This week we’re taking it way back to 1939 for THROWBACK THURSDAY with The Hot Mikado, an all black cast adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado. Starring the iconic Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the original Broadway production hit the stage at the Broadhurst Theatre on March 23rd, 1939 with a total of 85 performances. The musical set in Japan features a comedic story of lovers kept apart, crazy laws, resistance to forced execution, and imposing royals. It’s quite the comedy of errors. While Gilbert and Sullivan gave an operatic version of the story, The Hot Mikado gave it a jazzy flavor.
In 1986 David H. Bell and Rob Bowman created a new adaptation of the musical due to the fact that there was very little surviving material from the original. This new adaptation premiered in Washington D.C. and went on to be mounted in other national and international regional theaters. Despite the jazz adaptation to the musical, the composition was maintained, albeit altered. The songs were reorchestrated to give them a 1940s bluesy, gospel, or jazz vibe. All of titles remained the same and most of the Gilbert and Sullivan lyrics were kept as well. It’d be interesting to hear the two versions back to back!
2. Not one Broadway revival
Since the 1939 debut, The Hot Mikado has not been seen on a Broadway stage in 76 years. The West End had a production in 1995 of the Hall and Bowman version, but that’s it! I wonder if it will ever get a revival.
3. The Swing Mikado
A year before The Hot Mikado came to Broadway, there was another all black cast adaptation of The Mikado that was first staged in Chicago before coming to New York in 1938, The Swing Mikado. This adaptation moves the setting from Japan to a tropical island. Everything remained the same except that 5 of the musical numbers from the source material were altered to give them a swing style, and the dialogue was adjusted to have what was considered then to be “black dialect.” The musical also performed at the World’s Fair in 1939 in San Francisco.
4. 8 Standing O’s
Bill Robinson’s performance as the emperor was a show stealer. The actor received 8 encores during a performance of one of his numbers. Bill Robinson was a famous vaudeville dancer and film star who worked with the likes of Will Rogers, Shirley Temple and Lena Horne. He was harshly criticized by other blacks and called an “Uncle Tom” for the many racially stereotyped roles he played.
5. Massive cast at the World’s Fair
Producer Mike Todd brought The Hot Mikado to the New York World’s Fair for 2 seasons (1939-1940). The show was extremely popular and had a cast of 150. Can you imagine? I wonder how big the stage was to accommodate that many people. And the costume team had to be pretty large, too!
How do you think audiences would respond to revival of The Hot Mikado on Broadway today? Have you ever seen a regional production of the show? How do you think it compares to the original Gilbert and Sullivan musical? Scroll down to share your thoughts in the comments below!