Alex chats with former TP editor turned director Mel Trickey

Melissa Trickey is hardly a newcomer to musical theatre. Choreographer, actress, former editor of a certain Melbourne-based theatre website, Mel has now taken a seat in the director’s chair for Players Theatre Company’s upcoming production of Hot Mikado. Although, to hear Mel tell it, there’s not much sitting involved.

“I’ve been exhausted, I’ve pulled muscles, I’ve lost my voice, and I am absolutely incapable of not thinking about the show at least every thirty minutes.” Mel’s characteristic grin looks a little weary as opening night approaches, but her enthusiasm is unshaken. “I have put a lot of pressure on myself taking on dual roles of director and choreographer, but I wouldn’t want to do it any other way.” In her role as a self-coined ‘Directographer’ (“it’s much easier to say!”), Mel’s approach to Hot Mikado has been incredibly hands-on, with her preparations and vision exceeding even the most detail-minded director.

“I have a book that the cast have nick-named the Bible,” she explains, “It’s a visual diary that’s full of chorey and blocking, complete with diagrams!” Before she gets into the nuts and bolts of her Directographical journey, she walks me through the show itself. Hot Mikado, originally performed at Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. in 1986, is an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s classic The Mikado, with the operatic music and historic Japanese costumes replaced by jazz, swing, and 1940’s Hollywood glitz.

When asked to draw comparisons from the original to this adaptation, Mel adopts a guilty look. “Ironically, Gilbert and Sullivan for the most part makes me want to fall asleep.” Even more oddly, according to Mel, Hot Mikado doesn’t stray too far from traditional Gilbert and Sullivan fare, at least on the surface: “The usual G&S elements are still there: the patter song by the comic lead male, the lovers toying with each other’s affections, the older female character with the secret to hide. “ While the story elements cross over, Mel’s quick to point out that musically, the two shows are miles apart. “The lyrics are very similar, but the melodies and timing have just been…remixed, if you will! Plus, there’s an injection of hot brass and kicking drums.” she reels off. “You couldn’t possibly fall asleep during Hot Mikado, and you definitely can’t help but tap your toes.”

Keeping with the excitement built into the orchestration, Mel’s interpretation of the show is pure Golden Age music theatre. “My vision for Hot Mikado was to create a show that would be like if Arthur Freed suddenly decided to make Hot Mikado into a movie. All-singing, all-dancing, all-energy, all slapstick fun – bright colours and bright sparks!” In the tradition of the Golden Age, Mel has decided not to restrain herself to realism, and instead is embracing the genre as much as she can. “I think that Hot Mikado is a ridiculous, almost fantastical story, and I didn’t really want to have it in a “real” setting. I asked for a stagnant set with bright colours, and they’ve given me a…” she pauses, trying to describe it. “It’s part Japanese, part American Bandstand, part random location set. I’m probably giving too much away, but I really love it!” Along with the set, the costumes are pure 40s and 50s Broadway: “After watching Singin’ In The Rain for the 400th time, I took my inspiration for the colour scheme from the Broadway Ballet segment. It’s all bright, in your face colours – I chose Black, Red, Blue and White as our pallet. I really wanted to place more emphasis on Americans masquerading as Japanese, rather than the English – and those colours are synonymous with both countries.” Mel’s also quick to praise Kathryn White, the costume mistress. “I must say, [she’s] done wonders.”

Behind this vision, of course, is work. A lot of it.

“I feel like I’ve grown up about five years in a few months.” Mel says when asked about the experience. This is hardly her first experience with the stress of working on a production team, but to Mel it’s definitely an escalation. “I haven’t really felt that directing has been a big change from choreographing, it’s just the next step. I’ve always felt that people separate singing, acting and dancing too much.” Despite this, Mel’s experiences as choreographer and director have been in fairly different areas of the production process. For Mel, choreography’s all about the fine details as well as the fun dances: “In an amateur length rehearsal period you don’t get to go over things in microscopic detail, but I’ve been pretty picky. When choreographing in the past, I’ve always thought about what the song needs to bring to the story, and try to elicit a specific emotion with the moves I’ve picked. As long as you know exactly what you want a line to convey it’s really not hard, you just need to have done your homework.” But Mel’s experience as a director has been much less about the fine details and much more about just keeping everything together: “The difficult thing about directing isn’t the show. If you know you want to achieve, it will flow on. It’s actually the logistics, juggling the needs of the cast, the rest of the production team and the committee…I’ve been so lucky to have a sensational production manager and stage manager, if you’ve got a good team around you it really takes the pressure off.”

Despite the pressure, Mel feels as if the work has paid off, not just from her efforts but from the cast’s as well. “They’re young, keen, brilliant. They have soaked the show up like sponges and I’ve worked them so very hard! There’s nothing worse than watching actors who don’t really know why there are saying or doing something. I’ve tried to make sure that all the leads are comfortable, and that everything flows.” Although the leads sometimes merit a little extra attention, Mel’s made it clear that nobody in the cast is slacking. “I’ve pushed everyone pretty hard, especially people who may have classified themselves as ‘non-dancers’ before this show.”

Players Theatre Company’s Hot Mikado has a bright, vibrant and energetic vision, backed up by talents on and off stage. It promises to be a tight, exciting and fun show, but that’s not the only reason Mel wants a full house every night. “I want people to come and see Hot Mikado because I am so sincerely proud of my cast. I’ve thrown so much at them and they have just astounded me. Come for them, come because your friends are in it, because you love the music, because an amateur company hasn’t done it for a while…and I’ll add you on Facebook if I meet you in the foyer!” She laughs, clearly excited to show off her work, her cast and her show. And if that’s not enough, Mel says you should just come for a good time. “It’s one of those musicals that you can’t help but smile at.”

Hot Mikado runs from the 15th to the 23rd of October at South Oakleigh Secondary College on Bakers Road, South Oakleigh. To book, call 0450 221 833.

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