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In a 'Mikado' Mood

[whitespace] Hot Mikado
Three Little Maids: Audrey Klinger, Karole Foreman and Tyra Bombaci inject new life into Gilbert & Sullivan.

'Hot Mikado' sets Gilbert & Sullivan swinging

By Heather Zimmerman

IN A BIZARRE MELDING of cultural stereotypes, a 110-year-old light opera and 1940s swing music, David H. Bell and Rob Bowman have created Hot Mikado, a jazzed-up version of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado. American Musical Theatre of San Jose opens its season with the West Coast premiere of this unusual--and strangely appealing--musical. Inspired by similar efforts to set The Mikado to swing and jazz in the 1930s, Bell and Bowman have infused the original satire with a lively swing score that ranges from jitterbugging big band to torchy laments, with an Andrews Sisters-style "Three Little Maids" thrown in for good measure. Vibrant sets and costumes create a visual blast that matches note for note the bold, brassy pleasures of the score.

Ostensibly set in Japan, The Mikado was originally intended to poke fun at England's Victorian bourgeoisie, who seized on a fad for all things Japanese. Bowman and Bell have created a spoof upon a spoof, playing broadly on Gilbert & Sullivan's story of the minstrel Nanki-Poo (Andrew Ragone), who, desperate to marry the girl of his dreams, Yum-Yum (Karole Foreman), agrees to be beheaded after only a month of wedded bliss so that Yum-Yum's guardian, Ko-Ko (Ross Lehman), can claim her as his bride and please the bloodthirsty ruler of the land, the Mikado (Joey Hollingsworth).

The nonsense of the plot sets the tone. Hot Mikado is as coy as the most traditional rendition of "Three Little Maids" but with a sexy self-consciousness that will appeal more to most modern audiences. Bowman's score offers plenty of chances for performers to show off their ranges, an opportunity American Musical Theatre has exploited well with a cast of talented singers. Chandra Carrelley's phenomenal voice gives her a powerful presence as noirish femme fatale Katisha. Occasionally, however, Bowman's swing stylings get a little overblown, and the lyrics are lost in the vocal acrobatics.

The show's over-the-top absurdity gets the full treatment by the cast members, who push the comedy right to the limits of outright clowning. In a stand-out comic scene, the fearful Ko-Ko attempts to seduce Katisha. Lehman and Carrelley share a chemistry that makes this scene (one of the last in the show) well worth waiting for. It's clear that Lehman is a true veteran of his role. His Ko-Ko is a self-important imp, often cowardly and devious, but somehow always likable. His playful pontificating helps set the mood for this musical of harmonious contradictions.

Hot Mikado plays at the San Jose Center for Performing Arts, 255 Almaden Blvd., San Jose; Tuesday-Thursday at 8pm (plus Wednesday, Nov. 4, at 2pm), Friday at 8:30pm, Saturday at 2 and 8:30pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm through Nov. 8. Tickets are $35-$50. (888/455-SHOW)

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From the October 29-November 4, 1998 issue of Metro.

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