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Combined forces bring 'Mikado' to stage

It's a first for the Hernando Symphony Orchestra and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council as they present the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta.

By JOY DAVIS-PLATT, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published January 11, 2002

SPRING HILL -- For their first pairing, the Hernando County Fine Arts Council and the Hernando Symphony Orchestra are performing one of Gilbert and Sullivan's most popular operettas, The Mikado.

The musical tells the story of a young man named Nanki-Poo (Joseph Borsh), who exiles himself from the little Japanese town of Titipu when he falls in love with a beautiful young girl named Yum-Yum (Gabrielle Mirabella).

Much to his distress, Yum-Yum is engaged to be married to her guardian, the tailor Ko-Ko (Jerry Hartnett). When Nanki-Poo hears that Ko-Ko has been condemned to death for the capital crime of flirting, however, he hastily returns to Titipu, only to learn that Ko-Ko not only has been granted a reprieve, but also has been promoted to the post of Lord High Executioner.

In an effort to slow down the rash of executions, it seems, those in power have reasoned that since Ko-Ko was next in line for execution, he won't be able to cut off anyone else's head until he cuts off his own.

The emperor of Japan -- the Mikado (Chuck Fightmaster) -- soon takes notice of the lack of executions in Titipu and declares that if there are no executions within the next month, the city shall be reduced to the status of a village. Ko-Ko, desperate to avoid cutting off his own head, vows to find a substitute. Just at that moment, Nanki-Poo wanders onto the stage with a rope, determined to take his own life rather than live life without his beloved Yum-Yum.

Ko-Ko cleverly seizes the opportunity and offers the young man one month of luxurious living at the end of which he will be relatively painlessly decapitated. Nanki-Poo agrees on the condition that he be married to Yum-Yum right away so that he can spend his last month as her husband. But just as the wedding celebration begins, an old law is discovered that requires the wife of a condemned man to be buried alive with his corpse.

The production is an all-volunteer effort to raise money for the fine arts council's proposed Nimmagadda Cultural Center in Spring Hill.

"This show is something that has never been done here," said Vince Vanni, who directs dramatic portions of the show. "And the story is that the whole community is pulling together to make it happen. It's a big deal."

Borsh said he wishes local companies would take their lead from the fine arts council and tackle more operettas.

"Audiences enjoy this type of thing," said the 42-year-old tenor. "This has more cerebral humor than the all-out hack-and-slash slapstick of The Pirates of Penzance. This is more tongue in cheek."

Brooksville voice and piano teacher Laurie Fitch lends her soprano to the role of Katisha, daughter-in-law elect of the Mikado.

"(Katisha) has two beautiful arias that allow you to get inside her head," she said. "If you look carefully, she goes from looking like she is evil to being soft to being very funny."

Actors began rehearsals in August, both with Vanni and choral director Barbara Manuel. Orchestra members have taken their cues from Hernando Symphony conductor Wayne Raymond.

"There has been a lot of work poured into this," Manuel said. "We started out with a lot of different groups and a lot of different personalities, but now it's just starting to gel."

* * *

WHO: Hernando Symphony Orchestra and the Hernando County Fine Arts Council

WHAT: Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado, a fundraiser for the fine arts council's proposed Nimmagadda Cultural Center in Spring Hill.

WHEN: Jan. 19, 20, 26 and 27. Saturday performances are at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday matinees are at 2 p.m.

WHERE: Springstead Theatre, 3300 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill

TICKETS: Reserved tickets are $15; $7 for children 12 and younger. Call 597-8777 for group rates; 799-8507 for individual tickets.

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