The Mikado: Video Reviews

The TV cast audio recording of NBC’s Bell Telephone Hour production of The Mikado has been available since 1960, but this new DVD marks the first time the video recording has been available. For the record, the creative team includes William S. Gilbert (book, lyrics), Arthur Sullivan (music), Martyn Green (direction), and Donald Voorhees (music direction). The cast includes Stanley Holloway (Pooh-Bah), Dennis King (Mikado), Groucho Marx (Ko-Ko), Melinda Marx (Peep-Bo), Barbara Meister (Yum-Yum), Sharon Randall (Pitti-Sing), Robert Rounseville (Nanki-Poo), and Helen Traubel (Katisha).

Stuart Galbraith (DVD Talk): The dramatically abbreviated production trims just about everything except Groucho’s part. … The program serves as a vehicle for Groucho and yet it’s not. Groucho respects the material too much to dare play with it beyond Green’s supervision. … The Mikado looks about average for a black and white kinescope of a color videotape production. The loss of color is very unfortunate but not at all ruinous. … The all-region disc has good audio, considering, but no subtitle options, a shame for those wishing to read along to the lyrics. … Though targeting a very particular audience (obsessive Groucho Marx and/or Gilbert & Sullivan fans), this Mikado fascinates even when it isn’t very good, an artifact many have wondered about for decades, and for that audience it comes Highly Recommended.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre (IMDB): I was concerned that Groucho might have “improved” this production with some of his irreverent Marxian shenanigans, but I was mistaken. … Groucho is quite funny in a manner that doesn’t betray the material, and he does some amusing physical business with Ko-Ko’s axe. Groucho’s voice is too weak for light opera, though. … Helen Traubel (whom I’ve disliked elsewhere) is excellent as Katisha. She plays this role as an operatic version of Margaret Dumont, so when Groucho insincerely pitches woo to her with “Tit-Willow,” their interplay feels comfortably familiar. … I’ll rate this version of The Mikado 7 points out of 10.

Alan Petrucelli (Examiner.com): If Groucho starring is amazing enough, the supporting cast is absolutely terrific. In fact, in many ways Groucho is nearly outclassed by his co-stars, yet his love of the material is so patently there, and his comic technique, suited more to musical comedies than the more rarified operetta format, serves him well. … The producers have surrounded Groucho with the best of the best. … But it is Helen Traubel, from the Metropolitan Opera and Broadway, who almost steals this Mikado from Groucho. Traubel and Groucho pretty much carry the last part of show leading up to the finale. … Their affection for the material, each other, and this weird but wonderful opportunity is palpable. Cut down to under an hour playing time, this DVD is perfect for fans of Groucho as well as the legions of Gilbert and Sullivan fanatics. Alas, it is in a somewhat fuzzy black and white format; all color copies having been lost. But we should take our treasures as we find them, and this Mikado is, certainly, a gem.

John Sunier (Audiophile Audition): After 52 years this terrific telecast is finally being made available on DVD. … Unfortunately, the early videotapes of the telecast in color could not be located, so the DVD is only in black & white. The condensed adaptation is, however, very well done and the casting is amazing. … He does stand out as Groucho, of course, and his vocal style – however funny – is not exactly that of Gilbert & Sullivan, but it’s still a kick and half. The B&W is a tad fuzzy and it’s not in color, but we’re lucky to have it at all. Considering it was not being mounted by an experienced G&S company and the huge cameras they had to maneuver at the time, it went fairly smoothly. I don’t know if they were able to edit at all at this time; Groucho does make one slight error at one point, but it’s not bad. The extras are most interesting.

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