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David Lissner
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When they call it ‘Hot Mikado,’ they aren’t kidding

Drury Lane’s “Hot Mikado” is a zoot-suit riot of color, dance and sound.  (Photo by Brett Beiner.)

Drury Lane’s “Hot Mikado” is a zoot-suit riot of color, dance and sound. (Photo by Brett Beiner.)

A high-energy razzle-dazzle of brilliant color, movement and music, Drury Lane’s “Hot Mikado” has everything a musical wants.

Directed and choreographed by David H. Bell, who originally adapted it for Washington, D.C.’s historic Ford’s Theatre in 1986, “Hot Mikado” has feet in two worlds. The original, of course is W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s delightful 1885 comic opera, “The Mikado,” a farcical romp about Ko-Ko, the reluctant Lord High Executioner of the mythical Japanese town of Titipu, who is to wed his ward, the lovely young Yum-Yum, even though she’s in love with the wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo. Nanki-Poo, the disguised son of the Mikado, the ruler of all Japan, is in hiding from Katisha, an older woman who claims he’s toyed with her affections — a crime punishable by death.

Bell drew his inspiration as well from two swing adaptations that appeared in competing productions on Broadway in the 1930s. Having announced a revival of the 1939 “The Hot Mikado,” which had starred legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson and had two years’ post-Broadway run at the New York World’s Fair, Bell discovered that almost none of that production’s script or score could be located. So enlisting Rob Bowman to do the orchestrations, Bell wrote his own jazzed up, 1940s-style version.

Bowman’s splendid riff on Sullivan’s music brings in big-band jazz, gospel, blues and rock elements, paired with Bell’s clever rewrites of Gilbert’s lyrics. Vibrant choreography features swing-, tap- and modern-dance moves from a first-rate cast clad in Jeremy Floyd’s brightly hued zoot suits and Japanized dresses.

Marcus Stephens’ gorgeously fanciful set features a stylized pagoda and Japanese bridge and huge moving fans that open and close to reveal the orchestra, a hot six-piece band directed led by Jeremy Kahn under Music Director Michael Mahler.

We also get hilarious comic turns from Stephen Schellhardt (who plays the unhappy executioner as a combination Jerry Lewis and Danny Kaye) and Todd M. Kryger and Andy Lupp as his uber-cool sidekicks Pooh-bah and Pish-Tush; bravura solos from Susan Moniz as Yum-Yum’s sister Pitti-Sing and Aurelia Williams as Katisha; tip-top tap dancing by Ted Louis Levy as the Mikado; and sexy love scenes from adorable Summer Naomi Smart and handsome Devin DeSantis as the romantic leads.

You don’t need to know the Gilbert and Sullivan original to love this remake, but G&S fans will enjoy it even more.

I can’t think why this show, which has been acclaimed in productions all over the world, including a 1995 revival on London’s West End, has never made it to Broadway, but be glad you can see it in this excellent version close to home.


Drury Lane’s ‘Hot Mikado’

Theater: Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace.

Showtimes: 1:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 1:30 and 8 p.m. Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. Fridays, 5 and 8:30 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 6 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 3.

Tickets: $31 to $45 (student and senior discounts available).

Dining: Lunch and dinner dining packages available at the theater.


Silent footage of 1939’s “The Hot Mikado.”