The Hot Mikado at the Masquers
The original Mikado was written by Gilbert and Sullivan, opening in 1885 in London. The show is nominally set in Japan where Gilbert and Sullivan could take jabs at the Victorian English. The Hot Mikado was adapted by David H. Bell and Rob Bowman and set into the 1940s; it was performed first in 1986 in Washington, DC. This Masquers production is directed by Ellen Brooks, with music direction by David Howitt.
In these uncertain times, it can take extra effort to attend a performance with a deep social message. Fear no such obstacle with The Hot Mikado. In Titipu, a small town in the Japanese countryside, flirting is illegal. Greater nonsense ensues as the citizenry embrace ridiculous schemes and get themselves further embroiled in harebrained solutions. (Photos by Jerry Telfer).
The set, designed by Bruce Lackovic, has a minimalist theme with clever pre-show lighting. Simple props delightfully metamorphose into multiple useful objects. This large production overflows the proscenium into the aisles.
While much of the music comes from the original comic opera, the 1940s version was reorchestrated using popular musical styles of jazz, gospel, swing and blues. The musicians, performing onstage, are Michael Wirgler, Gus Wedemeyer, Zachariah Friesen, and David Howitt.
The male characters are gorgeously dressed while the females are decorously undressed, demonstrating that Costume Designer Jo Lusk had fun. Several men are clothed in brightly coloured zoot suits. When they move, the folds of draped cloth swish like royal robes. All the actors garments glow with warm autumn colours.
The lightly dressed young women are mesmerizing and we are treated to a reaffirmation that women’s breasts jiggle wondrously when they dance. Choreographer Shanti Davis keeps the actors in an orchestrated swarm.
The Mikado (Keith Stevenson, upper photo centre) is the top ruler of Japan, a fittingly huge man with a big voice. This beautifully dressed, genial monster has terrified his subjects. The Mikado enfolds young dancing girls into his arms and they twirl and grin in grim terror. City officials speak apprehensively and the populace hang back with fear. Then, of course, the Mikado proves the people have reason to be afraid. An exemplary performance.
Nanki Poo (Steve Beecroft, lower photo, left) is an important person disguised as a travelling musician. Although he’d rather quit life than live without his true love, he is a comic, romantic character. We get a friendly impression from his bright patchworked vest, strengthened by his red blond hair. When he sings his mouth moves endearingly and his voice is sweet. Nicely done.
With Yum Yum (Amy Lucido, lower photo, right) we’re exposed to the wonder of a truly beautiful woman and one who is preoccupied with her own pulchritude. Her singing voice is quite satisfying. Amy has a bewitching smile, making people feel fine just watching her.
I was surprised by Ko Ko (Coley Grundman) as I expected to recognize Coley right off the bat, but didn’t until I heard his clear voice. Perhaps it was also the hat. The updated Coley is screamingly funny as a precise and fussy man. Normally a mild-mannered tailor, Ko Ko has another gruesome rôle for which he is utterly ill-suited.
Katisha is very angry. She’s an older lady of the court, spurned in love. She could be seeking revenge. As Katisha is a demanding rôle, she is shared by two actresses on alternate nights, so I saw the performance twice. Debra Harvey has a powerful, exciting voice. A wonderfully sultry Pamela Drummer Williams (upper photo, centre, rear) infuses the atmosphere with menace.
Poo Bah (Gill Stanfield) is many officials all rolled in one and fits all our expectations for lawyers and politicians. As Lord High Everything Else, he cheerfully lays out the merits and deficiencies of each case with the obvious expectation of raising the bill.
Twittering onstage like chirping birds dance Pitti Sing (Katie Francis) and Peep Bo (Laura Domingo). These maidens fawn anxiously over the bride, their sister Yum Yum. Volatile Pitti Sing soon loses her niceness and sings provokingly to the fearsome Katisha.
Pish Tush (Anthony V. Lucido) is a gentleman of Japan with dark, shocking talents. As well as a singer, Anthony is also an accomplished dancer. As I watched the second performance—when I already knew the plot—I found myself watching him particularly. Anthony is definitely a dark horse.
Peek-A-Boo (Kimberly Miller, upper photo, right) and Machi (Kelly Lotz, upper photo, left) are sexy dancers with fine legs who rivet our attention over and over again.
Ping (Bob Galagaran) is an indolent citizen save in the frightening presence of the Mikado. Niko (Sean Beecroft) makes us realize exactly what we all did in our youth when we thought we were cool.
If your life is tense, come to this show. You will feel better for having heaved yourself out of your couch. And if you have a relaxed life, come to the show anyway; this is a delightful, fanciful romp.
How did you feel about the play? Comments are welcome.
The Hot Mikado was performed November 4 - December 17, 2011, at the Masquers Theatre in Point Richmond, California. This review was also published in This Point In Time (TPIT), Vol. XXX-3, November/December 2011, a publication of the Point Richmond History Association.