While noting that Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado turns 125 this month does acknowledge some of the show's challenges, deeper issues remain. Sure, many of the references and attitudes in this classic operetta are a bit worn with age. But beyond content, the form of The Mikado is as dated as some of the jokes.
Light opera (a.k.a. comic opera) evolved from what we call just plain opera, and Gilbert & Sullivan were its undisputed masters. But light opera evolved into something as well, namely, musical theater. (It's no surprise that the early musical-theater lyricists -- Larry Hart, Ira Gershwin, Irving Berlin and Cole Porter -- all hailed lyricist William Gilbert as their inspiration.) With the right kind of talent, you can always palm off a stale joke or play through an outdated scene ... but it's a whole different ballgame when it comes to breathing life into a dead theatrical horse.
Well, maybe the horse isn't actually dead. But it sure is wheezing heavily, so you've no other choice but to admire the pluck of the Pittsburgh Savoyards, which for the past 73 years has been staging the works of G&S. Considering that those two gentlemen wrote only 13 shows together, I have to wonder just exactly how many times the Savoyards have staged The Mikado.
In any case, take that number and add one for the Savoyards' latest Mikado. Director Shane Valenzi has brought a great deal of sprightly energy to this outing. He uses the vast expanse of the stage at the Catherine Thomas Theatre to great effect, continually moving his company around and creating colorful stage pictures, along with costumes by Nils Hammer and Robin Kornides, and wig and make-up design by Katherine Patrick.
The Savoyards' company and orchestra (and name me one other local community theater group which uses a live, full orchestra) work hard to fill out the vision of Valenzi and musical director Guy Russo. I enjoyed Janette Patterson-Schafer's turn as Katisha, and Hannah Taylor's singing of "The Sun, Whose Rays Are All Ablaze" was haunting and lovely. But I would be remiss if I didn't emphasize, again, that the production was more wheezing than breathing. And I'm not sure how close this version comes to making you forget how long 125 years can be.
The Mikado continues through Sun., March 28. Catherine Thomas Theatre, Benedictine Center, 4530 Perrysville Ave., Marshall Twp. 412-734-8476 or www.pittsburghsavoyards.org