- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 23, 2002

Ford's Theatre hits the jackpot with "Hot Mikado," an adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan's classic musical.
The jazz score swings, the funny lines crackle, the singing soars, and the acting and dancing are brilliant. The 20-member cast is tight (and this is not a reference to the relatively small stage they work on) in all of their 22 dance and song numbers.
The story is a silly and simple one. Nanki-Poo (David Ayers) is in love with Yum-Yum (Kelli Rabke), but Yum-Yum is to be married to Ko-Ko (Ross Lehman), the town's executioner, who has never even killed a fly.
The pressure is on Ko-Ko from the Japanese emperor, the Mikado (Ted Levy), to execute someone before the month is up to show he is worthy of his morbid job. Who better than Nanki-Poo?
This scenario sets up the farce of corruption, love and power to follow. How will Nanki-Poo escape with his girl without getting decapitated? How will Ko-Ko keep his job and his own head, for that matter?
The two-hour musical, which goes by in the blink of an eye, has plenty of strong performances. Mr. Lehman does a hilarious job, delivering his funny lines and slapstick stumbles with perfect timing. He's kind of a cross between Woody Allen and Gene Kelly, although the program notes say his character is inspired by Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante and George Burns.
If Mr. Lehman is the funniest, Mr. Levy is the most exquisite dancer. His skilled, charming Mikado has only a few short appearances, but they include a tap dance number that leaves viewers panting for more.
The audience is about to start clapping when Mr. Levy looks at them and says, "Not yet." His explosive routine continues a few more minutes before he gives the go-ahead for roaring applause, which he, of course, gets.
The most powerful voice belongs to Chandra Currelley, who plays Katisha, an older woman who is in love with Nanki-Poo. Her character is modeled after Billie Holiday with fancy, tight dresses, a bossy but melancholy personality and a voice to die for.
Mr. Ayers and Miss Rabke, who play the lovebirds, also deliver strong performances.
Singling out the leads doesn't do justice to the rest of the company. Each member of the cast brings his or her character to life with humor, a sense of rhythm and strong vocal cords.
Denise Summerford as the sassy Pitti-Sing and Laparee Young as the corrupt Pooh-Bah, are perfect examples of the strong supporting players.
The land of Titi-Pu, the fairytale Japanese-inspired town where the story unfolds, is expertly created by stage designer Daniel Proett. The front half of the stage is free from props to allow the dancers to go full throttle, while the backdrop and sides are adorned with silk and bamboo screens, a pagoda and a Japanese bridge.
Mr. Proett sticks to the same set throughout the production, and the mood, time and scene changes are created with the help of Diane Ferry Williams' colorful lighting, which is projected onto the set and the white wall behind it. Sometimes it's a starlit night, sometimes a gloriously pink sunset and sometimes a bright sunrise.
While the set is Japanese, the clothes, by Mariann Verheyen, belong to 1940s America. The men all wear colorful, pinstriped suits and fedora-style hats. The women don short and tight showgirl dresses in pinks, reds and yellows.
The music which is wonderful is also all-American. The six-member Titi-Pu Town Orchestra (Chris Fenwick, Jeff Cooper, Tom Jones, Chris Royal, George Hummel and Dave Sciannella) add skill to the pizazz and swing to the score inspired Duke Ellington and other jazz greats and arranged by Rob Bowman.
Director and choreographer David Bell, who brought "Hot Mikado," to Ford's in 1986 and has since staged it at least eight times worldwide, has created a delightful version of what seems to be his favorite project.
It's a slammin' production, with lots of goodies for both eye and ear.

****
WHAT: "Hot Mikado"
WHERE: Ford's Theatre, 511 10th St. NW
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. today (no performances tomorrow); 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; 1 p.m. on Thursdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays through June 16.
TICKETS: $27 to $43
PHONE: 202/347-4833
MAXIMUM RATING FOUR STARS


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