Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s The Hot Mikado could use a little warming up.
By Kay Kipling
Sometimes a theatrical production is so close to being a success you find yourself sitting in the audience, nudging it along. “Come on, just do this,” you’re saying in your head, or “almost there, just work on that.” Such is the case with the Westcoast Black Theatre Troupe’s The Hot Mikado, a show with a lot of potential and only some of it realized on opening night.
The show runs only through April 5 (at the Historic Asolo Theater), so I’m not sure if it will reach new heights before its close or not. In the meantime, it’s still worth a look.
This is a swing/jazz version of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta set in the Japanese city of Titipu, and that idea itself is clever enough to engage you throughout, as we see an all-black cast adapting the G&S music and lyrics to their own idiom and style. The storyline is basically the same, and still good for fun: Nanki-Poo (WBTT newcomer Wesli Spencer) is in love with Yum-Yum (Naarai Jacobs), who’s betrothed to her guardian, Ko-Ko (Don L. Johnson), who’s also the Lord High Executioner. A variety of silly laws, enforced by the Mikado (Nate Jacobs), keep them apart or threaten them with death, but we all know things will come out fine in the end.
On the opening number, We Are Gentlemen of Japan, the actors were hesitant at times about both the song and their dance moves (choreographed by director Harry Bryce); you could say it took some time for things to warm up. But in general there’s nothing wrong with the casting here. Naarai Jacobs as Yum-Yum demonstrates good stage presence for a teenager, and her voice is shown to good effect, especially on her Act II solo The Sun & I. WBTT regulars Tsadok Porter and Jnana Wilson lend strong support as her sisters, Pitti Sing and Peep Bo, and Earley Dean is amusingly on target as Pooh Bah, who holds virtually every office in the land.
Johnson is hit-or-miss as Ko-Ko, occasionally scoring with his interpretation of a nervous bureaucrat in over his head, complete with toy sword. Taking more forceful charge of the scene is Ariel Blue as Katisha, Nanki-Poo’s scorned lover, who delivers her numbers with oomph.
The costumes by Dina Perez lend bright color to the Japanese temple set design by Shane Streight, nicely lit by Jim Florek. Too often the orchestra (a larger than usual one, with horns and drums) and the singers are at odds, and it can be difficult to distinguish some of the wonderful lyrics.
Just a little more rehearsal time would probably have benefited the players here and made The Hot Mikado more lively and enjoyable than it is. But it certainly has its moments. For tickets call the box office at 360-7399 or go online at ringling.org.