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Opera Carolina's Mikado Triumphs 

Whetting the appetite for more Gilbert & Sullivan

Eight seasons after showing Charlotte how not to do Gilbert & Sullivan, Opera Carolina returned to the scene of the massacre, triumphantly breathing new life into The Mikado. Infusions of luxuriant costumes flooded Belk Theater with rich color and samurai style. Behind the lovely latticework of an equally well-chosen set, Michael Baumgarten's lighting transformed the stage into a joyous mood ring.But the true heroes were stage director William Theisen, who implicated everyone onstage in savory hambone, and the merry uncredited mischief-makers who rewrote the Lord High Executioner's famous list -- admitting George Shinn, Pat McCrory, and Joe Millionaire to the condemned -- while giving Gilbert's script a few well-aimed tweaks.

Face it, aside from marching and milling, when has the Opera Carolina Chorus been asked to do anything but harmonize? Theisen made them full partners in the comedy with intricate blocking and all sorts of business with umbrellas and fans. Results? Fan-tastic!

Dressed up to the elevens, John Muriello was the comedy comet of the night as Ko-Ko, the Lord High. Shaking feverishly with trepidation, he turned the courtship of the gargoyle Katisha (Deborah Fields, a mountain of phlegm) into pure delight. After the unfurling of Ko-Ko's stage-wide scroll and his skewering of reality TV, we seemed condemned to hours of anticlimax.

Wrong. The "Here's a Howdy-Doo" trio -- encored with tricycle, razor scooter, and a single skate -- was a vaudeville riot. Under James Albritten's speedy baton, that and nearly everything else was beautifully sung. George Dyer and Teresa Winner Blume were adorable as the lovebirds-on-wheels, Nanki-Poo and Yum-Yum. And righteously silly.

Having exorcised the ignominious 1994 massacre, this crew of OC Savoyards whetted our appetites for more Gilbert & Sullivan. I'll wager it won't be eight seasons before H.M.S. Pinafore and Pirates of Penzance sail our way.

Sometimes in theater, wrong is right. So it proves in Mary Orr's backstage trashfest, The Wisdom of Eve, now at Off-Tryon Theatre. Antagonists Margo Crane and Eve Harrington are two different species of toxic bitch. Margo is a megastar comedienne consumed by conceit and vanity while Eve is a scheming backstabber behind an ingenue's faade.No way Eve should be understudying a role tailor-made for Margo, right? To make Orr's premise work, actresses playing Margo usually cheat toward sophistication. But instead of leaning toward the famed Bette Davis rendition in All About Eve, the vivacious Sheila Snow veers disastrously west -- toward the vulgarity of May West.

Occasionally, Snow has bitchy moments that feel right, and occasionally her dollops of Brooklynese bring new comedy to the trash. But it's a long evening, despite the fine efforts of Donna Scott as our narrator, Karen, and the poise of rapidly developing Caroline Renfro as Eve.

Director Jimmy Chrismon needs to take the whip out of his closet and crack it -- enough to slice 30 minutes from the three-hour running time. Lots of lines here for our three leading ladies to snap off. Until they get the handle, supporting guys (Lee Thomas, Joe Copley, Jonathan Ewart, and Hank West) will continue to steal their scenes. And their thunder.

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