Gilbert & Sullivan- the Mikado

Alex Ewanyk American Musical Theater History Writing Assignment 1 Gilbert & Sullivan: The Mikado 2/7/13 Most would agree to say that two is better than one. William Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan are by any means no exception to this. Gilbert, a playwright, and Sullivan, a composer, combined their talents to make the dream team of musical theatre. Together they have made some of the greatest and sophisticated musicals the world will ever see. The best of their shows are still being performed today, one of which is their famous musical, The Mikado.
The Mikado is a comical musical which poked fun at a few aspects of England’s culture at the time. It quickly became popular among both the British and Americans. It eventually became popular in many other countries, which was an extraordinary feat at the time. Gilbert and Sullivan have an interesting history before coming together to make their great works such as The Mikado. Before William Gilbert started writing, he was an attorney. On the side he would write poems which led to a series of his illustrated comical poems getting published by a few popular British magazines.
This eventually opened the door to his career as a playwright. During the time Gilbert was starting his writing career, Arthur Sullivan was already making waves as a serious composer. He knew this was what he wanted to do with his life and for good reason. He was a great composer who could make a song to fit any mood. Sullivan was already making a great deal of money with his works and felt very comfortable, but both he and Gilbert could never have foreseen what was next to come. In the 1860’s John Hillingshead, the owner of the Gaiety Theatre hired Gilbert to write and Sullivan to compose their first work together titled Thepsis.

In the crowd at the showing of Thepsis was aspiring producer Richard D’Oyly Carte and saw something in the work of Gilbert and Sullivan. He eventually contacts them to write a curtain raiser which turned out to be very profitable. After the money started coming in, G;S were hooked. From then on, their career together officially started. The rest is history. One of Gilbert and Sullivan’s most famous work was a comedy called The Migato. The synopsis of this amusing musical is as follows. Before the story begins, Nanki-Poo, the Mikado’s son, fled from his father’s palace to escape being forced to marry Katisha, an elderly lady of the court.
Nanki-Poo has become a traveling performer who falls in love with Yum-Yum, however he can’t marry her because Ko-Ko, her guardian, has decided to marry her himself. Nanki-Poo learns that Ko-Ko has been sentenced to death for violating the Mikado’s law against flirting. Nanki-Poo arrives in Titipu to determine if Ko-Ko has been executed, and therefore, if Yum-Yum is free to marry him. He encounters Pooh-Bah, a corrupt public official, and Pish-Tush, a noble, who informs him that Ko-Ko was saved at the last moment by a set of events, and then raised to the high rank of Lord High Executioner.
Nanki-Poo loses hope when he learns that Ko-Ko plans to marry Yum-Yum immediately. There have been no executions in Titipu since Ko-Ko became Lord High Executioner. Ko-Ko receives a letter from The Mikado ordering him to execute someone or else lose his position as Lord High Executioner. As Ko-Ko ponders his dilemma of trying to find someone to execute, Nanki-Poo appears, saying that he’s going to commit suicide because he can’t marry Yum-Yum, the women he loves. Ko-Ko offers to allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for one month, after which, he will become his execution victim.
Suddenly, Katisha appears and discovers Nanki-Poo, her lost love. After she is driven away, she rushes to inform the Mikado that his son has been found. As it goes into Act II, Yum-Yum is preparing for her one-month marriage to Nanki-Poo. Ko-Ko arrives with the shocking revelation that he has discovered a law decreeing that when a married man is executed, his widow must be buried alive. Because of this the marriage between Yum-Yum and Nanki-Poo is canceled. Nevertheless, Ko-Ko must find a “substitute” for execution or he will be decapitated by The Mikado. Nanki-Poo contrives a solution to save Ko-Ko’s life.
A false contract confirming his own execution, but in exchange, he must be allowed to marry Yum-Yum and leave the country forever. Ko-Ko agrees. The Mikado finally arrives in Titipu. Ko-Ko believes that the purpose of his visit is to confirm that an execution has taken place so he produces the contract and proceeds to describe the execution with gusto. However, The Mikado has actually come to Titipu in search of his lost son and learns from the contract that Ko-Ko and his ministers executed his son. He declares them guilty of “composing the death of the Heir Apparent”.
Their only hope to avoid execution is to show Nanki-Poo’s alive. Nanki-Poo hesitates to reveal himself, fearing that if Katisha learns that he has married Yum-Yum she will have him executed. The dilemma is resolved by Ko-Ko, who, at Nanki-Poo’s suggestion, woos, wins, and weds Katisha. In the end, all conflicts are put to an end as they celebrate Nanki-Poo’s marriage to Yum-Yum and Ko-Ko’s marriage to Katisha. This show quickly became extremely popular in England due to how it related to them but was also popular in the U. S. because of how funny, amusing, and ingenious it was.
During the time The Mikado was created, the British were going through an “all things Japanese” craze. They were in a sense obsessed with the Japanese culture and customs for some reason. So in a sense, Gilbert was poking fun at this obsession while writing this play which centers on Japan in a humorous fashion. Let it be understood that he wasn’t making fun of Japan, but playing with the fact that people were trying to mimic the Japanese ways. As The Mikado got introduced to the U. S. , Americans actually started to adopt this trend of all things Japanese. “Mikado-Mania” was the name given to the American craze.
A funny fact about The Mikado is that it’s one of the few musicals that every caused a diplomatic argument. When the prince of Japan visited England in 1907, the work was temporarily banned from being performed. This ban in turn backfired because the prince actually was hoping to see the play during his visit. This fact alone shows how widespread talk of The Mikado was. Gilbert and Sullivan will go down in history as one of the greatest stage musical teams of all time, if not the greatest. With works like The Mikado, how could they not be one of the greatest?
Their plays have even been performed in other languages such as French, German, and Yiddish. After 120 years The Mikado is still one of the most frequently produced musicals of all time and fully deserves to be. Bibliography Ainger, Michael. Gilbert and Sullivan: A Dual Biography. N. p. : Oxford UP, 2002. Print. Kenrick, John. “Gilbert & Sullivan 101. ” Musicals101. com. N. p. , 2000. Web. 1 Feb. 2013. ;http://www. musicals101. com/g;s101. htm;. “Plot Summary. ” Gilbert and Sullivan Archive. N. p. , n. d. Web. 06 Feb. 2013. ;http://math. boisestate. edu/gas/mikado/html/summary. html;.

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