Gilbert and Sullivan and swing: Watertown’s New Repertory Theatre dazzles with Hot Mikado, David H. Bell and RobBowman’s adaptation of a classic.
As adapted by Bell, the book follows the Gilbert and Sullivan’s satirical chestnut The Mikado closely, but not at the expense of a good joke; Bowman’s musical adaptation and arrangements bring all manner of genres (soul, swing, even a touch of pop) into the proceedings.
Wandering minstrel Nanki-Poo (Cheo Bourne) arrives in the village of Titipu looking for the love of his life, Yum-Yum (McCaela Donovan), who had been engaged to marry Ko-Ko (Calvin Braxton)--until Ko-Ko ran afoul of the flirting law and was condemned to death. But when Nanki-Poo arrives, it’s to discover that Ko-Ko has beaten the rap by assuming the office of Head Executioner.
The shakeup this has caused in the local government has left Pooh-Bah (Edward M. Barker) in charge of almost all local government functions. Together with Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah conspires to keep the town’s bureaucracy running despite itself.
That’s when an edict arrives from The Mikado himself (Kennedy Reilly-Pugh). Disappointed with the dearth of executions in the village of late, The Mikado commands that someone must die. Ko-Ko faces his own sword--unless he can find a volunteer. Happily, Nanki-Poo is ready to cash in his chips, distraught that he cannot marry Yum-Yum after all; unhappily, Nanki-Poo is, in reality, the son of The Mikado, on the lam from an arranged marriage with the sultry and bossy Peep-Bo (Michele A. DeLuca).
The story’s saucy storylines and satirical jabs at the absurdities of law form a solid foundation for all manner of re-invention, and indeed The Mikado has been reworked several times. This incarnation sings with wit, and the production put on by the New Rep sizzles. As if the book and lyrics weren’t colorful enough, Frances Nelson McSherry’s costumes are eye-popping hybrids: Zoot suits complete with Chinese silk vests, 1940s-period gowns with a classic look, and Japanese robes are everywhere in evidence, and everywhere in motion: the cast doesn’t only sing with gusto, they dance superbly under the guiding hand of choreographer Kelli Edwards.
The set, by Janie Howland, is another high point: the scenery is like something Norman Rockwell might have come up with had he been Japanese, with all the idealized elements (a bridge over a river, bamboo, even a hint of raked gravel in the pattern painted across the floor) are harmoniously present. As directed by New Rep artistic director Kate Warner (who, with this production, closes out her inaugural season with the New Rep), Hot Mikado is not only hot, it’s cool, charming, a full-spectrum burst of merriment, and not to be missed.
Hot Mikado continues through May 22 at the New Repertory Theatre, located at 321 Arsenal Street in Watertown.
Tickets cost $40-$59 and can be obtained online at www.newrep.org or by calling 617-923-8487. For group discounts (10 or more), call 617-923-7060, ext. 211. Seniors receive a $7 discount; student rush tickets cost $13.
Performance schedule: Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday matinees at 3:30 (no matinee on May 8); Sundays at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. (no evening performance on May 9). A special Thursday matinee is scheduled for May 6 at 2:00 p.m.