Hot Mikado is a wonderfully bright, energetic and sparkling musical comedy, a jazzed-up version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s operetta, The Mikado. It is not an easy show musically, with its complex harmonies and tempos challenging even the most accomplished of musical societies. It’s a challenge that RAODS has taken up and, despite some fluctuating timings and tunings early on during opening night (issues that I am sure will smooth out as the run continues), has met admirably well.
The scene is beautifully and elegantly set, with a Japanese-style bridge, screen panels and Japanese parasols transporting the audience to Titipu, the subtle yet creative atmospheric lighting (Martin Whitaker) and haze all contributing to the aesthetic appeal and the hairstyles and costumes reflecting the 1940s fashions very well. The sextet of musicians, present on stage throughout – although all but musical director/keyboard player (Nigel Finch) are masked by a screen panel – recreates Rob Bowman’s dynamic score (a compilation of jazz, gospel, swing and scat) with pizzazz and rich, warm tones, helping to keep the narrative flowing throughout at a lively pace.
Harry Andreou’s skilful choreography and direction ensure that the varied abilities and skill levels of all members of the cast are embraced and enhanced throughout the production, with a mixture of shrewd and slapstick comedy, deft characterisations and scintillating choreography brought vividly to life by skilled lead and supporting principals and an enthusiastic ensemble. Although some of the ‘Gentlemen of Japan’ may be looser in their performance of the animated step sequences than intended, the ‘Ladies of Japan’ have sharp lines and finishes to their moves, with excellent synchronicity and outlines, and all members of the ensemble show great stamina with the energetic dance routines. Not all voices are particularly suited to this style of singing, but Steven Lilly (Pish-Tush) gives an especially beautiful rendition of ‘Braid the raven hair’ and Freya Burnside (Pitti-Sing) is at ease with the difficult riffs.
The show really starts to hit its groove with the appearance of Daniel Farrell as Ko-Ko, the former tailor turned Lord High Executioner, who is somewhat reluctant to execute anybody (considering that his name is first on the list!) and his topical additions to ‘The List’ are pithy and hilarious. His vocals are delightful, his comic timing and delivery hit all the right notes and his refined characterisation provides the perfect counterbalance later in the show to the dominant, acerbic Katisha (Sarah Mulcare).
The trio of sisters are charmingly portrayed by Jo Short (Yum-Yum), Burnside and Kerry Butcher (Peep-Bo). Their voices blend harmoniously together, they have distinctive and engaging characterisations and are all most accomplished dancers. Short acts the role of the lovestruck ward with sensitivity, humour and finesse, her stage presence and poise is spot on and her dialogue is natural and purposeful. Herbie Curran is her youthful suitor, Nanki-Poo, who is engaging and charismatic, with Andreou making suitably comic reference to their height difference.
Mulcare captures the essence of Katisha brilliantly well, both in her mannerisms and her vocal quality – her interpretation of ‘Alone and yet alive’ sent shivers down my spine as she showed the vulnerability beneath Katisha’s forceful persona and her performance, whether alone or in the midst of the company, holds the focus and attention that her character’s status demands.
This was an ambitious show for RAODS to tackle, but (after a shaky start on opening night) it is a production that contains much to enjoy and remember, guaranteed to have you singing along and tapping your toes during the joyful numbers! Get your tickets while they’re Hot!
Future performances: 12-15 October at 7.30.