The Mikado

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company understands and appreciates the issue regarding The Mikado and the negative racial stereotypes that the work has perpetuated with it’s traditional “yellowface” portrayal of Asian characters by primarily Caucasian actors.

While some theater companies might respond to the controversy by choosing not to perform the piece, the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company believes that The Mikado is an extraordinary, classic theatrical work that should be performed, with the firm conviction that that which is best about the piece … it’s beautiful music, its’s delightful dialogue and hilarious storyline … can be preserved while that which is inappropriate can be removed.

Like other companies that choose to produce The Mikado, the Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company understands that in order do so, the operetta must be “reimagined” so as to eliminate the negative racial stereotypes.

The Company made its first attempt to “reimagine” The Mikado with its 2016 Summer Concert performance of The Mikado.  In this concert presentation of the operetta, all references to Japan were removed from the text.  The character of the Mikado was referred to as the Emperor.  The names of almost all of the characters were changed to variants of the originals.  The Japanese texts were changed.  “Miya Sama” was rendered in a free translation of the original Japanese song upon which the piece was based, “Mighty Monarch, fearless leader, Marching in the thund’ring dawn, Banners flutter bright to meet you, And the horse you’re on.  Get it done, fearless leader, get it done.”  Gilbert’s original, nonsensical Japanese text, “O ni, bikkuri shakkuri to!” was rendered as an equally nonsensical, “Oh, my pinkery stubbery toe!”  This text, however, was not an attempt at translation, but one that simply rhymed with the surrounding texts and had the right number of syllables!  

This revised concert presentation of The Mikado was well received by the huge audiences in attendance. This was confirmation for the company that the work can be performed successfully with the negative stereotypes removed.  The challenge remained, however, as to how to “reimagine” a fully stage version of the operetta.

In 2013, Twin Cities based Skylark Opera, in collaboration with Mu Performing Arts, staged The Mikado, setting it in Edwardian England.  The production sold out and received overwhelming critical praise.  It was cited nationally as an example of how The Mikado could be staged without the negative racial stereotypes.  The production was directed by Rick Shiomi, a Twin Cities based, nationally known, award winning playwright, stage and artistic director.  When The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company selected The Mikado as its 2019 production, Stephen Hage, Producer, met with Mr. Shiomi to seek his advice as to how the company might stage the show.

In the course of the discussion, Mr. Shiomi shared his appreciation for The Mikado and feels that the piece can and should be produced, but with the racist elements removed.  While leaving as much of the piece as unchanged as possible, the version of the operetta that Mr. Shiomi had prepared for the Skylark Opera production had eliminated all references to Japan, modified most of the characters’ names, translated the “Japanese” lyrics into their English equivalents and set the show in a 1910 English garden instead of a 1880 Japanese garden.  Mr. Shiomi went on to express an interest in directing The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company’s production, recognizing that the company had a national and international following through its website and that presenting his version of The Mikado in that forum would demonstrate to the wider Gilbert and Sullivan community that The Mikado can be done successfully without the racism of its traditional staging.  In response, Stephen Hage immediately offered Mr. Shiomi the position of director for the production.

When rehearsals began for the 2019 production, there was significant public interest in Mr. Shiomi’s restaging his revised version of The Mikado and he was interviewed, prior to the show’s opening, by the StarTribune of the Twin Cities and the Twin Cities Arts Reader.

Following The Mikado’s opening, the operetta received extremely positive reviews, with many of those reviews discussing Mr. Shiomi’s successful efforts to present The Mikado without negative racial stereotypes, two of which included the reviews in Lavender Magazine and Compendium.

It should be noted that staging “reimagined” versions of The Mikado is nothing new.  There is something of a tradition in doing so as exemplified by the Hot Mikado, first staged in 1939 and the English National Opera production in the 1980s, with Eric Idle, which was set in a 1920s English seaside hotel.

It should also be noted that there was some objection to the “reimagined” production of The Mikado by some of the company’s more traditionally minded patrons who felt that, in staging a “reimagined” production of The Mikado, the company was capitulating to the dictates of political correctness.  The company’s response was that that was not the case and stated, by way of illustration, that no one would consider staging a “black face” production of any sort, not due to the dictates of political correctness, but because to do so would simply be wrong.  While one could argue that The Mikado was never intended to be racist, the fact that people do experience it as such, when it’s done with its traditional “yellowface” staging, is a sufficient consideration, in and of itself.

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company choses to create art that is edifying and respectful of all human beings.  We fail to do so if we ignore the clearly and reasonably articulated experience of others merely for the sake of theatrical tradition.  We succeed however, when we create art with integrity, while at the same time, taking the position of standing for what is right for all humanity.

Access to Rick Shiomi’s Revised Version of The Mikado

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company encourages other companies interested in producing The Mikado to consider using Rick Shiomi’s revised version of the operetta.

Those interested in doing so should contact Mr. Shiomi directly at: rashiomi5@gmail.com

Mr. Shiomi offers the use of his version free of charge, but requests acknowledgement of the version’s authorship in the company’s show program and website.

 

There is no song in the works of Gilbert and Sullivan that enjoys as rich a tradition having its lyrics revised as does Ko-Ko’s “I’ve Got a Little List” song.  Performers began to sing revised lyrics to the song even in Gilbert’s day.

The Gilbert & Sullivan Very Light Opera Company has done its part to maintain this tradition, performing with revised lyrics in our 2019 production and our 2007 production of The Mikado, as well as in four of its Summer Concert performances of the Show.

Our audiences have always thoroughly enjoyed our revised lyrics to this song.

In our 2019 production of The Mikado, “I’ve Got a Little List” was sung by Tyus Beesom, as Co Co, with the Men’s Chorus.  It was written by Rick Shiomi, Tom Berg and Maureen Kane Berg.

As someday it may happen that a victim must be found,
              I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list,
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
              And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!
There’s the pestilential Packer fan with cheese wedge for a hat
The Facebook “friend” who shares a daily picture of her cat
The traffic engineers who close a road a year or more
And send you on a detour back to where you were before;
And that omnipresent criminal, the texting motorist!
            I don’t think he’d be missed, I’m sure he’d not be missed!

He’s got ’em on the list; he’s got ’em on the list
And they’ll none of ’em be missed; they’ll none of them be missed.

There’s the uncle who pipes up to ruin ev’ry holiday,
          The white supremacist– I’ve got him on the list!
The kid who’s so PC he wants free speech to go away
          They’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed!
And Taylor Swift and Kanye, who pretend they’re in a spat,
And wannabes on You Tube who don’t know they’re singing flat;
The Internet tycoon who Congress calls to testify,
Who says “We will do better” as a tear comes to his eye;
He claims his real mistake is that he’s too idealist!
            You know he sold HIS list; he never would be missed.

He sold YOU with his list; got a slap upon his wrist
So I don’t think he’ll be missed, I’m sure he’d not be missed

And now I’d like to nominate each legislative stiff
             Who acts obstructionist; they never would be missed!
They’re busy dodging voting while we teeter on the cliff,
             Taking payoffs in a tryst, they never would be missed!
All paparazzi, robo-callers, ev’ry Russian bot,
And lobbyists who still deny the world is getting hot;
And talking heads like What’s-Her-Name and also You-Know-Who;
The task of filling in the blanks I’d rather leave to you;
And that fount of such anxiety, the Orange Narcissist,
            Who Stormy Daniels “kissed”: I know he’d not be missed!

That Wall Enthusiast, who’s always acting pissed,
He never would be missed; They’ll none of them be missed!

In our 2007 production of The Mikado, “I’ve Got a Little List” was sung by Peter Hedlezky, as Ko-Ko, with the Men’s Chorus.

There’s the tenor serenader, oh, we’d stop him if we could,
         And the Swedish organist, I’ve got him on the list!
The people who eat lutefisk and claim it’s rather good,
         They never would be missed, they never would be missed!
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
And the lady from New Brighton, who dresses like a guy,
And who “doesn’t think she dances but would rather like to try.”
And that singular anomaly, the Senator Bill Frist
       I don’t think he’ll be missed, I’m sure he’ll not be missed!

There’s the driver with the Happy Meal who’s talking on the phone,
         The careless motorist, I’ve got him on the list!
The telephone solicitors who won’t leave you alone,
         They never would be missed, they never would be missed!
There’s the waiter with the piercings, who can put you off the food,
Debaters on the radio who specialize in rude,
The patriot who waves the flag, then flies it in the rain,
American’s who never vote but know how to complain,
And those who thought those mass destruction weapons did exist.
          They never would be missed, they never would be missed!

 

The following version of the “I’ve Got a Little List” song was performed by Felix Aguilar Tomlinson, as Ko-Ko, at our 2016 Summer Concert performance of The Mikado.  It was written by Tom Berg and Maureen Kane Berg, with a third verse nod to the 2016 presidential campaign.

As someday it may happen that a victim must be found,
         I’ve got a little list – I’ve got a little list,
Of society offenders who might well be underground,
        And who never would be missed – who never would be missed!
There’s the robo-caller phoning when you’re sitting down to eat;
The high school kid who knocks at midnight, shouting “Trick or treat!”
Receptionists who make you wait a half an hour more;
And golfers who will smack your head and only then yell “Fore”;
The fool drowned out by airplanes, the Mikado soloist,
         I don’t think he’d be missed, I’m sure he’d not be missed!

There’s the driver who will barge into the crossroad and get stuck,
          And the texting motorist – I’ve got them on the list;
The clown who takes the last two parking spaces with his truck.
          He never would be missed, he never would be missed!
And traffic engineers who close a road a month or more,
And send you on a detour back to where you were before;
And airlines who have made their flights a tiresome ordeal,
With tiny seats and bag of mini-pretzels as a meal;
And travelers who zip by on the TSA-Pre list,
           They’d none of them be missed, they’d none of them be missed!

But this year I would start with all political buffoons who act obstructionist.
          I’ve got them on the list;
Who whistle past a crisis with the same old tired tunes.
          They never would be missed, they never would be missed!
All hosts on Fox and CNN and MSNBC;
All those who post on Facebook and who disagree with me;
And candidates like what’s-his-name and also you-know-who.
The task of filling up the blanks I’d rather leave to you;
And that singular anomaly, the orange narcissist, who Marla Maples kissed.
          I know he’d not be missed!

The following version of the “I’ve Got a Little List” song was performed by Mather Dolph, as Ko-Ko, at our 2010 Summer Concert performance of The Mikado.  It was written by Mather Dolph, with input by Mark Alt.

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
        I’ve got a little list–I’ve got a little list
Of some modern-day offenders who might well be underground,     
        And who never would be missed–who never would be missed!
There’s the youth who keeps his IPOD turned on 7-24.     
The folks who use one parking spot, and then a little more.
The crashing bore who thinks his every thought is worth a TWEET.
That self-absorbed ex-Cavalier – we’ll let him feel the “Heat.”
And the nitwit who let out of jail the Libyan terrorist
          I don’t think he’ll be missed–I’m sure he’ll not he missed!

And here’s a character with whom we all have had some gripes:  
          The Wall Street lobbyist.  I’ve got him on the list.
And while we’re at it lets add politicians of ALL stripes.    
           They’d none of ’em be missed–They’d none of ’em be missed.
And those angry TV talking heads who rant like Captain Blye.
Except, of course, the thoughtful ones who think like you and I.
That BP CEO should clean up every oily spot.
But off he goes to England to go sailing on his yacht.
But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list,    
          For they’d none of ’em be missed–they’d none of ’em be missed!

The following version of the “I’ve Got a Little List” song was performed by Mather Dolph, as Ko-Ko, at our 2006 Summer Concert performance of The Mikado.  It was written by Mather Dolph.

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
         I’ve got a little list–I’ve got a little list
Of some modern-day offenders who might well be underground,
         And who never would be missed–who never would be missed!
There’s the chap who’s on his telephone while weaving down the road.
The folks who have to re-tell each Survivor episode.
The youth who keeps his IPOD turned on 7-24.
The folks who use one parking spot, and then a little more.
And just today I wouldn’t mourn the met’orologist.
          I don’t think he’ll be missed–I’m sure he’ll not he missed!

And here’s a character with whom we all should have some gripes:
          The crooked lobbyist.  I’ve got him on the list.
And while we’re at it lets add politicians of ALL stripes.
           They’d none of ’em be missed–They’d none of ’em be missed.
And I for one am fed up with those film and TV stars
Whose lives they think must be so much more int’resting than ours.
About whose love affairs and babies I don’t care a whit.
Send ALL of ‘em to Africa and drop ‘em in a “Pitt”.
But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list,
           For they’d none of ’em be missed–they’d none of ’em be missed!

The following version of the “I’ve Got a Little List” song was performed by Mather Dolph, as Ko-Ko, at our 2000 Summer Concert performance of The Mikado.  It was written by Mather Dolph and Zoe Kuester. 

As some day it may happen that a victim must be found,
        I’ve got a little list–I’ve got a little list
Of Victorian offenders who might well be underground,
         And who never would be missed–who never would be missed!
There’s the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
All centuries but this, and every country but his own;
All children who are up in dates, and floor you with ’em flat–
All persons who in shaking hands, shake hands with you like that–
And all third persons who on spoiling tete-a-tetes insist–
          They’d none of ’em be missed–they’d none of ’em be missed!

And since execrable people weren’t found just in Gilbert’s time
         We’ve got another list — we’ve got a newer list!
Of some modern day offenders who we’ve coyly put to rhyme
         And who never would be missed–they never would be missed!
There’s the marketers who wait to phone ‘til dinner’s on the plate.
Appointments that you hightail to and then they make you wait.
The folks who talk on cell phones as they’re weaving down the road.
The sorry souls who memorize each Star Trek episode.
And that singular anomaly, the tenor soloist,
         I don’t think he’ll be missed–I’m sure he’ll not he missed!

There’s the self-absorbed musician once know just as “The Artist.”
         And the tobacco lobbyist – I’ve got him on the list.
And that woman in the newspaper — the gossip columnist.
         I don’t think she’d be missed, I’m sure she’d not be missed.
And the billionaire computer nerd who doesn’t want to share.
The feather-boa-ed governor who’ll fight you on a dare.
And every misbehaving politician – you know who.
The task of filling in the names I’d rather leave to you.
But it really doesn’t matter whom you put upon the list,
        For they’d none of ’em be missed–they’d none of ’em be missed!