The Bell Telephone Hour: Season 2, Episode 13

The Mikado (29 Apr. 1960)

TV Episode  -   -  Music
6.7
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In a mythical Japan, Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, has been appointed Lord High Executioner and must find someone to execute before the arrival of the ruling Mikado. He lights upon Nanki-Poo, a ... See full summary »

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(operetta), (adaptation)
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Title: The Mikado (29 Apr 1960)

The Mikado (29 Apr 1960) on IMDb 6.7/10

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Dennis King ...
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Melinda Marx ...
Barbara Meister ...
Sharon Randall ...
Robert Rounseville ...
Helen Traubel ...
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Storyline

In a mythical Japan, Ko-Ko, a cheap tailor, has been appointed Lord High Executioner and must find someone to execute before the arrival of the ruling Mikado. He lights upon Nanki-Poo, a strolling minstrel who loves the beautiful Yum-Yum. But Yum-Yum is also loved by Ko-Ko, and Nanki-Poo, seeing no hope for his love, considers suicide. Ko-Ko offers to solve both their problems by executing Nanki-Poo, and an agreement is reached whereby Ko-Ko will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for one month, at the end of which Nanki-Poo will be executed, in time for the arrival of the Mikado. But what Ko-Ko doesn't know is that Nanki-Poo is the son of the Mikado and has run away to avoid a betrothal to an old harridan named Katisha. The arrival of the Mikado brings all the threads of the tale together. Written by Jim Beaver <jumblejim@prodigy.net>

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29 April 1960 (USA)  »

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Trivia

Sir William S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan's comic opera "The Mikado or, The Town of Titipu" was their ninth of fourteen collaborations opening on March 14, 1885 in London at the Savoy Theatre and ran for 672 performances. See more »

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Version of The Mikado (1954) See more »

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Groucho plays it straight, gets honest laughs
11 February 2003 | by (Minffordd, North Wales) – See all my reviews

The 1960 American TV version of 'The Mikado' (which I saw in England) was so popular that its highlights were released on an LP phonograph record: I have an original pressing of this. The best part in 'The Mikado' is the comic lead role of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, but some of the other roles are good too. However, this TV version was cut down to less than 60 minutes in order to fit into the 29 April 1960 episode of 'The Bell Telephone Hour' (with commercials), so much of the supporting material was jettisoned in order to make Ko-Ko the whole show. Which is fine with me, because in this production Ko-Ko was played by the one, the only Groucho Marx.

I was concerned that Groucho might have 'improved' this production with some of his irreverent Marxian shenanigans, but I was mistaken. Of all the Marx Brothers, Groucho was the only one who coveted highbrow respectability (even while he mocked it in others) and in this production he shows great respect for Gilbert & Sullivan's material. Which is not to say he doesn't have fun with it. Tricked out in a Japanese costume, Groucho leaves his cigar offstage but retains his hornrim eyeglasses, and he manages to waggle his (real, not greasepaint) eyebrows a few times. This TV version was produced by Martyn Green, who had sung 'Ko-Ko' and many other G&S roles with the D'Oyly Carte company in London: he has clear reverence for this material, and he manages to inspire the whole cast to play it as Gilbert & Sullivan wrote it.

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. A serious flaw in the cast is his daughter Melinda as Peep-Bo. (All the Marx brothers gave their daughters names beginning with 'M' in honour of their mother Minnie.) During the trio 'Three Little Maids from School Are We', the actresses playing Yum-Yum and Pitti-Sing have operatically trained voices, while poor Melinda Marx limps alongside them with her pitifully weak voice. Her dancing's not much, either: she did better when she sang and danced with Candice Bergen in an Irving Berlin duet on 'You Bet Your Life'.

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: it really does feel like all those hilarious movie scenes in which Groucho proposed to Dumont just to get her money. As Pooh-Bah, the great Stanley Holloway has almost nothing to do in this drastically shortened version, and he doesn't even get to sing much.

The sets and costumes are extremely impressive. Surprisingly, this shortened production manages to find room for 'Mia Sama', the straightforward processional march of the Japanese courtiers. (Sullivan adapted this from an actual Oriental song, retaining the original words and changing only the last four measures.) Groucho, Robert Rounseville and Barbara Meister do a fine job on the comic trio 'Here's a Howdy-Do!', my favourite Gilbert & Sullivan song. Apart from this, Rounseville is not much good as Nanki-Poo. He was a very cold performer, and he fails to generate the sympathy that this role requires. But who cares? The whole point of this production is Groucho, and he acquits himself well in his role. If only his singing voice had been better. I'll rate this version of 'The Mikado' 7 points out of 10.


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