M’CHIGEENG—The heavy snowfall outside was no barrier for the dedicated staff and students at Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) who gave a passionate opening night performance of this year’s musical ‘The Mikado’ last Thursday, Valentine’s Day.
“It was really good. We all put in a good effort and there were a few hiccups, but we played right through them,” said Grade 12 student Nick Harper, who played one of the lead roles as Nanki-Poo.
‘The Mikado,’ also known as ‘The Town of Titipu,’ is described as a “comic opera,” and comedic it was. Although the events took place in the fictitious Japanese town of Titipu, the cast incorporated numerous local references for comic relief. One particularly popular joke followed a question of to where Nanki-Poo had run off abroad; another player responded “Meldrum Bay” to a chorus of laughter from the audience.
The overall story focuses on Nanki-Poo, the minstrel son of the Mikado (Katie Chapman)—the emperor of Japan. He escapes from the romantic clutches of Katisha (Abbie Harper), someone he does not love back, and falls for Yum-Yum (April Torkopoulos), who is expected to be married to a former tailor turned Lord High Executioner of Titipu Ko-Ko (Ethan Theijsmeijer).
There follows cunning plots to enable the relationship to continue, to track down Nanki-Poo’s whereabouts, to evade existing laws and to avoid death at the hands of several individuals.
“The Act I finale was really fun. It was a full 15 minutes and we got to throw in Bohemian Rhapsody, and the director decided to add dances from the game Fortnite,” said Grade 12 student April Torkopoulos, who played Nanki-Poo’s love interest Yum-Yum.
Dana Thomson played Ko-Ko’s partner in crime as Pooh-Bah, the “Lord High of Everything Else.” When she cited her various roles throughout the play, a slideshow of her in a number of outfits in locations around Manitoulin Island displayed to the side of the stage.
Larissa Chevrette took on the role of Pish-Tush, a noble lord of Titipu, and Lauren Goddard played Pitti-Sing, Yum-Yum’s sister. The Expositor’s Kids in the Hall reporter Rachael Orford served as the narrator and as Sa-Shimi.
One standout performer was Natalia Bell in the role of Peep-Bo. Her voice held on firmly to every note and she had the audience’s rapt attention during her musical numbers, such as the opening song in the second act, ‘Braid the Raven Hair.’
Tee-Do was played by Alexandria Lewis, Do-Ray was played by Trish Patterson, Soo-Zuki was played by Monica Zilio, Myah Emerson played Ban-Jo, Jocelyn Kuntsi played Soo-Shi and Sun-Nee was played by Alexandria Joshua-Matthews.
There were additional characters such as various minstrels, played by Jordan Goddard, vagabonds played by Jack Young, nobles played by Cameron Meawasige and assistants played by Marissa McGraw-Hill.
“The kids were fantastic,” said producer Yana Bauer. “They played to a crowd of people who were responding well to them today. It’s a huge confidence boost and that’s just going to grow as they do more shows.”
A special opening scene treat for MSS teachers, students and parents alike were the roles of Gilbert and Sullivan (the nineteenth-century operetta’s writing duo), played by Vice-Principal Denis Lafleur and Principal Jamie Mohamed respectively. Tom Scott joined them in a role as Kat the Maid. Mr. Scott is recently retired from MSS and had served as the artistic director of a great number of theatrical productions throughout his career.
Taking over the artistic director reins for this year’s production was Michael Zegil. He said the students fed off the audience’s energy and put on a unique performance.
“The kids improvised stuff tonight completely organically. It showed a difference from our rehearsals when they were following their lines, and now they’re becoming their characters,” he said. “You would be very surprised with the level of talent that the kids show. I’m amazed at the work and dedication they’ve shown to do a great performance.”
The dedicated team extended far beyond current MSS students. Mr. Zegil said every elementary school on the Island had sent students to be in the cast and a number of former students returned to help with music or other activities like lighting design.
“Sure, there’s 20 people on stage, but there was more than 60 involved. It was really astounding and I thank them all for the great job,” said Mr. Zegil.
“It was a neat experience to work with how other people act and do their thing, and to collaborate with them and to work together,” said April.
By Ms. Bauer’s estimates, the cast and crew lost as much as two weeks of rehearsal time due to many days of bus cancellations and some snow days. However, she said the players were dedicated and practiced on their own time, including during lunches and after school with the help of musical director Chris Theijsmeijer.
“All the pieces fell into place,” she said.
Additional assistance in putting together ‘The Mikado’ came from choreographer Casey Boisvert, technical director Heather Theijsmeijer, head of costumes Jill Ferguson and stage manager Maggie Chapman.
This year’s pit band, led by conductor and keyboardist Mr. Theijsmeijer, included Cheyenne Barnes and Miranda Mackay on flute, Sarah Hovingh on clarinet, Elena Hovingh and Emily Granville on trumpet, Justin Maclean on trombone, Lily Hore on percussion and gong, Paul Best on cello and Alex Baran on piano. Ms. Barnes, Ms. Mackay, Ms. Granville and Mr. Maclean are all musical alumni from MSS.