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Three Faculty Members Involved in Local Production of 'The Mikado'

Three Faculty Members Involved in Local Production of 'The Mikado'

Posted: June 20, 2019

Holly Bewlay, associate professor of music, learned to speak English by singing. 

One year after she moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma, from South Korea in 1990, the 14-year-old soprano auditioned for the Gilbert and Sullivan Society of Tulsa (now LOOK Musical Theatre), znd debuted as one of the youngest members of the company. The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic operetta set in the imaginary Japanese town of Titipu, was the first of many shows she performed in English with the professional company. 

“Singing welcomed me to the world of G&S, which included me as part of a singing community,” said Bewlay, who has recently sung the leads in Madame Butterfly and Die Fledermaus for Buffalo Opera Unlimited. “As a teenager, being an Asian in The Mikado made me feel like I was celebrated as who I am. Of course, singing helped me to feel respected as an artist.”

Bewlay will revisit the show, now in the role of the heroine Yum-Yum, in the Opera-Lytes production of The Mikado June 21–23 at the Mongerson Theater at the Springville Center for the Arts.

However, she isn’t the only member of the production with Buffalo State ties. Lisa Berglund, professor of English and executive director for the American Society for Eighteenth Century Studies, serves as the performance’s stage director; SUNY Distinguished Professor Emerita Ann Colley, author of several books on Victorian England, is playing the role of Queen Victoria.

“When I learned that Holly was in The Mikado as a girl, I asked her if she’d like to play Yum-Yum in this show,” said Berglund, who has been involved with Opera-Lytes since 2001, first as a chorus member and then as stage director. “And I thought Ann would be perfect for the queen.”

One of the most popular operas of all time, The Mikado features favorite tunes such as “Three Little Maids from School,” “I’ve Got a Little List,” and “Here’s a How De Do!” The production is inspired by the command performance that was given for Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle in 1896.

The Mikado reflects Victorian fascination with the beautiful and exotic East,” Berglund explained, “but it pokes fun at British imperial culture, particularly the follies of bureaucracy and the class structure.”

The inspiration for the operetta’s setting came to librettist W. S. Gilbert when he visited a Japanese cultural exhibition in 1885.

“This exotic world of Japan that Gilbert and Sullivan were trying to capture to entertain the Victorians somehow brought a teenager from South Korea closer to the exotic world of America,” Bewlay said. 

Performances are Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, June 23, at 2:00 p.m. at the theater located at 37 North Buffalo Street in Springville, New York.

Tickets are available through the Springville Center for the Arts website or by calling (716) 592-9038.

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