by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM
Theatre Jacksonville closes out its 92nd season with the North Florida Premier of “Hot Mikado,” a dazzling musical. The work is based on the1885 Gilbert & Sullivan operetta “The Mikado.” Rob Bowman rearranged the music while David Bell adapted the book and lyrics. Their creation was launched in 1986 at the Ford Theatre in Washington, and was so popular that it has been revived at the Ford twice since then.
Since the show is relatively unknown in this area, a bit of the plot will assist with your enjoyment of this wild musical ride. The play is still set in Titipu, Japan, but without the English accents in the original G&S version. All the actors talk and sing using good old American lingo. The time frame is the 1940’s.
The story revolves around two young lovers, Yum-Yum (Olivia Donalson) and Nanki-Poo (Alejandro Rodriquez) who very much want to marry. They have a problem: Yum-Yum is engaged to her guardian Ko-Ko (Lee Hamby). Ko-Ko, after recently being convicted of the capital crime of flirting, has evaded the death penalty by getting himself appointed to the position of Lord High Executioner. The Mikado, Japan’s Emperor (Patric Robinson) orders Ko-Ko to execute someone within thirty days or lose his job and his life. Ko-Ko makes a deal. He will allow Nanki-Poo to marry Yum-Yum for thirty days if Nanki-Poo will agree to execution afterward. After his death, Ko-Ko will marry Yum-Yum.
Things become complicated when Katisha (Kathy Sanders), an older diva, arrives looking for Nanki-Poo since she has set her sights on marrying him. She has influence at court, since she is a very good friend of the all-powerful Mikado. Can things become even more complicated? Yes, it seems that there is a law that says when a married man is executed, his wife must be buried alive, which leads Yum-Yum to reconsider her interest in marriage to Nanki-Poo. Well, that is far as we are going to take you; we will only say the ending is happy and hilarious.
When Bowman and Bell reorchestrated the songs, they transformed them into the styles of the forties, with jazz, soul, and swing. They also believed in distributing the fame, by giving at least one or more solos to all the featured characters, mixed with the duets and ensemble vocals.
The three sisters, Yum-Yum, Pitti-Sing (Amy Farmer) and Peep-Bo (Katie Swider), belt out one the best known songs, “Three Little Maids.” All three have wonderful voices. Olivia Donalson as Yum-Yum, who is debuting at TJ, is a musical theatre major at Ithaca College and home just for the summer. Ms. Donaldson displayed her vocal talents in the moving “The Sun and I.” Amy Farmer is well-known in local musical theatre circles and her voice sounded better than ever. We wonder how long it will be before we see her daughter Charlotte accompanying her on stage. Katie Swider, fresh from an impressive directing debut with the very successful “Fiddler on the Roof” in Ponte Vedra is fast making a name for herself musically with her third show in less than a year. You will be seeing her in “Avenue Q” as Kate Monster at Players by the Sea in September.
Jacksonville University student Alejandro Rodriguez is another performer who is making waves in his first year in Jacksonville. Alex, as he is known to his friends, can not only sing up a storm, he does some nifty tap dancing in this show. Alex teaches voice and dance part-time and is also in demand as a choreographer; you can see his work at “Reefer Madness” at Players in July.
Brandon Willard is new to the North Florida scene but as Pish-Tush he makes an impressive debut in the vocal department. You are going to love his white zoot suit!!!
Evan Gould was well cast at Pooh-Bah, The Lord High of Everything Else, using different voices to play the various positions he holds. Gould can do drama but he excels in comic roles and is active with theatres all over the North Florida area. Evan is never lonely back stage as his wife Judy and daughter Ilana are in the show as Ladies of Japan.
We can thank the United States Navy for the presence of Kathy Sanders in this show and her previous role as Drowsy in the “The Drowsy Chaperone.” Her husband is an officer stationed at NAS Jax. Kathy is marvelous in the eccentric role of Katisha, a mate-seeking and vampy older woman. You can tell she puts her heart and soul into those blues/soul songs.
Lee Hamby, dressed in a spectacular yellow suit is hilarious as Ko-Ko. His version of “Tit-Willow” in Act Two is a show stopper. Hamby can do everything; direct, choreograph, design sets, create costumes. Ko-Ko is another memorable performance to add to his last one, as the mother in “Hairspray” at the Alhambra Theatre.
When Patric Robinson enters the stage in Act Two as The Mikado, it is the start of one of the funniest scenes in “Hot Mikado.” Robinson has expanded his acting career to include tap dancing and he did quite well for the first time. Patric modestly left out one of his finest performances in the program bio, as the lead in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way the Forum.”
The energetic and inspired cast includes as The Gentlemen of Japan: Evan Powers, Jerald Wheat, Jeremy Mangal, Matt Thompkins, Willie Beaton II, and Zeek Smith. The Ladies of Japan were Cheri Walker, Ilana Gould, Janaye Rodgers, Judy Gould, Lorraine Wheat, and Michelle Mestas.
Kimberly Beasley as Music Director is also visible in the show, playing the piano with the on-stage band that includes Aaron Plotz (drums), Terrance Peters (sax), Brian Deitsch (trumpet), Corey Wilcox (trombone) and Peter Mosely (bass). Kim is Assistant Professor of Voice at Jacksonville University, and has done a terrific job with the voices in the production. Welcome to TJ.
Curtis J. Williams made his debut as a Director, also choreographing the show. The dances are exciting and the cast performs to perfection thanks to Mr. Williams’s guidance. Curtis is a retired professional ballet dancer who has been involved as a choreographer in recent years.
The set by Jeffery Wagoner depicts the uncluttered interior of a Japanese teahouse, with oriental pillars and motifs, polished platforms and stairs, and shoji screens. Costumes by Sally Pettegrew are colorful and amusing and reflect the era. For example, the men wear suits, some in ice-cream colors, and fedoras, while the women wear satin dresses with short but modest skirts, and, of course, also wear hats.
“Hot Mikado” has been a very popular musical all over the country and Theatre Jacksonville’s production is excellent so take the opportunity to see this slightly silly but sensational musical. Call 396-4425 for reservations. Theatre Jacksonville is at 2032 San Marco Avenue.
by DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM