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Colourful comedy a crowd favourite

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Now that Manitoba Opera's production of the tragic Aida is over, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society is offering something much lighter and definitely more uplifting beginning tonight at 7:30 p.m. It's the wonderful operetta The Mikado, an all-time audience favourite.

The Mikado holds a special place in my heart. It was my introduction to the catchy tunes and witty lyrics that are highlights of Gilbert and Sullivan shows. My dad took me to see it in Montreal when I was about 10 years old. I remember sitting in the front row, completely absorbed in the music, the Japanese costumes and the performers, whom I found hysterical. It was a whole new world opening up to me.

When Hanukkah came a few months later, I was delighted to receive a D'Oyly Carte recording of The Mikado with the great Martyn Green as Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. I must have listened to that recording every day for months, learning all the words and singing along. I still have that battered old boxed set today.

The G&S Society consistently produces first-class shows year after year. The cast is a combination of veteran performers and fresh young singers, many of whom are getting their first chance to play on a big stage in front of a large audience.

That was the case for 27-year-old baritone Sam Plett, who debuted with the society as a memorable Pooh-Bah in their last mounting of The Mikado in 2006. This year he plays the title role and is looking forward to opening night.

"The Mikado is some of the best work of both Gilbert and Sullivan," he said in a phone interview. "The music is delightful."

This will be the fifth show the talented Steinbach native has done with the G&S Society and he values the time with his colleagues.

"It feels like a family. I've always liked working with (director Reid Harrison). He gives me lots of freedom. He lets you play around with your role and doesn't try to mould or shape your interpretation."

Soprano Amanda Bruneau, who plays Yum-Yum, ward of Ko-Ko (don't the names indicate that this is a spoof?) and love interest of the wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo, agrees. "Reid provides soft guidance during rehearsals," she says. "He never says, 'This is how you should feel.'"

Bruneau played Yum-Yum before at her alma mater, Canadian Mennonite University. "It's a favourite of mine and is a lot of fun. It's amazing to have an opportunity to do it again. I can delve deeper into the character."

The 25-year-old studied with Henriette Schellenberg, loves opera and musical theatre, and has sung in past G&S productions and with The Little Opera Company. She is a student teacher at Oakbank Elementary School.

"I love to teach full-time and perform on the side," she says. "In an ideal world I'd be performing all the time, but that means being away from my husband, family and dog. My dream role is Belle in Beauty and the Beast and I'd like to do Rainbow Stage."

Plett, who studied with Mel Braun, has had the Rainbow Stage experience, playing Old Deuteronomy in Cats last year. He was part of a Christmas cabaret that toured Vancouver Island in 2012 and is off to Charlottetown, P.E.I., this June to star in Forever Plaid.

Other young performers in The Mikado include Michael Dueck as Pish-Tush and Wes Rambo as Nanki-Poo. Bruneau calls Rambo "very talented. We naturally have onstage chemistry that works."

The inimitable Fred Cross reprises his role as Ko-Ko, and, according to Plett, he has "added some delightful touches to As some day it may happen," (the famous "little list" song). Plett likens librettist Gilbert's humour to that of Monty Python. "Lots of people my age still like that," he says.

Versatile veteran alto Donnalynn Grills plays Katisha, the older woman also in love with Nanki-Poo. Michelle Mourre directs the orchestra and Harrison proclaims there are "fabulous costumes that Taras Koral and Harlequin Costumes designed."

This promises to be a colourful and thoroughly entertaining show for the whole family.

All four shows are at the Pantages Playhouse Theatre: tonight, Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a Saturday matinee at 2:30 p.m. Tickets are $35/adults and $15/students and children, available at 204-957-7842 or www.manitoba

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 24, 2013 D3

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