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Vaudeville returns in Hot Mikado

July 1, 1993

Vaudeville returns in Hot Mikado

By Edith McCauley, Theater Critic

In 1937, two African-American adaptations of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado played on Broadway. The Swing Mikado originated in the Federal Theatre Project in Chicago and was choreographed by Sammy Dyer. Mike Todd produced Hot Mikado, starring tap legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Later playing at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York, it ran two more years.

Artistic Director David H. Bell, while in his third season at Ford’s Theatre in Washington, D.C., decided to stage Hot Mikado. Much of the original material could not be found, so he literally rewrote the show. With Rob Bowman writing the score, Hot Mikado became a multi ethnic vaudeville extravaganza.

Costumed in the zoot suits of the ’40s, the dancers perform with the energy and verve of the old days at the Savoy in Harlem. Elaborate hairdos and brilliantly colored dresses, enhanced with obis and Asian brocade, the women become part geisha and part Andrews Sisters.

Ross Lehman, as Ko-Ko, garbed in pegged pants and a pork pie hat, uses every device to get a laugh. His routine with Katisha (Felicia Fields) goes on and on until she finally breaks up completely. A personification of Jerry Lewis, he even uses the same vocal inflections. Recreating the “Bojangles” role as The Mikado, Ted. L. Levy taps on every surface available. His training began in Chicago with Finis Henderson II, Master Tap Dancer and former manager of Sammy Davis. As he and Fields took their bows, shouts of appreciation came from the house.

Vaudeville, exaggeration in every sense of the word, brings back the days remembered by many with a feeling of security. Our world today produces anxiety, and the past seems better than it really was. Marriott, with nearly 40,000 subscribers, has a budget envied by every other company. It enables them to mount shows seldom seen outside Las Vegas.

Playing through June 29, Hot Mikado tickets can be purchased through the box office, (847) 634-0200. On Wednesday and Sunday matinees and Sunday evening performances, students and seniors receive $5 off full ticket price. We spent the night at the hotel, and with supper after the show, it became a mini vacation.

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