Chandra Currelley and Ross Lehman in Hot Mikado(Photo: Stan Barouh)
Chandra Currelley and Ross Lehman in Hot Mikado
(Photo: Stan Barouh)
Does Hot Mikado really take place in an ancient Japanese village? The names and scenery suggest that it does, but the swing dancing and the jazzed up Gilbert and Sullivan score place it in another time entirely. This mixture is far from logical...but no one said that theater necessarily has to be logical to entertain.

Hot Mikado premiered at Ford's Theatre in 1986 after director David H. Bell, inspired by two African-American versions of Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado that ran on Broadway in 1937 but not entirely impressed with the material he found, decided to create a new adaptation. Bell turned the village of Titi-Pu into a swing-era hotspot where the three little maids sing like the Andrews Sisters and the Mikado makes his entrance tap dancing; Rob Bowman adapted the score to include gospel, blues, rock, swing, and jazz. Their production was revived in 1994 and now returns again.

The plot remains roughly the same as in the classic G&S operetta: It centers around young lovers Yum-Yum (Kelli Rabke) and Nanki-Poo (David Ayers), who want to be married. Alas, Yum-Yum is betrothed to her guardian Ko-Ko (Ross Lehman), who holds the position of Lord High Executioner. When the powerful Mikado decrees that Ko-Ko must execute someone within the next 30 days in order to keep his job (and his life), Nanki-Poo agrees to be killed--if he can spend his last 30 days married to Yum-Yum.

While Ayers is a sympathetic Nanki-Poo and Rabke a delightful Yum-Yum here, Lehman is the real star of the show. His portrayal of Ko-Ko in the 1994 production earned him a Helen Hayes Award for Best Actor in a Musical, and he's still a crowd pleaser in this revival. Audiences could not control their laughter during his second act solo "Tit-Willow," in which Ko-Ko tries to make the stubborn diva Katisha (Chandra Currelley) warm up to him. Lehman solemnly works through the ridiculous lyrics and comical staging while even Currelley has trouble keeping a straight face.

Bell also serves as choreographer, creating dance sequences that are of Broadway caliber albeit sometimes very similar to numbers seen recently in revues like Fosse and Swing!. Ted J. Levy (the Mikado) danced earlier this season in Broadway's Thou Shalt Not, but Hot Mikado really allows his tap dancing skills to shine. "Aw, if Gilbert and Sullivan could see me now," he muses in the midst of his big number.

The supporting cast includes LaParee Young as Pooh-Bah, the man who holds every office in Titi-Pu. At first, his comments regarding his various positions are predictable and fall somewhat flat, but both the jokes and the performance eventually warm up; by the end of the show, we believe Young when he says that he's "the only one cool enough to take over all the jobs." One of the strongest cast members is Denise Summerford: She plays Pitti-Sing, one of Yum-Yum's sisters, and steals the show several times as she belts her comic lyrics. Jonathan Sharp is featured as Pish-Tush (one of the gentlemen of Japan) and as the supporting character who sings a charming version of "Braid the Raven Hair."

The set used throughout the show features a bridge, a tree decorated with fans, and a center rotunda. The lighting is simple but it effectively creates a Japanese atmosphere during those rare moments when the show recalls where it's supposed to be taking place. ("It's in Japanese!" Ko-Ko gasps, upon receiving a letter from the Mikado. "Oh," he says after a pause. "We are Japanese.")

Considering the success of Hot Mikado in the past and Bell's eagerness to return to a show he enjoys so much, it's easy to see why Ford's Theatre chose to revive it. With a spirited cast on hand, the 2002 version should not be missed.