One of Sydney’s leading musical theatre companies is about to unveil its third production for 2017, Hot Mikado, a clever rewriting of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 classic, The Mikado.
Playing a limited season at North Sydney’s Independent Theatre, the fast-paced comedy is directed by Declan Moore. Moore recently gave Theatre People an insight into the re-working of Gilbert and Sullivan’s piece by book writer and lyricist David H. Bell and composer Rob Bowman, whose original production of Hot Mikado premiered in Washington, DC in 1986.
“They took the same premise, which is all about mistaken identity and unrequited love … and they set it in a very modern Japan-meets-New York era,” Moore explains.
“It’s loosely 1940s, all swing, speak easies, but it’s been brought right up-to-date. It’s very fun, fast-paced, totally silly, totally nonsense, but just pure entertainment for entertainment’s sake. There’s no message to the show. It’s not one of those … [shows with] some serious underlying message. They’re all well and good and have their place. This is two hours of just pure fun and enjoyment.”
It’s that type of show, Moore believes, that we don’t see enough of on our stages today.
“There’ve been so many huge book musicals … that they’ve become terribly expensive and incredibly hard to stage, [with] casts of 40 – 50 people,” he says.
“I’m working with a few other companies at the moment who are doing big productions like that, so it’s fantastic to do that, but Chatswood wanted to have more of a niche marketplace, which offers something that isn’t currently there.
“When I brought up Mikado to them and the premise of the story and that there was no message other than just a good night out of entertainment, they jumped at it because they felt the same way – that all too often, I think we get a little lost in wanting to provide a message. Again, there’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s sometimes at the expense of just sheer entertainment value for entertainment’s sake and a bit of escapism [and] good music … [Hot Mikado] is very slapstick and it comes from an era of Old Hollywood, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy – lots of physical comedy. It’s a good entertaining show, whether you know the show or not before you come in.”
Moore is excited about the fact Hot Mikado hasn’t been performed on Sydney stages for several years.
“In fact, most of the people who came into the show to audition didn’t fully know the show, they just came in … knowing it was going to be fun and different,” he says.
“It’s actually quite nice to deliver something that people maybe haven’t seen, so that they don’t … know what the twists and turns are.”
Moore is also excited about staging the production with a much smaller cast than is typically featured in Hot Mikado.
“It’s been done with 40 – 50 players on stage,” he says. “And there is scope for that, but certainly, with the way that we’re doing it, I’ve taken the lead of the likes of the Hayes Theatre … where it’s like 18 people on stage, [and] nearly everyone is on stage all night playing multiple roles. It’s a more intimate setting, and it means you can be a lot more creative.”
The director talks about departing from conventions when casting some of the roles in this production.
“We’ve taken a few of the key roles, like the Mikado. The Mikado in traditional Japanese society, of course, was the emperor, the all-powerful, but there’s actually no reference to whether it’s male or female in the title. It’s not like saying ‘king’ or ‘queen’.”
A female actor, therefore, has been cast in the role of the Mikado.
“It works beautifully, it’s a nice twist,” Moore says. “We’ve actually done that with another character as well.”
Moore is similarly excited to have the opportunity to direct Hot Mikado for the 66-year-old Chatswood Musical Society.
“Chatswood are a great company of long-term standing,” he says. “They’ve gone through a period where they’ve had to reinvent themselves for this contemporary society, and they’ve found a new home in the Independent Theatre in North Sydney. It’s a very exciting time to see their work at the moment … They’re delivering things that you don’t get to see elsewhere.”
He expects Hot Mikado to be a great night of entertainment for musical theatre fans and non-musical theatre fans alike.
“It’s going to be a really good, fun, belly laughs night out.”
HOT MIKADO – SEASON DETAILS
Friday 22nd September – 8pm
Saturday 23rd September – 2pm & 8pm
Wednesday 27th September – 8pm
Friday 29th September – 8pm
Saturday 30th September – 2pm & 8pm
Sunday 1st October – 2pm
Location: The Independent Theatre, 269 Miller St, North Sydney