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Costumes, Drums, Comedy

Not every opera is an epic Germanic cycle or Italian tragedy. In fact, one opera is downright silly.


This month, the Hawai'i Opera Theatre is presenting The Mikado, a comic opera sung in English and accessible to the whole family. This famous Gilbert and Sullivan confection originally opened in 1885 at the Savoy Theatre, running for 672 performances. Before the end of the year, at least 150 companies were producing it in Europe and America.

Cathy Foy strikes a pose as Pitti-Sing, one of the three maidens in The Mikado. Photos: Courtesy Hawai‘i Opera Theatre

Based on the original text and directed by Henry Akina, this zany show tells how Nanki-Poo, son of the Mikado (emperor), escapes a marriage with Katisha, an older woman, and hides by disguising himself as a poor, wandering minstrel. In hiding, Nanki-Poo falls in love with Yum-Yum, a beautiful schoolgirl, but also finds himself volunteering to put his head on the chopping block.

"This is a bit different [from] our grand operas, which are our main season fare," said Akina, HOT's general and artistic director.

Since The Mikado is set in Japan, it was natural for Akina to invite local designer, Anne Namba, to design the costumes. Namba, whose fashions have a distinctive Asian flair, created original costumes for the chorus and all of the characters. Namba designed kimonos with sequins, ruffles and rhinestones-accessories never seen on a traditional kimono. In fact, the costume designs accentuate the show's comedy. For example, when Nanki-Poo, who's clueless about the lower classes, tries to disguise himself as a poor musician, he selects a patchwork of the finest fabrics for his clothes. His costume even includes a cell-phone holder, a touch that complements the comical plot. Katisha carries a Louis Vuitton handbag, a popular accessory many women in Hawai'i either have or want very badly.

"[The costumes are] not traditional," says Namba. "Therefore, not 'correct'… They're not something you would see in Japan." Even the characters' names, such as Pitti-Sing, Peep-Bo and Nanki-Poo are hardly authentic Japanese names. "I mean, Pitti-Sing is supposed to be Pretty Thing," explains Namba.

Actress Cathy Foy and costume designer Anne Namba

As the director, Akina wants the performance to include details related to Hawai'i's culture. His adaptation also includes a live taiko drumming performance by Kenny Endo and a cast composed of a mix of local and off-island talent, which creates a "melting-pot" kind of Mikado. It's all, in the spirit of the original, designed to be fun.

The comical costumes will be showcased during a free fashion show on Aug. 1 at 10:30 a.m. on the set of The Mikado at the Neal S. Blaisdell Concert Hall. This event also includes the debut of Anne Namba Designs' newest collections and a taiko performance by Kenny Endo.


Blaisdell Concert Hall
Aug. 6 to 8 and 13 to 15. For
ticket information, call the HOT
box office at 596-7858. Special
prices available for family matinee and
group/military nights.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2020
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