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The Hot Mikado
Published on Monday, 15 August 2011

4 stars

C Venues - C eca (venue website)
3-14, 16-29 Aug, 6:50pm-7:50pm
Reviewed by Lee Zhao

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.

Of all the Gilbert and Sullivan operettas one could choose to re-imagine with a new jazz score, The Mikado is certainly not one that would appear on my little list. For starters, it's set in Japan. However, the operetta was a smash hit in the US from its premiere - and given its immense popularity, there are a quite a few jazzy versions out there. It's the 1986 Bell and Bowman adaptation which the team from Durham University are unleashing on the Fringe.

For anyone who's not familiar with Hot Mikado, let me assure you the music has been tastefully adapted: you can easily hear Sullivan's original score coming through the syncopated brass, and I'm sure anyone who knows the original G&S operetta will have fun recognising and appreciating the changes. To get round the problem of a swing and jazz musical transplanted to Japan, the setting is an extremely Americanised post-war Japan, full of serviceman and dames, and the more American Mikado himself is something akin to General Douglas MacArthur. Gilbert's libretto is also tweaked to better fit the music and setting, as well as to poke fun of the decidedly non-Japanese looking cast. The older audience member may also instantly identify the Hot Ko-Ko as basically Sergeant Bilko.

Without a shadow of a doubt, it is the choreography that steals the show. Exuberant, exciting, and executed with the precision of a short, sharp shock, the company jive and jitterbug their way through all the set-piece dances. Particular highlights, however, are Katisha's Chicago-inspired entrance and the Mikado's Fred Astaire moment near the end.

However, from the very first song, this production of The Hot Mikado had an elephant in the room: the balance. None of the singers were amplified. As a result, even though I was sitting in the third row, when the big band music kicked in virtually all words not sung in unison were lost. In fact, with the possible exception of Pitti-Sing, no one possessed the vocal power to rise above the band and perform the lively dance moves at the same time. And why would they? There's a reason jazz singers all sing into microphones.

And that's an absolute shame, because everything else was there. The band was great. The acting was perfectly pitched: enough to capture the original humour of Gilbert's libretto (whose satiric nature Bell and Bowman kept largely intact) but not so much that it went pantomime. I've already mentioned the fine choreography.  This could be the hot ticket of the Fringe, but for want of a couple of microphones.

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