NYC Gilbert & Sullivan Troupe Cancels ‘The Mikado’ over ‘Yellowface’ Criticisms

Brian Wise, WQXR, September 18, 2015

The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players have cancelled a production of The Mikado, planned for this December, after it drew criticism for perpetuating Japanese caricatures and failing to include any Asian-American performers.

In an announcement on its website, the troupe (NYGSP) said it “never intended to give offense and the company regrets the missed opportunity to adapt its production” to respond to contemporary critiques of the work’s 19th century performance practice.

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Composed in 1885, The Mikado was intended as a satire of English politics and institutions, but set in a distant, exotically visualized Japan. It revolves around simplistic characters like the wandering minstrel Nanki Pooh and the young maiden Yum Yum, and is told in a frothy brand of Japanese-inflected sing-song English. It is the most performed of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 14 comic operettas.

After images of the production appeared online, several online commentators were among those who protested the NYGSP production for its depictions of “yellowface,” as the critics have called it. Last year, a Mikado production in Seattle faced similar charges when it emerged that white actors would use garish makeup and costumes to play the Japanese characters.

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