For a show with more moving parts than a clock museum, it’s surprising how often Glenelg Country School’s Hot Mikado is in the groove.
Revivals of this 1986 Ford’s Theatre staging are very hard to find, even on the professional circuit. So credit theater department head Carole Graham Lehan with again challenging the boundaries of student musical theater — and watch out, all you fellow Cappies of Baltimore participants!
Hot Mikado draws upon the Ford’s reconstruction by David H. Bell and Rob Bowman of a couple of World War II-era swing adaptations of the Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta. It transports all that 1885 silliness and satire into the surreality of a 1940s big band universe.
Yes, that’s “big band,” not “big bang” — although the latter might describe what musical aficionados will get out of it all.
Here before a stylized teahouse amidst pagodas, bamboo plants, and other Japanese garden accessories, a stage full of hep cats arrive in bright kimono fabrics tailored into zoot suits with fedoras to match.
Red, orange, green, blue — you don’t find colors like these outside a well funded Guys and Dolls revival. So imagine our delight when this Technicolor chorus breaks out its hand fans and sings “We Are Gentlemen of Japan,” accompanied by Jeffrey Yates’ wailin’ live pit band.
Again as in Victorian times, the convoluted plot involves the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, Ko-Ko, his yearning for lovely court maiden Yum-Yum, and a “wandering minstrel-dash-crooner” (and sometime trumpet player) named Nanki-Poo, who also happens to be the Mikado’s runaway son, traveling incognito in hopes of winning Yum-Yum’s hand and not forfeiting his own head along the way.
One wonders what Arthur Sullivan would have made of such decorous English ditties as “For He’s Going to Marry Yum-Yum” delivered with the bluesy flair of a nightclub torch singer. This show’s most accomplished vocalist, Tessa More as Katisha, knocks that one out of the ballpark, then turns “Hour of Gladness” and “Alone and Yet Alive” into reward enough for attending.
No doubt W.S. Gilbert would be delighted with his words and comedy, especially when coming from the mouth of Brendan DeBonis as Ko-Ko. With his hair collected high on his head and enough left over to frame his chin whiskers, DeBonis makes a ticklish first impression that is supported all evening by the most offhandedly absurdist delivery since Groucho slouched his way across a stage.
Marissa Diehl justifies all that male fuss over Yum-Yum’s affections. She also reveals a controlled and lovely singing voice in her big solo, “Sun and I.”
Other memorable vocals here are provided by Kaila Friedman as Pitti-Sing, Taylor O’Connell as Peep-Bo, and Harry Xiong as the Mikado.
Will Bartlett makes a most amiable and irresistible Nanki-Poo, despite the role’s vocal challenges. More comic turns are provided by Rhea Malviya as Pooh-Bah, the central government’s self-appointed one-man-band, and by Simity Jalloh as Pish-Tush.
Not all of the dancing is as assured as the acting or the musicianship at Glenelg. No doubt the uncooperative winter storms played a large, unwelcome role there.
There is lots of color, youthful spirit and a wealth of giddy riches on display in this revival. Lehan and her adult colleagues keep the production on its boogie-woogie tracks and leave the fun to a winning student cast. If you have a yen for swing and, like Ko-Ko, you’ve “got a little list,” put seeing this upbeat show at the very top.
Running Time: About One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Tonight’s performance of Hot Mikado has been cancelled.
Hot Mikado plays tomorrow and Saturday night March 6 and 7, 2015 at 7 PM and at 2 PM on March 7th, in the Mulitz Theater at Glenelg Country School — 12793 Folly Quarter Road, in Ellicott City, MD. For tickets, call (410) 531-8600, or purchase them at the door.
[Special thanks to Taylor O’Connell for the sizzlin’ captions for the photos.]