Nakamura Utaemon III performs here as a manzai (萬歳) dancer, which refers to a strolling comic dancer and, in particular, the mikawa manzai who went from house to house at the New Year to dance and bring good wishes. The term manzai translates literally as "10,000 years of prosperity."
The printing of this design is surimono-like in its fine pigments and intricate patterns, enhanced with poems that suggest a special occasion honoring the actor Utaemon III's performance.
The poems are signed by Yoshikuni (ukiyo-e artist and Mitsukuni's teacher), Chinrô, and Gajuku:
Yoshikuni: Manzai ya Yamato umare to mie mo sode (I cannot believe that this Manzai is from Yamato province.)
Chinrô: Ametsuchi no hana no hamime ya fukujuso (Among the many flowers, none bloom earlier than the fukujuso.)
Fukujuso (福寿草), although poisonous, are considered symbols of good luck. As cultivated by the Japanese, these flowers bloom during the New Year season on the lunar calendar. In art, fukujuso (福寿草) are often paired together with plum blossoms, another popular symbol of the traditional New Year. The association of fukujuso with good fortune may be related to their poisonous roots, which were a traditional cardiac stimulant.
Gajaku: Gancho ni shirazu suzume ya hatsune gao (The first sparrow welcomes the New Year, singing a beautiful song.)
The "first sparrow" (hatsu-suzume) refers to Utaemon's acting crest or mon (紋), and the poem seems to suggest Utaemon is the "first" or greatest among all actors, a superstar who greets the New Year from a position of enormous prestige, especially among his fans and patrons.
Other impressions are illustrated in Schwaab (see OSP below, who dates the work about a year later) and Lühl (see SDK below).
References: IKB-I, p. 98, no. 2-430; KNP-VI, p. 265; OSP, p. 80, no. 38; SDK, p. 230, no. 492.