Flirting may seem an innocent pastime. But in Titipu, it can be fatal.
That is the underlying threat that creates all of the ridiculous (and uproarious) complications in Hot Mikado, a wildly staged sendup of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta of a similar title, that opened Monday at Theatre Three.
This 1986 musical comedy with music by Rob Bowman and book and lyrics by David H. Bell, is based on a 1939 production of a show with the same title. The program notes tell us that the main aspects retained from that first production are found in the late-’30s feel of the music and characterizations in this more recent version. Bowman and Bell apparently took the skeleton of that older show and fleshed it out with fresh music and dialog.
The result, judging by this production directed by Bruce R. Coleman, is a scream. This updated version retains the spirit of the original by sticking to the absurd plot G&S concocted for this show (it’s all about forbidden love, a pending execution and bureaucratic ineptitude; don’t worry about it) and incorporating trademark elements such as the tongue-twisting word play that made these operettas so popular in their day.
The rambunctious musical style, which sporadically quotes Sullivan’s original score and Gilbert’s lyrics, reflects the era of the first Hot Mikado. When the three little maids from school do their eponymous number, for example, they sound like the Andrews sisters.
So the source material deserves a lot of credit here. But this production really soars on its performances and its busy, garish look.
Paul Taylor, as the Lord High Executioner Ko-Ko, and Denise Lee, as the scorned woman Katisha, lead the charge with performances that, together, offer more ham than an Easter buffet. They go so far over the top that they cannot even see the top from where they wind up. But in this show, that works, because everything else is played at pretty much the same pitch.
Slight exceptions to that rule are Dennis Wees (Nanki-Po) and Natalie Coca (Yum-Yum). As the lovers at the center of his nonsense (much of which is triggered by the fact that flirting is a capital crime in the fictional Japanese village of Titipu), the pair provides some outstanding vocal work and has to play things just a bit straighter than the loony tunes orbiting around them.
Also making an indelible impression is Fort Worth actor Major Attaway, as the Mikado, the potentate of this zany world. After making his initial entrance in the second act in a resplendent, blindingly white suit, Attaway owns the theater in exactly the way his character should.
He is certainly not the only well-clothed character. The costume designs, also by Coleman, offer zoot suit-like fashions in brilliant, comic-strip colors that greatly accentuate the loud and proud overall tone of the production.
David Walsh’s set is just Oriental enough to carry the point. And its varying levels prove to be a great playground for choreographer Kelly McCain, who creates a lot of great moves for this large and talented cast. And a six-piece, live band, led by music director Scott Eckert, makes sure the singers and hoofers have solid support.
Indeed, it should be emphasized that, while the leads shine in a number of ways, there is not a weak link to be found among the players. Almost everyone who has a song or a line more than makes the most of it.
A slight complaint that might be made is that the show is a bit too big for its space. Coleman and McCain do a brilliant job of making sure everything fits, but there are times when they seem a bit constrained.
But, on the whole, this show is pure fun. If you like your entertainment in a topsy-turvy style, Hot Mikado is your hot ticket.