Music adapted and arranged by Rob Bowman
March 9th - 23rd, 2002
The Tower Theatre Company performing at the Tower Theatre, Canonbury
Review by Marion Cotter
Marion is a publisher and theatre reviewer for www.coventgardenlife.com
Wow. The Tower is back on form, big time. David Taylor's Hot Mikado was a gem. This jewel of a production was not simply The Tower at its best; it was a triumph over adversity. Ken Dixon, who was to have played the Mikado himself, tragically died on the day of the dress rehearsal, giving his replacement Mark Howden just three days to learn the part. All credit to him and the cast for pulling together such a seamless production.
Hot Mikado probably owes more to Gershwin and gospel than Gilbert and Sullivan. Most of the original score has been ditched in favour of a toe-tapping treatment that has more in common with a 1980s Manhattan music club than the operetta penned nearly 100 years earlier.
Diehard Gilbert and Sullivan fans could be forgiven for thinking that the great musical duo would turn in their graves if they knew just how radical Rob Bowman and David Bell's reworking of their original Mikado has been. Luckily the baby has not been thrown out with the bathwater, and the original vintage Victorian musical has been turned into such a likeable and upbeat show that you have to take your hat off to them.
Set in the never-never land of Titipu, Hot Mikado is built around the absurd plot and schoolboy humour of the original. Nanki-Poo, son of the Mikado, has disguised himself as a wandering minstrel to escape the attentions of man-eating Katisha, who is out to snare him. He is in love with Yum-Yum, who in turn is engaged to Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. When the Mikado lets it be known that it's high time Ko-Ko got on with some executions, Nanki-Poo offers to be beheaded, provided he can first enjoy a month of married bliss with Yum-Yum.
From the moment Mark Macey as Pish-Tush walked on stage and threw off his kimono to reveal a brightly suited Broadway dude, vintage 1940, as Japanese chords suddenly switched to jazz, you knew this was going to be a production with pizzazz. And so it turned out, with a multi-talented cast, dazzling costumes, faultless choreography by Jane Saunders, Janet South and Anna Twilley and a seven-strong band on stage throughout.
Helen Washington's assured musical direction revealed an impressive array of vocal talent among the cast, coupled such lashings of verve and energy from everyone on stage that this show should be tap-dancing to the top of the Tower's all-time hit production list.
Casting Chris de Pury as the buffoon-like Ko-Ko was inspired. The part could have been made for him, and he made it his own from the moment he clattered on to the stage. In moments of comic brilliance, he kept the audience rapt with a giddying range of expressions and delivery that were often pure Morecambe and Wise. What's more, he could sing - with a solo rendition of Tit-Willow, one of the few songs to survive almost intact from the original Mikado.
Excellent casting did not end there. It was hard to find anyone on stage who did not relish giving the show their all - and since most had to act, dance and sing, that's exactly what was demanded. Excellent musical and artistic direction tapped a rich seam of vocal and acting talent among the cast.
Dominic Ward gave us an amiable Nanki-Poo, while Victoria Flint had all the coquettish looks and songbird voice demanded of Yum-Yum. Her sisters Pitti-Sing and Peep-Bo were well played by Julia Main and Philippa Pearson, while Samantha Gallop, Rebecca Howard, Sophie Urquhart and Ralph Ward provided fine support as the ladies and gentlemen of Japan.
Dressed like a Mafioso godfather, Mark Howden played a remarkably assured Mikado, with the coolest opening line of "Yo, chill out!" Special mention must also go to talented John McSpadyen and Sharona Key-Barry, who played the two cameo roles of Pooh-Bah and Katisha, Nanki-Pooh's spurned suitor. This vamp-like Katisha, complete with over-the-top basque and cleavage, had a show-stopping voice that brought volleys of applause from the audience with numbers like Hour of Gladness.
Making up the band were Helen Washington on keyboards, Roy Farrer and Steve Gibson on drums, Luca Burroughs and Shaun Thompson on saxophone and clarinet, Stuart Bates and Huw Davies on trombone, Howard Hutt on trumpet and Peta Barker on bass.
Designed by Dorothy Wright, David Taylor and Alan Wilkinson, the set was simple and effective, drawing on the Manhattan skyline for inspiration. Lighting design by Alan Wilkinson produced some good backdrop effects, while sound design was by Laurence Tuerk. Kay Peversi handled costumes.
Hot Mikado is an ambitious work to stage by any standards, and David Taylor's glittering production deserves to steal the oscars. This effervescent show did not just entertain - it went down a storm. Now, give me a one. A two. A one, two, three, four...
Review from "Amateur Stage", April 2002
Despite its popularity with so many amateur societies as is evidenced in our Diary columns regularly, I had never either read nor seen a performance of Rob Bowman and David Bells spoof on The Mikado. I was delighted to accept an invitation from the Tower Theatre in London to see their production of Hot Mikado.
And am I grateful that I did! I had a ball! - as did the rest of audience on the press night of a two-week run.
Over recent years, the operas of Gilbert and Sullivan have been subjected to spoof treatments which started in 1939 with both The Swing Mikado and The Hot Mikado, both in New York and 36 years later, The Black Mikado in London. More recently, we had Ned Sherrin's Ratepayer's Iolanthe and, obviously inspired by the success of The Hot Mikado, John Doyle did a similar modern spoof version of The Gondoliers.
There is no doubt that G and S, being satirical works originally, lend themselves to flexible musical and time treatment and the Tower Theatre have elected, in this production, to set it in a retro fifties ambience with the music appropriately 'up-dated' from the late Victorian era (1885) via that immediate pre-war swinging big band New York to the combination of jazz and swing tempos of the post-war era.
The set designs had all the cinematic quality of its era, but unlike the black and white cinematic images of that age, it appears at the Tower in what I can best describe as glorious Technicolor. The designs were quite spectacular and yet splendidly minimalist with sufficient inherent undertones to suggest the original Japanese setting of the opera. The same ethos applied to the costumes, wigs and hairstyles - all the colours of the rainbow and a constant reminder of those sharp colour plates which were used to advertise everything from vacuum cleaners to soap flakes!
All in all sophistication and glamour were the keynotes of the production with the assurance that not a comedic opportunity should be lost. Although our black and white reproduction of the production photograph does not do justice to the superb impact of both the stage pictures created by director David Taylor and designers Dorothy Wright, David Taylor and Alan Wilkinson, it still conveys something the style of the production.
The staging was superb - economic and comedic with all the right romantic under - and often over - tones. Special praise is due to the trio of choreographers Jane Saunders, Janet South and Anna Twilley. The dance routines were drilled to a degree that resulted in exceptional discipline and cohesion, especially in the very professional tap routines which would have done justice to any production of 42nd Street.
All in all, with one or two perhaps forgivable lapses when it came to sustaining musical keys, the singing was of a good standard and matched the high quality of the acting which never lost sight of the original characteristics of the Opera's principals - Nanki-Pooh, The Mikado, Yum-Yum, The Three Little Maids and - especially the superb Katisha who, with Pooh-Bah and Ko-Ko, stole the show for me.
Disregarding that last personal comment, this was a triumph of ensemble performance in acting, singing and dancing which had a euphoric audience applauding every number, each approbation being louder than the one before.
And a word of praise for musical director Helen Washington whose up-stage sextet, splendidly screened yet never out of sight (bearing in mind that the programme indicates that orchestral personnel were changed regularly during the run) worked well under her baton behind the keyboard. And even if there was an occasional lapse on the part of the odd reed here and there, who cared?
We all had a a ball and I left this remarkable theatre once again awed by the variety of their work from the classic to the musical, from modern plays on stage to every conceivable format of production in the open air.