In 1885 , Daimler invented the petrol engine, while Benz produced the world's first gasoline car. Pasteur discovered a vaccine against rabies, and Ibsen wrote The Wild Duck. General Gordon died defending Khartoum, and Brisbane saw its first horse tram. Sydney University enrolled its first woman student in Medicine, and Sheet Anchor won the Melbourne Cup. And at the Savoy Theatre, London, the curtain went up for the first time on ' a new Japanese opera in two acts by W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan'.

The Mikado is universally acknowledged as Gilbert and Sullivan's masterpiece - not so much a national as an international British treasure. And yet, surprisingly, the two collaborators almost parted company over writing a new piece to follow the only moderately successful Princess Ida. Sullivan had 'come to the end of his tether' setting Gilbert's words because the music 'is never allowed to rise and speak for itself'. Gilbert felt 'considerable pain' at his partner's comments which he hoped did not intend 'to gall and wound' him as they obviously did.

Gilbert stubbornly proposed a rehash on one of his favourite themes: the magic lozenge plot in which characters changed totally once they consumed the mind-altering pill. Sullivan was adamantly opposed to what he felt was this artificial story and wrote to Gilbert that 'further discussion was useless'. It seemed as if the partnership between Gilbert and Sullivan had crashed ...until fortunately for lovers of comic opera, something else crashed: a Japanese sword hanging in Gilbert's study.

And the rest, as they say, is theatre history: The Mikado.

Though even then, tension haunted rehearsals. George Grossmith, the much loved comedian of the Savoy company, found Gilbert's directing more then normally hectoring. At one rehearsal, anxious to score an extra laugh, GG as Ko-Ko fell over and rolled on the floor. 'Kindly omit that,' snapped Gilbert. 'certainly, if you wish it,' replied the peeved star, 'but I get an enormous laugh by it.' 'so you would if you sat on a pork pie,' came the reply. With this atmosphere prevailing in rehearsal, it's hardly surprising that on opening night GG forgot the words of I've Got A Little List.

At one audition for The Mikado, a young lady asked Gilbert if he had any preference for a song. Gilbert humphed that as far as he was concerned, one thing was as good as another, so the soprano obliged with an aria from La traviata. 'Yes, Mrs Armstrong, that is alright,' observed the writer/director as the lady's face dropped. 'And if you go on studying for another year, there might be a chance that we could give you a small part in The Mikado. ' The young Australian lady later became known as Nellie Melba.

But Gilbert, too, was nervous. Just before opening night, he decided to cut The Mikado's song, My Object All, and it was only due to the persuasion of the chorus that he gave way and allowed it to remain. Yum-Yum's The Moon And I was moved from Act One to Act Two because the soprano was too breathless to sing it after Three Little Maids From School - which was just as well, since on opening night, 14th March, 1885, the trio received three encores.

And ever since that historic premiere, The Mikado in any and every imaginable - and unimaginable - production has played triumphantly to audiences in their millions.

Apart from the much-loved traditional D'Oyly Carte production faithfully recreating Gilbert's original concept - at one stage, four separate D'Oyly Carte companies were touring the United Kingdom simultaneously - there was a Royal Command Performance for Queen Victoria at Balmoral Castle (Her Majesty was not terribly amused) and productions in France, Holland, Hungary, Spain, Belgium and Germany. Even Russia saw a production directed by the great Stanislavsky.

And long before tonight's Pirates did The Mikado, Gilbert and Sullivan and D'Oyly Carte had to contend with real producer pirates staging versions of The Mikado all over America. To rid the stage of these theatrical buccaneers robbing the booty of authors' royalties, D'Oyly Carte sent no fewer than five different companies of the authorised Savoy production around the United States and Canada.

In 1907, a London revival of The Mikado was banned because of a Japanese prince's visit to England. Since then, New York, London and Paris have seen a hot Mikado, a cool Mikado, A Follies Bergere version, a Swing Mikado, A Black Mikado, a silent film, a ballet , a colour movie and two productions by the English National Opera. During World War Two, there was even a performance by allied prisoners in Changi Prison Camp. The 50's saw a US Bell Television Hour version featuring Groucho Marx as Ko-Ko, Stanley Holloway and Helen Traubel. There are at least three videos including one by The Australian Opera. And, of course, it is the most recorded G & S opera on disc.

Australia first saw The Mikado on November 14th, 1885, starring the inimitable Howard Vernon as Ko-Ko. Heart-throb, Nellie Stewart, played Yum-Yum, and the famous Savoy contralto, Alice Barnett, who played Ruth in The Pirates of Penzance both in London and New York, sang Katisha. the conductor was Sullivan's friend and composer of a number of savoy overtures, Alfred Cellier. Howard Vernon and his company also took a production of The Mikado to a bewildered China and Japan.

Famous Ko-Ko's in England have included George Thorne, Sir Henry Lytton, Martyn Green, Peter Pratt, John Reed, Frankie Howerd and Eric Idle. Australian audiences have chuckled over the little lists of Ivan Menzies, Grahame Clifford, Dennis Olsen and Graeme Ewer.

After the overwhelming success Simon Gallaher's Essgee Entertainment had with The Pirates of Penzance in 1994, Gallaher did some serious thinking about his company which had now carved a success of its own against the odds and brought together a valuable core of creative artists. Pirates was unquestionably a dream come true for him and brought a freshness to the way musical theatre was produced and presented. The next project would now be a reality because of the success of Pirates. From audience attendances, unprecedented return seasons, a television broadcast which received an audience of over 2,000,000 Australians, and a video release which quickly became one of the country's best selling videos - quickly going Platinum - the public's love for The Pirates had been unfailing.

To set these Pirates on their new adventure was now the task at hand. Gallaher had loved Mikado since he was a kid. It was also historically the most popular of their works. Gallaher wrote his first adaptation of Mikado at 16 as a Rock & Roll version. (Nanki-Poo was then going to be a rock guitar player.) With tastes now a little mellowed, Gallaher's desire to bring an original version of The Mikado to the stage had always remained.

It was only some four weeks after Pirates had closed that full rehearsals commenced for the new Mikado. This meant that Gallaher and his team were working on the project many months prior to the completion of the Pirates season. The creative team was maintained from Pirates with some new casting elements including Drew Forsythe and Geraldine Turner. Back on board were The Fabulous Singlettes (with Simon's sister Andrea now one of the group). So too was Helen Donaldson and of course Jon and Simon. Graham Maclean designed a set around the brief that it should be similar to Pirates and able to be done in repertory as a two-in-one package if need be. The Mikado set uses the identical steel frame to the Pirates set with a revised cladded shell.

Kevin Hocking was orchestrating for the last several months of the Pirates season and the Pirates orchestra was used to workshop the score over that time and tapes were shuffled to and from U.S.A. so director / choreographer Craig Schaefer could do advance work on the choreography. Melvyn Morrow did many script revisions and the piece was trimmed in some areas due to it being considerably longer than modern day audiences are now used to. Cuts were still being made up to opening night with the girls entrance song "Comes a Train of Little Ladies" being cut due to the length of the first half.

As Tim Tyler was so unique in the casting of Pirates, Gallaher was determined to have a similar 'surprise' element in the casting of Mikado and this was more than achieved with the casting of David Gould in the title role. Gallaher had seen Gould perform in the Australian tour of "South Pacific" in a small role but was captivated by the incredible bass voice and physique to match. After discussing several concept ideas about the role with director Schaefer, Gallaher immediately knew that David Gould was going to be perfect. During the rehearsal process, the Mikado's number 'My Object All Sublime' was rewritten and rechoreographed three complete times as Gallaher was determined to make the number a showstopper. The effort was well worth it as it raised the roof every performance gaining great kudos for Gould who was nominated for both a Green Room and Mo Award.

The role of Katisha (as Ruth before her) again went to a credible theatrical performer in Geraldine Turner. Although the part was offered originally to Rhonda Burchmore, Rhonda became pregnant and was unable to accept. Geraldine's services had been offered to Simon however it took some time to finalise arrangements. The association with Turner was turbulent from day one and her contract finally came to an abrupt and controversial end some four months into the run during the Melbourne season. She was replaced by highly respected but underrated performer Bev Shean. Bev had studied the role for several months prior to taking over. Bev went on to play the remainder of the Australian season, as well as the 1996 New Zealand and Australian return season clocking up more performances than Turner as well as playing the role on video.

The video of The Mikado was made in New Zealand due to Australian Actors' Equity demands being unviable. It is therefore with the New Zealand cast and not with the original 1995 cast. Mikado's video quickly was selling at a pace equal to Pirates as the public was hungry for the next instalment to take home. Video and DVD sales soon attained double-Platinum status and it has since been broadcast on pay-tv in Australia and The United Kingdom.

Gallaher sold and marketed The Mikado on the strength and success of The Pirates saying 'if you liked the Pirates, you'll love The Mikado!'. He wasn't wrong with 100% attendances returning for the second in the soon-to-be trilogy of Gallaher's Gilbert & Sullivan. Ironically the favourite in Australia was always Pirates and critics often compared the two shows, generally siding with Pirates as being Number One. In New Zealand the opposite happened when Mikado opened first and in its own right for the first time. Pirates following some six months later. New Zealanders claim that The Mikado is the greater which may only go to prove that it is only whichever show comes first in this style of performance and marketing strategy. Gallaher was delighted with The Mikado and was gratified particularly with its success in New Zealand as he essentially had succeeded in staging Part Two (or the sequel in Australia) as the leader in the other country with Pirates and Pinafore to follow in very big footsteps.

Mikado finally closed in Perth in August 1996 (a longer season and more performances than Pirates) where the entire cast transferred the following day to commence rehearsals for a new (and now sequel) Pirates season in New Zealand. This was also a great feat in the late twentieth century where Gallaher had successfully mounted a new repertory company of actors which could work continually and go from one show to the next - one country to the next.

Mikado scored many awards including Green Room Awards for Best Direction/Music Direction...Kevin Hocking; Best Actor...Drew Forsythe; & Best Design...Graham Maclean. Although Gallaher himself did not play the role of Nanki-Poo in either New Zealand or the return season to Australia, he made a surprise return to the role for one performance on the last weekend in Perth. In the very final performance he made another cameo appearance at the conclusion of the show as Frederic from Pirates to announce that they were all sacked. The Emperor of Japan concluded proceedings with the final line 'Nothing could possibly be more satisfactory!'.

In 2008 Gallaher staged a revised production of The Mikado especially for Brisbane's QPAC Lyric Theatre. Again the show was to be reconceptualised primarily around the key players Gallaher cast. This production was the first time Gallaher had not cast Jon English as one of the cast. Gallaher wanted an entirely new approach to the casting and style and to put a new 21st Century stamp on his style of Gilbert and Sullivan. Gallaher was also not one of the new cast, passing his former role of Nanki-Poo to newcomer Graeme Isaako. However Helen Donaldson returned to recreate the role of Yum-Yum. So too was David Gould to return in the title role. Gallaher had many new ideas and set about casting the remaining roles with a very short lead time as QPAC's theatre had become available at the last minute. The original set was restored and costumes were reconstructed from Graham Maclean's original designs. Ko-Ko was always the definitive G&S comic role and it was important that this pivotal part was correctly cast. Gallaher asked David Collins who was primarily a mine and comedy artist from the successful duo act named The Umbilical Brothers. Collins was a one-off and almost single-handedly brought the freshness and innovation to this new production. In Jon English's former role, another comedian from another comic duo completed the casting combination. Colin Lane from the former duo act Lano and Woodley played a newer and dryer comic in his well conceived role of Pooh-Bah. Lane made the role his own and fully escaped the shadow of Jon English. The final touch of casting was creating a new interpretation of Katisha. Gallaher's friend and singing associate Julie Anthony played the part with a touch of fading glamour and comic pathos as well as singing the role in her unique and unfaltering style. The Brisbane-only season was a success and suddenly raised the interest of theatre owners across the country but the world's financial crisis was looming and Gallaher reluctantly resisted a full tour. He did however re-mount the production in 2009 for a summer season in Adelaide to more acclaim.

See The History of The Pirates of Penzance
The History of HMS Pinafore