MISSOULA – A Montana theater group has apologized for updating Gilbert and Sullivan’s comedic opera “The Mikado” by having the character of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner, list former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin among people who would not be missed.
“We made a mistake,” MCT Community Theatre executive director Michael McGill told the Missoulian, “Oh man, we made a mistake.”
The issue was raised Friday in a letter to the Missoulian from Rory Page, of Clinton, who said he was offended by the Palin reference, especially in light of the recent shooting of Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, of Arizona, and 18 others in Tucson, Ariz.
Several bloggers criticized MCT. Wall Street Journal online opinion editor James Taranto argued that “genuinely hateful political rhetoric is commonplace in the art world, even in art that is not overtly political.”
Aaron Flint, host of the Billings-based talk radio show “Voices of Montana,” accused MCT of “absurd and hateful rhetoric,” and encouraged theater-goers to videotape the production in order to “expose these people.”
Director Curt Olds and others noted the pacifist executioner’s target list is often updated to make it relevant. He said he added the Palin reference early in the rehearsal stages of the production, more than a month prior to the shooting in Tucson.
“Sarah Palin was in there because she goes beyond politics; she’s one of the most well-known human beings in the country,” Olds said. “I have no ill feelings about her at all; I included her because she’s a well-known celebrity, and that’s in keeping with the song.
Palin is a former governor of Alaska and was the 2008 GOP vice presidential candidate.
Olds said W.S. Gilbert’s original lyrics demand updating because they reference several long-forgotten political and celebrity figures of late 19th century Britain.
Anne Basinski, a voice professor and director of the opera program at the University of Montana, said most modern productions of “The Mikado” feature amended lyrics of Ko-Ko’s “list” song.
“As far as who or what is inserted into the song, the object is to look at who’s getting lots of press and attention, and they get their nose tweaked a little bit,” Basinski said.
Olds’ lyrics also took on people who drink expensive frappuccinos from Starbucks; Missoula drivers who don’t understand how to navigate roundabouts and the oboist in the orchestra. In the Missoula production, Ko-Ko sang, “That crazy Sarah Palin needs a psychoanalyst. She never would be missed, no she never would be missed.”
Attorney Jack Marshall of Alexandria, Va., called criticism of the MCT production “a text-book example of how political correctness, ideology, ignorance and a humor deficit can undermine speech, culture and entertainment.”
Marshall, in his Ethics Alarms blog, said the Palin reference was exactly what Gilbert might have written himself, if he were still alive.
Marshall criticized Page’s letter as showing “complete ignorance of the historical and cultural context of a few lines in a song, misapplied to a political satire in which violence is used with the levity of a Roadrunner cartoon, connected without logic or perspective to an event, the shooting in Tucson, as far removed from Gilbert and Sullivan . as the shooting in Tucson was removed from, well, Sarah Palin.”
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