It is always a treat to see a David Bell show. His direction and choreography is top notch and when it comes to “The Hot Mikado” a clever adaptation of the classic Gilbert and Sullivan Operetta “Mikado” that Bell did back in the late 80’s, yes about 25 years ago, this is his “baby” and since its inception this baby has matured nicely. For those of you who have never had the enjoyment and pleasure of viewing this masterpiece, you now have the opportunity to catch a superb production at Drury Lane Oakbrook. Bell created his “swing” version of this classic after learning the story about the 1938, African-American version that took the music to a different level and as Bell is inclined to do, he has added a lot more movement and dance to his production. He has also assembled a cast that gets it! Truly gets it! I was witness to the show many years ago at The Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre where Ross Lehman took on the role of Ko-Ko, The lord High Executioner. Lehman continued to do this role in other parts of the worldand in fact, this role was the one that defined him as a comic actor. As strong as he was, Stephen Schellhardt, has this role mastered and makes this character more real while still bringing out the character that Gilbert and Sullivan offered us in the original. Most actors search for years for a role that allows them to show all of their talent, a sort of showcase. “Mikado” was one for Lehman and now Schellhardt has made this role even better.
The story of The Mikado, is about a small city in Japan under the control of The Mikado. His son,Nanki-Poo, has vanished from the city so that he would not have to wed a woman who had eyes for him. As a runaway, he becomes a minstrel and meets Yum-Yum, the ward of Ko-Ko, who has become the Lord High Executioner. Nanki-Poo and Yum Yum fall for each other, but under the Mikado’s laws, she must wed Ko-Ko, but then he must die( by his own hand). Nanki-Poo, knowing that someone has to be beheaded, offers himself up if he be allowed to marry Yum Yum and at least have 30 days with her. The rest of the play deals with the ins and outs and surprises as to how The Mikado reacts to the possible death of his son and what we experience is a look at true love and sacrifice by those who care about others. In additon to the brilliant Schellhardt as Ko-Ko, we have the beautiful Summer Smart as Yum-Yum. Ms Smart is as glorious as ever in her hadling of the solid music and her character. Her sisters Pitti-Sing ( the always reliable Susan Moniz, who was a member of the original Marriott cast of this show) and Peep-Bo ( the charming Julia Black) are both played well as are Ko-Ko’s right hand man Pish-Tish ( Andy Lupp, who can sing and dance with the best of them and over the years has truly become a solid character performer) and Lord High Everything else, Pooh-Bah is played by Todd M. Kryger, who truly brings the African American flavor of the “swing Days” to this piece. Speaking of bringing the flavor, you will not believe the dancing of Ted Louis Levy who takes on The Mikado with all the energy and fortitude that the role calls for and wins the audience over after his first set of tap dancing- he is worth the ticket price just for his performance, but hold on- there is a lot more! Aurelia Williams is a wild and crazy Katisha, the lovelorn woman in the life of Nanki-Poo. She is pure dynamite! Nanki-Poo, by the way is no slouch. Devin DeSantis, Yes, DeSantis, a name long associated with Drury Lane, but this young man has talent and deserved the role ( even if his name was Smith).
One of the beauty parts of “live” theater- in particular, live musical theater is the importance of the ensemble members, the singers and dancers who make the show work, filling in different roles and handling lots of dance numbers ( when David Bell is at the helm, there are always more dance numbers and not your usual numbers- special, almost gymnastic movements) so these performers deserve all the applause they get.Evan Autio ( who has a simple line “you go girl” that gets screaming laughter),Karen Burthwright,Matthew DeGuzman, Jarret Ditch, Stephane Duret,Amanda Kroiss, Tammy Mader, Tommy Rapley,Katie Spellman,Sean Walton, Kent Haina, Nate Lewellyn and Tiffany Trainer- Bravo. I also think that the simple, but Japanese looking set by Marcus Stephens, the costumes by Jeremy W. Floyd ( very African-American, 1930’s Zoot appearing) and the assortment of great props by Matt Cummings help to make this show as perfect as one might hope for. Michael Mahler handled the music direction and the 6 piece orchestra led by Jeremy Kahn ( who becomes a part of the show, not once, but twice) really makes the music ( adapted and arranged by Rob Bowman) fill this theater. Cecil Averett’s sound design allows us to hear the music and the words of each song as well as those of the actors- many times, in a musical, the sound mix is not ideal and we miss something along the way, either the words or the music, but not in this case. It is perfect.
In fact, one might say that lightning has struck twice for David Bell. His first , original production of “” The Hot Mikado has been playing around the world for many years and this production is even stronger that the previous one. This is one where Broadway in Chicago might want to take a shot and move it down into the city to give the visitors of Chicago something that will truly be a great memory of their Chicago visit. meanwhile, Drury lane in Oakbrook is the place for fun and entertainment and you only have until October 3rd to catch this one.This is not just quality theater, this is a memory that will stay with you for many years to come! The performance schedule is as follows:
Wednesdays at 1:30 p.m.
Thursdays at 1:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Fridays at 8:30 p.m.
Saturday at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.
Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m.
I have no idea how these performers can do two performances on any day given the amount of energy expended in one performance- ah, to be young!
Ticktes range from $31-$45 ( a true bargain when you compare this production to some of the touring shows that don’t even come close to the talent you will see in this special production) and there are even some dinner/Lunch theater dates at a few dollars more. Students and seniors get a break plus there is plenty of FREE parking for the Drury Lane Oakbrook locate just North of The Oakbrook Shopping Center. To purchase tickets call 630-530-0111, Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000 or online, visit www.drurylaneoakbrook.com