In 1885 , Daimler invented the petrol
Benz produced the world's first gasoline car. Pasteur discovered a
against rabies, and Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck. General Gordon died
Khartoum, and Brisbane saw its first horse tram. Sydney University
first woman student in Medicine, and Sheet Anchor won the Melbourne
Cup. And at
the Savoy Theatre, London, the curtain went up for the first time on '
Japanese opera in two acts by W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan'.
is universally acknowledged as
Sullivan's masterpiece - not so much a national as an international
treasure. And yet, surprisingly, the two collaborators almost parted
over writing a new piece to follow the only moderately successful
Sullivan had 'come to the end of his tether' setting Gilbert's words
the music 'is never allowed to rise and speak for itself'. Gilbert felt
'considerable pain' at his partner's comments which he hoped did not
gall and wound' him as they obviously did.
Gilbert stubbornly proposed a rehash on one
favourite themes: the magic lozenge plot in which characters changed
once they consumed the mind-altering pill. Sullivan was adamantly
what he felt was this artificial story and wrote to Gilbert that
discussion was useless'. It seemed as if the partnership between
Sullivan had crashed ...until fortunately for lovers of comic opera,
else crashed: a Japanese sword hanging in Gilbert's study.
And the rest, as they say, is theatre
Though even then, tension haunted
Grossmith, the much loved comedian of the Savoy company, found
directing more then normally hectoring. At one rehearsal, anxious to
extra laugh, GG as Ko-Ko fell over and rolled on the floor. 'Kindly
snapped Gilbert. 'certainly, if you wish it,' replied the peeved star,
get an enormous laugh by it.' 'so you would if you sat on a pork pie,'
reply. With this atmosphere prevailing in rehearsal, it's hardly
that on opening night GG forgot the words of I've Got A Little List.
At one audition for The Mikado, a young lady
Gilbert if he had any preference for a song. Gilbert humphed that as
far as he
was concerned, one thing was as good as another, so the soprano obliged
aria from La traviata. 'Yes,
Mrs Armstrong, that is alright,' observed
writer/director as the lady's face dropped. 'And if you go on studying
another year, there might be a chance that we could give you a small
The Mikado. ' The young
Australian lady later became known as Nellie
But Gilbert, too, was nervous. Just before
night, he decided to cut The
Mikado's song, My Object All,
and it was
to the persuasion of the chorus that he gave way and allowed it to
Yum-Yum's The Moon And I was
moved from Act One to Act Two because the
was too breathless to sing it after Three
Little Maids From School -
just as well, since on opening night, 14th March, 1885, the trio
And ever since that historic premiere, The
any and every imaginable - and unimaginable - production has played
triumphantly to audiences in their millions.
Apart from the much-loved traditional D'Oyly
production faithfully recreating Gilbert's original concept - at one
four separate D'Oyly Carte companies were touring the United Kingdom
simultaneously - there was a Royal Command Performance for Queen
Balmoral Castle (Her Majesty was not terribly amused) and productions
France, Holland, Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Germany. Even Russia saw a
production directed by the great Stanislavsky.
And long before tonight's Pirates did The
Gilbert and Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte had to contend with real producer
staging versions of The Mikado
all over America. To rid the stage of
theatrical buccaneers robbing the booty of authors' royalties, D'Oyly
sent no fewer than five different companies of the authorised Savoy
around the United States and Canada.
In 1907, a London revival of The Mikado was
because of a Japanese prince's visit to England. Since then, New York,
and Paris have seen a hot Mikado, a cool Mikado, A Follies Bergere
Swing Mikado, A Black Mikado, a silent film, a ballet , a colour movie
productions by the English National Opera. During World War Two, there
a performance by allied prisoners in Changi Prison Camp. The 50's saw a
Television Hour version featuring Groucho Marx as Ko-Ko, Stanley
Helen Traubel. There are at least three videos including one by The
Opera. And, of course, it is the most recorded G & S opera on disc.
Australia first saw The Mikado on November
starring the inimitable Howard Vernon as Ko-Ko. Heart-throb, Nellie
played Yum-Yum, and the famous Savoy contralto, Alice Barnett, who
in The Pirates of Penzance both in London and New York, sang Katisha.
conductor was Sullivan's friend and composer of a number of savoy
Alfred Cellier. Howard Vernon and his company also took a production of
Mikado to a bewildered China and Japan.
Famous Ko-Ko's in England have included
Sir Henry Lytton, Martyn Green, Peter Pratt, John Reed, Frankie Howerd
Idle. Australian audiences have chuckled over the little lists of Ivan
Grahame Clifford, Dennis Olsen and Graeme Ewer.
After the overwhelming success Simon
Entertainment had with The Pirates
of Penzance in 1994, Gallaher did
serious thinking about his company which had now carved a success of
against the odds and brought together a valuable core of creative
Pirates was unquestionably a dream come true for him and brought a
the way musical theatre was produced and presented. The next project
be a reality because of the success of Pirates. From audience
unprecedented return seasons, a television broadcast which received an
of over 2,000,000 Australians, and a video release which quickly became
the country's best selling videos - quickly going Platinum - the
for The Pirates had been unfailing.
To set these Pirates on their new adventure
the task at hand. Gallaher had loved Mikado
since he was a
historically the most popular of their works. Gallaher wrote his first
adaptation of Mikado at 16 as
a Rock & Roll version. (Nanki-Poo was
going to be a rock guitar player.) With tastes now a little mellowed, Gallaher's
bring an original version of The
Mikado to the stage had always
It was only some four weeks after Pirates had
full rehearsals commenced for the new Mikado.
This meant that Gallaher
team were working on the project many months prior to the completion of
Pirates season. The creative
team was maintained from Pirates
casting elements including Drew Forsythe and Geraldine Turner. Back on
were The Fabulous Singlettes
(with Simon's sister Andrea now one of the
So too was Helen Donaldson and of course Jon and Simon. Graham Maclean
a set around the brief that it should be similar to Pirates and able to
in repertory as a two-in-one package if need be. The Mikado set uses
identical steel frame to the Pirates
set with a revised cladded shell.
Kevin Hocking was orchestrating for the last
months of the Pirates season
and the Pirates orchestra was
score over that time and tapes were shuffled to and from U.S.A. so
choreographer Craig Schaefer could do advance work on the choreography.
Morrow did many script revisions and the piece was trimmed in some
areas due to
it being considerably longer than modern day audiences are now used to.
were still being made up to opening night with the girls entrance song
"Comes a Train of Little Ladies"
being cut due to the length of the
As Tim Tyler was so unique in the casting of
Gallaher was determined to have a similar 'surprise' element in the
Mikado and this was more
than achieved with the casting of David Gould
title role. Gallaher had seen Gould perform in the Australian tour of
"South Pacific" in a small
role but was captivated by the incredible
bass voice and physique to match. After discussing several concept
the role with director Schaefer, Gallaher immediately knew that David
going to be perfect. During the rehearsal process, the Mikado's number
Object All Sublime' was rewritten and rechoreographed three
Gallaher was determined to make the number a showstopper. The effort
worth it as it raised the roof every performance gaining great kudos
who was nominated for both a Green Room and Mo Award.
The role of Katisha (as Ruth before her)
again went to
a credible theatrical performer in Geraldine Turner. Although the part
offered originally to Rhonda Burchmore, Rhonda became pregnant and was
to accept. Geraldine's services had been offered to Simon however it
time to finalise arrangements. The association with Turner was
day one and her contract finally came to an abrupt and controversial
four months into the run during the Melbourne season. She was replaced
highly respected but underrated performer Bev Shean. Bev had studied
for several months prior to taking over. Bev went on to play the
the Australian season, as well as the 1996 New Zealand and Australian
season clocking up more performances than Turner as well as playing the
The video of The Mikado was made in New
Zealand due to
Australian Actors' Equity demands being unviable. It is therefore with
Zealand cast and not with the original 1995 cast. Mikado's video
selling at a pace equal to Pirates as the public was hungry for the
instalment to take home. Video and DVD sales soon attained double-Platinum status and it has since been broadcast on pay-tv in Australia and The United Kingdom.
Gallaher sold and marketed The Mikado on the
and success of The Pirates
saying 'if you liked the Pirates,
The Mikado!'. He wasn't wrong with 100% attendances returning
the soon-to-be trilogy of Gallaher's Gilbert & Sullivan. Ironically
favourite in Australia was always Pirates
and critics often compared
shows, generally siding with Pirates
as being Number One. In New
opposite happened when Mikado
opened first and in its own right for the
time. Pirates following some
six months later. New Zealanders claim
Mikado is the greater which may only go to prove that it is only
comes first in this style of performance and marketing strategy.
delighted with The Mikado and
was gratified particularly with its
New Zealand as he essentially had succeeded in staging Part Two (or the
in Australia) as the leader in the other country with Pirates and
follow in very big footsteps.
finally closed in Perth in August
longer season and more performances than Pirates) where the entire cast
transferred the following day to commence rehearsals for a new (and now
Pirates season in New
Zealand. This was also a great feat in the
twentieth century where Gallaher had successfully mounted a new
company of actors which could work continually and go from one show to
- one country to the next.
scored many awards including Green
for Best Direction/Music Direction...Kevin Hocking; Best Actor...Drew
& Best Design...Graham Maclean. Although Gallaher himself did not
role of Nanki-Poo in either New Zealand or the return season to
made a surprise return to the role for one performance on the last
Perth. In the very final performance he made another cameo appearance
conclusion of the show as Frederic from Pirates to announce that they
sacked. The Emperor of Japan concluded proceedings with the final line
could possibly be more satisfactory!'.
In 2008 Gallaher staged a revised production of The Mikado especially for Brisbane's QPAC Lyric Theatre. Again the show was to be reconceptualised primarily around the key players Gallaher cast. This production was the first time Gallaher had not cast Jon English as one of the cast. Gallaher wanted an entirely new approach to the casting and style and to put a new 21st Century stamp on his style of Gilbert and Sullivan. Gallaher was also not one of the new cast, passing his former role of Nanki-Poo to newcomer Graeme Isaako. However Helen Donaldson returned to recreate the role of Yum-Yum. So too was David Gould to return in the title role. Gallaher had many new ideas and set about casting the remaining roles with a very short lead time as QPAC's theatre had become available at the last minute. The original set was restored and costumes were reconstructed from Graham Maclean's original designs. Ko-Ko was always the definitive G&S comic role and it was important that this pivotal part was correctly cast. Gallaher asked David Collins who was primarily a mine and comedy artist from the successful duo act named The Umbilical Brothers. Collins was a one-off and almost single-handedly brought the freshness and innovation to this new production. In Jon English's former role, another comedian from another comic duo completed the casting combination. Colin Lane from the former duo act Lano and Woodley played a newer and dryer comic in his well conceived role of Pooh-Bah. Lane made the role his own and fully escaped the shadow of Jon English. The final touch of casting was creating a new interpretation of Katisha. Gallaher's friend and singing associate Julie Anthony played the part with a touch of fading glamour and comic pathos as well as singing the role in her unique and unfaltering style. The Brisbane-only season was a success and suddenly raised the interest of theatre owners across the country but the world's financial crisis was looming and Gallaher reluctantly resisted a full tour. He did however re-mount the production in 2009 for a summer season in Adelaide to more acclaim.
See The History of The Pirates of Penzance
The History of HMS Pinafore