I was feeling so positive about having a letter published in the East Bay Express a couple weeks ago that I submitted a letter to the San Francisco Chronicle. Unfortunately, this time, my contribution was apparently not fit to print. I was responding to a letter in the Aug. 13 edition; it’s available here, but that’s behind a paywall for non-Chronicle subscribers. So I shall paste it here, omitting the writer’s name.
W.S. Gilbert has been dead for a century. Thus his bowlderizers feel safe from the revenge he would have exacted for the forced de-Japanizing of his “Mikado” by the local producers of Gilbert and Sullivan magic, the Lamplighters. To your politically correct reviewer’s delight, and to save their gate, the harried impresarios folded under pressure from local thought police to twist an iconic Victorian spoof out of the shape its creators gave it and recast it in another country. We are not amused.
An enraged Gilbert would have stood his ground and delivered a stinging send-up of those deadly boring souls who think no classic work of art — especially one that lampoons authority — should be left “unimproved,” to do its work of putting thoughts in our heads and smiles on our faces.
Not for nothing did Gilbert select the epitaph, “His foe was folly, and his weapon wit.” In this city, he could fire in any direction and never miss.
I would question whether [letter writer’s name] (“PC Mikado,” Letters to the Editor, Aug. 13) actually bothered seeing the Lamplighters’ fine new staging before complaining about the “bowdlerizers” who allegedly ruined this 1885 spoof of British politics by moving the setting from Japan to Italy. I’m a longtime Gilbert & Sullivan fan, and frankly, I was amazed at how few changes the Lamplighters had to make, though perhaps I shouldn’t have been; after all, the setting was chosen simply because of a British fad for Japanese fashion and art, and not because either man had any real knowledge of the Far East. Also, Gilbert’s original libretto, which contains a racially-charged term for Black people in two songs, was changed long ago to reflect current mores. Removing the “yellowface” makeup is simply another way to ensure that “The Mikado” can be enjoyed by a diverse, modern audience.
Really, I consider myself something of a Gilbert & Sullivan purist (for proof, check out this review I wrote back in 2011 of the Guthrie Theater’s staging of “H.M.S. Pinafore”), and I had zero problems with the Lamplighters’ new “Mikado.” There were certainly far fewer changes made to the original than was the case with the Guthrie “Pinafore.” It’s an incredibly traditional production aside from a few name changes and different costumes. Once again, the Lamplighters have proven to be fine and careful stewards of the G&S canon.