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Object of the Month #8: A Fan Leads to Love

Object of the Month #8
A Fan Leads to Love
Signed Japanese Fan from The Mikado (2013.01.191)
May 2015

Have you ever made fun of a “Grand Poohbah”? Do you think “the punishment should fit the crime”? If so, you have referred to The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan’s Victorian-era comic opera. The Mikado is set in a semi-imaginary feudal Japan, which gave its creators latitude in satirizing contemporary British government and politics. The plot is incredibly convoluted, making a concise synopsis near impossible, but let’s just say that it involves red tape, executioners, royalty in mufti, and love.

If you have seen a production of The Mikado, you may remember a rather exuberant use of folding fans throughout, snapping open and closed smartly in time with the music and lyrics. Which brings us to the last Object of the Month for the school year, a prop fan from the 1962 Northfield Schools production of The Mikado, signed by over fifty members of the cast.[1]

The fan was made in Japan, and has a hand painted paper leaf with a gold band along the top edge, a blue field on the left, red on the right, and green ombré in the center. Flowers, a butterfly, and white blossoms decorate the recto, or front side, while the verso is plain. The sticks and guards are lightweight wood painted black. Four of the sticks and the rightmost guard are broken near the fan’s metal rivet, preventing it from being fully opened. When intact, its maximum open width would have been 70 cm (almost 28”). All of the signatures are on the recto except two on the verso. Also written on the verso is “THE MIKADO June 1962.”

The fun part of researching this fan was getting in touch with the cast members and hearing their memories of the production. Louise Cole Nicollet ’62 wrote, “I didn’t have a lead role (I was a young Japanese girl in the chorus), but remember it so well and so fondly!”[2] Tony Cantore ’65 was a member of the Coolie Crew, on stage in full costume and makeup, responsible for moving props and scenery during the performance. He wrote, “Once Mr. Raymond[3] heard my off-key singing, he instructed me to mouth the words, but not to sing any of the songs!”[4] Blanche Houseknecht ‘62 was Pitti-Sing, one of the three little maids, and wrote, “how shocked we three little maids were when we heard the real tempo of the opening number for the first time, and how we struggled to keep up with the pace.”[5]

Folding fans, like this one, were an important part of the production and were used by the whole cast from the start of rehearsals. Eric Erlandsen ‘63 wrote, “The size of the fan indicated the rank the individual had within the fictional Japanese town of Titipu. Except for the Mikado [the emperor] himself, my character Pooh-Bah… would have had the largest. They made a fine ‘snap’ when opened with vigor, and this could be used to drive a point.”[6] Kathie Urion Krashinski ’62 added, “We practiced opening those fans in one quick motion and in a way that had them in exactly the right position many times.”[7] We even have a clue from Tom French ‘63 about how this fan in the archives may have been damaged. He wrote, “more than one of us managed to snap the fan open and manage[d] to break it… Many were kept together with tape for the course of the rehearsals, but we were issued new perfect fans for the dress rehearsal and performance.”[8]

For some members of the cast, the play’s performance so close to commencement meant that its memory would always be associated with the end of an era. French added, “The graduation weekend performances were a time of very high and immediate exuberation, fueled by the excitement of the play, the passing of final exams and academic freedom, the expectations of graduation and moving forward to college, and, maybe most important, an almost overbearing nostalgia for being at the schools and knowing that this chapter of living was about to end.”[9]

For several cast members, including Erlandsen, Bob Haslun ‘63, and Lucinda Kidder ’62, performing in The Mikado was the beginning of a life in the arts.[10] Haslun wrote, “It was that production that led to my 52 summers of producing music theatre in Falmouth, MA.”[11]

Perhaps the most memorable story from the 1962 production of The Mikado is best introduced by the line from the opera, “For he’s gone and married Yum-Yum.” At the 50th reunion for the class of 1962, members of the cast got together and sang through the production. In the opera, young lovers Yum-Yum and Nanki Poo (the son of the Mikado) marry, providing a happy ending. Karen Ann Zee ‘62 (Yum-Yum) and Eric Riedel ‘62 (Nanki Poo’s understudy and member of the Chorus of Lords) dated as students, but went their separate ways after graduation. They reconnected at the reunion, and married in 2014 with several members of the cast in attendance. Riedel ended his retelling of this story by writing, “The best part of all of this is that while I never got to play the lead in our production, I ultimately ‘got the girl.’”[12]

Ripples from The Mikado spread long after the final curtain dropped that June over fifty years ago. The signatures are what make the fan special, instead of just a pretty object. It becomes a unique record that marked not only the completion of a major production, but the end of high school for most of the cast. The Mikado touched the lives of many at the Northfield Schools; fifty years from now, in 2065, how will NMH still be affecting your life?

Sara Karz Reid
Assistant Archivist


[1] The Mikado was a huge production, involving an additional two hundred people beyond the main cast.

[2] L.C. Nicollet, personal communication, 7 May 2015.

[3] Albert Raymond was the musical director for The Mikado. Raymond Hall in the RAC is named for him and his wife, Virginia.

[4] T. Cantore, personal communication, 7 May 2015.

[5] B. Houseknecht, personal communication, 8 May 2015.

[6] E. Erlandsen, personal communication, 7 May 2015.

[7] K.U. Krashinski, personal communication, 9 May 2015.

[8] T. French, personal communication, 7 May 2015.

[9] T. French, personal communication, 9 May 2015.

[10] E. Erlandsen, personal communication, 7 May 2015. B. Haslun, personal communication, 8 May 2015. L. Kidder, personal communication, 7 May 2015.

[11] B. Haslun, personal communication, 8 May 2015. Haslun and his wife, Ursula, are co-producers of the College Light Opera Company.

[12] E. Riedel, personal communication, 11 May 2015.