The production of The Mikado planned to play in December of 2016, proved to be a very sensitive topic to what would have been future audiences. The Mikado a musical originally written by Gilbert and Sullivan, is a show that tells the story of Ninki-Poo the son of Mikado, who has fled his father to escape a planned marriage with Katisha. He then meets YumYum during his travels and falls in love with her. However YumYum is already betrothed to her guardian Koko.
The show originally opened in London on March 14, 1885. At the Savoy Theater it ran for 672 performances which was a huge accomplishment. Trying to honor the success of the show to current day audiences, producer David Wannan attempted a revival of The Mikado in New York City. The to-be show set in Japan, involved a 40 member company with only 2 actors being Asian. With the sight of just the flyer, Asian American communities were outraged. They felt uncomfortable and stereotyped to have Caucasian actors in what is known as “yellow face” to represent Asian features.
So how does the Creative Team of the show respond to this? There would really only be three options: 1. continue the show and send out a press release explaining the show is in no way meant to offend the Asian race, but only resemble it. 2. To recast the show with Asian members, or 3. To cancel the show altogether.
The company’s decision to cancel the show that was planned to be released Dec. 26-Jan. 2, 2016, was ultimately the right decision. To re-cast the show when their idea of the show was already planned and put to the test, would not only be difficult, time consuming, and more expensive for them, it would also be obstructing the producer’s ideas of the show. The actors hired in this case, were not cast based on race, they were cast based on talent. Either way a production is put on for the audience, and if members of the audience are against its morals or acts there is simply no way the show can go on. Even the people that were not against the show, may feel uncomfortable going to see it when so many others are against its portrayals. So overall, what I know I have learned from this, is that the producers of a show need to be able to see the show from all other perspectives of people and not just their own.
On a positive note, Wannan ended up publicly stating, “Thanks to all for the constructive criticism,’’ he went on. “We sincerely hope that the living legacy of Gilbert & Sullivan remains a source of joy for many generations to come.” Wannan is a huge fan of Gilbert and Sullivan and wanted to further support their talent by reviving one of their most well-known shows. However, the world is a changing place and things that were so successful and inspiring years ago, may be considered something else today.
In my own opinion, acting is all about portraying something you are not… so white people dressed up as Asian actors are in no way meant to offend others, but represent others and become them in a realistic way. When it comes to musical theater, race and gender can’t be seen as so controversial because it leaves no creativity to the idea of theater and the arts. It is constricting what could be. However, I do understand people being sensitive, judgmental, critical, and honest. In the world we are in, these ideas affect us greatly. Which makes me question could there ever be a real legacy of musical theater or of heroes in general? That is just something the world will have to decide on its own.
Check out this video on how The Mikado Makeup is done:
P.S I painted those stairs for my high school performance of The Mikado!
copyright: Carly Ristuccia