Theatre UCF per­forms ‘Hot Mikado’

Orlando Sentinel - - PEOPLE & ARTS - By Matthew J. Palm mpalm@or­lan­dosen­tinel.com; @mat­t_on_arts

Things are heat­ing up — in the best of ways — at Theatre UCF.

In­spired by a 1939 re­vamp of Gil­bert and Sul­li­van’s orig­i­nal 1885 “The Mikado,” David H. Bell and Rob Bow­man cre­ated “Hot Mikado,” their own ver­sion of the op­eretta, in the 1980s. That ver­sion, on­stage at Theatre UCF, adds a 1940s swing club to the satir­i­cal Ja­panese set­ting. At the Univer­sity of Cen­tral Florida, di­rec­tor Earl Weaver goes one step fur­ther and gives the club an an­ime theme.

Mix­ing so many con­cepts could have made UCF’s “Hot Mikado” a hot mess. But it turns out to be a scorcher of a pro­duc­tion. It’s won­der­fully cast with strong singers. The band, di­rected by Ja­son Bai­ley, is right on the money. Weaver’s chore­og­ra­phy hits the sweet spot be­tween tra­di­tional mu­sic the­ater and the hot steps of the ’40s.

The plot: The em­peror’s son Nanki-Poo wants to marry Yum-Yum. But ugly Katisha from the royal court be­lieves he is promised to her, and Yum-Yum is to marry the em­peror’s ex­e­cu­tioner. He’s a squea­mish man un­der pres­sure to ex­e­cute some­one — any­one — as soon as pos­si­ble.

Alaric Frinzi shines as Ko-Ko, the would-be ex­e­cu­tioner. He’s com­i­cally fey, self-im­por­tant and be­wil­dered, and his use of vo­cal tricks for hu­mor­ous ef­fect is equaled only by Kerry Alce, as Pooh-Bah, a quick-think­ing bu­reau­crat with an imp­ish stage pres­ence and a beau­ti­ful singing voice.

In in­spired gen­der-bend­ing cast­ing, Ja­monté D. Bruten is the “ugly” woman — and brings fierce comic tim­ing and a gospel belt.

Huaix­i­ang Tan’s an­ime cos­tumes are whim­si­cal with­out dis­tract­ing from the ac­tion. “Hello Kitty” plays a big part in Mar­ian Jones’ car­toony scenic de­sign. The an­ime con­cept cre­ates a fan­tasy world that helps elim­i­nate any per­ceived in­sen­si­tiv­ity to­ward Ja­panese cul­ture. Gil­bert and Sul­li­van never in­tended their show to re­ally be about Ja­pan; that’s why char­ac­ter names are so ridicu­lous. They were sat­i­riz­ing Bri­tish prud­ish­ness and gov­ern­ment in­ef­fi­ciency. In an age of cen­sor­ship, they got away with more by set­ting their story in a coun­try far away from the Bri­tish Isles.

Weaver doesn’t han­dle the pay­off for Ko-Ko’s funny de­sire to so­lil­o­quize ef­fec­tively enough, and the end­ing doesn’t quite live up to all the fun that has come be­fore. But this “Hot Mikado” is the coolest pro­duc­tion in town.

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