Hepcats spin a ‘Hot Mikado’

Special to The Times

Of all the titles in W.S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan’s canon, their 1885 Japanese mock-up “The Mikado” has perhaps proved most malleable, from Jonathan Miller’s Marx Brothers send-up to Peter Sellars’ pop culture bust-up. Archivists revere two rival 1939 revisions: Federal Theatre Project’s South Seas-styled “The Swing Mikado” and Mike Todd’s Bill “Bojangles” Robinson vehicle, “The Hot Mikado.”

This last inspired David H. Bell and Rob Bowman’s 1986 hepcat goof, receiving its Southern California premiere at Musical Theatre West under LaParee W. Young’s direction.

“Hot Mikado” runs Gilbert’s satirical doings in old Titipu through a barrelhouse blender. Wand’ring minstrel Nanki-Poo (David Burnham), runaway heir to Japan’s throne, masquerades as second trumpet.

His celestial inamorata, Yum-Yum (Jennifer Shelton), forms an airtight trio with swing sisters Pitti-Sing (Candice Oden) and Peep-Bo (Staci M. Wilson).

Loco head-chopper Ko-Ko (Jamie Torcellini) suggests Fred Allen doing Eddie Cantor. Fellow officials Pooh-Bah (Young) and Pish-Tush (Reggie Burrell) are jive-happy sharpies. The tapping title potentate (Greg Poland) carries forth Bojangles’ torch; would-be daughter-in-law Katisha (Carol Dennis) is a tsunami- powered torch singer.


Although Torcellini seems from another aesthetic cosmos, he and the awesome Dennis own the joint. Burnham and Shelton make enchanting parodists and front a dazzling troupe. Sean McKnight’s struttin’ choreography has Gregory Hines-worthy verve; musical director Lloyd Cooper elicits snazzy noises. The designs follow zoot-suit, with the uncredited Cotton Club bonsai garden set refracting the Technicolor moxie of Todd K. Proto’s costumes and Steven Young’s lighting.

Such blazing abandon should electrify Broadway babies, but attendees allergic to Asian jokes are alerted, as are purists. The remnants of Gilbert’s drollery and Sullivan’s melodies peek through Bell’s amendments and Bowman’s arrangements in shock at their makeover.

This won’t vex viewers whose prior “Mikado” exposure is the film “Topsy-Turvy.” Die-hard Savoyards might need sedation.


‘Hot Mikado’

Where: Musical Theatre West at Carpenter Performing Arts Center, Cal State Long Beach, 6200 Atherton St., Long Beach

When: Thursdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Saturdays-Sundays, 2 p.m.; Feb. 29 only, 2 and 7 p.m.

Ends: March 7

Price: $20-$47

Contact: (562) 856-1999, Ext. 4

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes