing Nanki-Poo’s determination to undertake such a drastic act (which is also a capital crime), Ko-Ko realizes he can have his execution and his bride too, merely by permitting Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for one month.
But at the end of that period, Nanki-Poo must present himself to be executed. Everyone celebrates the impending wedding, until their merriment is interrupted by the arrival of Katisha, who tries to finger Nanki-Poo as the Mikado’s son. But Yum-Yum, who by now knows his true identity, thwarts Katisha’s attempts, who vengefully vows to return.
Act II begins with the maidens attiring Yum-Yum for her wedding. But her happiness is overshadowed by the thought that her bridegroom must die so soon. Then to make matters worse, Ko-Ko makes the discovery of a law that decrees the widow of an executed man must be buried alive.
As Yum-Yum is reluctant to marry under such conditions, Nanki-Poo resumes his original plan of suicide. When Ko-Ko learns that the Mikado is arriving even sooner than expected, he devises a plan to get his scheme back on track. He will pretend to execute Nanki-Poo, who must quickly make himself scarce (and does so by leaving on his honeymoon with Yum-Yum).
The Mikado arrives with Katisha seeking his son, and dispenses his theories on crime and punishment. Ko-Ko, Pitti-Sing and Pooh-Bah, thinking he wants an execution, successfully hoodwink the Mikado with gory details of their phony one.
That is, until Katisha discovers the death certificate with Nanki-Poo’s name, whereupon the three conspirators find themselves now condemned to die.
The only way out, it appears is for Ko-Ko to woo and marry Katisha himself. With her taken care of, the three confess their deception, using pretzel-like logic that merely flatters, but ultimately satisfies the Mikado. With all matters resolved, all of Titipu celebrates the return of the happy couple Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum.
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The Young Victorian Theatre Company is funded by an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive. Funding for the Maryland State Arts Council is also provided by the National Endowment for the Arts, a federal agency, which believes that a great nation deserves great art.