By Mary Boyle
Gilbert and Sullivan were masters of the comic opera, and almost entirely responsible for the modern musical. Last season, Skylight Music Theatre in Milwaukee tackled G & S's Pirates of Penzance, to the delight of audiences, but in their inaugural season in 1959, they did Gilbert and Sullivan's 1885 work, The Mikado. The production was so popular with audiences that Skylight has done it every decade since, but this time around, they decided to shake things up a little and do Hot Mikado -- a swinging, jazzy, bluesy, gospel number that will have you laughing out loud and clapping along!
Hot Mikado was a 1939 Broadway Musical, produced by Mike Todd and based on Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, with an all-African-American cast, starring the amazing Bill "Bojangles" Robinson. This production mostly stayed true to G & S's original, but the musical arrangements by Charles L. Cooke were all Jazz.
Director Austene Van, who is making her Skylight debut, sets her Mikado in a 1940's nightclub, creating a play within a play scenario that is so perfect, I can't believe that nobody has done it before. The phenomenal six-piece band on stage, led by music director Michael Duff, completes the nightclub feel, but seating a few audience members at small tables at the sides of the stage goes the extra mile.
"I think Skylight audiences will be thrilled by this updated version of Gilbert & Sullivan’s comic masterpiece," Van said. "It remains true to the wonderful G & S music and harmonies, but takes a fresh approach to address some of the out-dated dialog and stereotyping that makes audiences wince. I am fascinated with Gilbert & Sullivan’s ability to craft such a funny and outrageous story while hiding political and cultural messages. In 1885, when The Mikado premiered in London, it was a time when the world was swept up in a craze for all things Japanese, so the messages are hidden behind the opulence of Japanese motifs."
Milwaukee actors and Skylight favorites abound in this production, and they are favorites with good reason. Chris Klopatek, who was previously in Pirates of Penzance, is Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner. Rána Roman, who can be seen on stages all over Milwaukee, is Yum-Yum. Ryan Cappleman is brilliant as the multi-personality-disordered Pooh-Bah, the "Lord High of everything else." Making their Skylight debut is Michael Penick as Nanki-Poo, Peter Sipla as The Mikado, Alexis J. Roston as Pitti-Sing, and Christie Burgess as Peep-Bo.
Though she is also making her Skylight debut, she is no stranger to Milwaukee: Jamecia Bennett, the Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, director, vocal arranger, producer, and the new lead singer of the 3-time Grammy Award winning Sounds of Blackness, absolutely kills it as Katisha -- in fact, I believe I can safely say that the reason you need to see Hot Mikado is so you can hear this woman sing.
Bennett and Cigarette Break will be performing for one night only in the Skylight Bar and Bistro this Monday, October 9 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased for $20 at the door, for cash only, and entry is limited to the first 100 patrons. The Skylight Bar and Bistro is located on the second floor of the Broadway Theatre Center.
Hot Mikado only runs through October 15th in the beautiful Cabot Theatre, and tickets are going fast! Tickets can be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center Box Office, located at 158 N. Broadway in the Historic Third Ward, or by calling (414) 291-7800, Monday–Saturday, noon - 6 p.m. Box Office hours are noon - 6 p.m. The Box Office window is also open two hour s prior to each performance. Tickets may be purchased online at www.skylightmusictheatre.org.
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre’s mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions Skylight Style–bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage, but with the audience, as well. The beautiful, intimate Cabot Theatre allows audiences to feel close to the powerful emotions on stage.