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BWW Review: HOT MIKADO at Gateway Theatre

BWW Review: HOT MIKADO at Gateway Theatre
Jaron Vesely (center) as Ko-Ko with the Gentlemen of Japan (L to R: Vinh Nguyen, Jon-David Randle, Nick Rodrigues, Michael Motroni) in Hot Mikado

Gilbert and Sullivan are brought into the jazz age in this charming, if uneven, production of Hot Mikado by 42nd Street Moon at the Gateway Theatre.

Inspired by the 1885 operetta, The Mikado, composer Rob Bowman and lyricist and playwright David H. Bell update the action to 1940's Japan, giving the original score a decidedly modern update with influences from jazz, gospel, and even the Andrews sisters. The disgraced son of the Mikado, Nanki-Poo (Jean-Paul Jones), disguises himself as a minstrel as he pursues the maid who caught his eye, Yum-Yum (Lucca Troutman). When he discovers she is due to be married to the Lord High Executioner of Titipu, Ko-Ko (Jason Vesley), he concocts a plot to win Yum-Yum for himself, and hilarity ensues, of course.

Though Bowman and Bell do add some modern humor that really lands - the characters' needing to be reminded that they can read Japanese is a nice touch - there's a missed opportunity to poke fun at the blatant cultural appropriation of the original and its offensive stereotypes. Indeed, they seem to double-down on this with a number mocking the Japanese language and adding references to more modern tropes such as Benihana's.

BWW Review: HOT MIKADO at Gateway Theatre
Lucca Troutman as Yum-Yum and Jean-Paul Jones as Nanki-Poo

With many of Gilbert's lyrics thankfully left intact, there's a lot of raucous wordplay on display, but the onstage band led by musical director Dave Dobrusky frequently overpowers the singers, so it's hard to hear much of the witticisms as they're bandied about. Director and choreographer Jeffrey Polk has some nifty staging, particularly some hilarious banter between the performer and the band, as well as encouraging game audience members to get on their feet in the joyful finale.

BWW Review: HOT MIKADO at Gateway Theatre
Branden Noel Thomas as the Mikado

The cast is game, led by an effusively charming Jones as the protagonist, Nanki-Poo. Kelly Houston has some fun moments as Pooh-Bah, the Lord High of Everything Else as he dismisses bureaucracy by replacing the entire government as a one-man band. As the Mikado, Branden Noel Thomas is a stand-out. With a voice that could power the peninsula and a kilowatt smile to match, his effortless charisma brings down the house in the second act.

Mark Mendelson's beautiful set places us in mid-century Japan while giving the actors plenty of room to play. The costumes by Marisely Cortes, though ill-fitting at times, are gorgeously coordinated and in period.

Hot Mikado is a fun, light-hearted take on a classic that is likely to put a smile on your face.

Hot Mikado continues through October 13th at San Francisco's Gateway Theatre (215 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94111). Tickets can be purchased through the Box Office at (415) 255-8207 or online at

Photos by Ben Krantz Studio.

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