Thursday, 10 December 2009

Hot Mikado

Tonight Hot Mikado, by one Rob Bowman, opens at a local high school where I teach woodwind. It's a musical of the kind the school stages on a yearly basis. Based on Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado, it was written in the 1980s in the style of the 1940s. This makes for an interesting libretto with its satire on the British political and imperial system of the Victorian era mixed with cultural references from the swing era - Roosevelt's New Deal for example - along with a 1980s slant: 'We don't need your disco sound' chirrups the chorus.

Having been late for the first band call (other work commitments), missed most of the second (another gig) and unable to make the dress rehearsal (a heavy cold, real humdinger) I find myself approaching the first night feeling somewhat unprepared. Practice has been all but impossible but, in the best showbiz traditions, the show must go on. And so it shall. The part I was given calls for flute, clarinet and alto sax. Fortunately someone else has taken on the flute elements. Some of the changes are very quick and the shortest allows a minim rest (no more than a second in that particular piece) to switch from flute to alto.

The original operetta has a personal resonance as it is both the only G&S work I've seen live and the first live show of any kind that I attended. I was ten and the headmaster organised a music club for the six or seven fourth formers in the junior boarding house. One day he announced he was taking us to see a light opera and, when the day came, we duly went. What an eye-opener. The only live music I had experienced previously was the school piano as it bashed out hymns in morning assembly. The only stage show was the school nativity play. I was blown away and the experience was only eclipsed by seeing Hawkwind a few years later.

So I confess to being a little suspicious of Hot Mikado when it was announced. Not really being a fan of musicals I'd never heard of it and anticipated a dumbed down version of the real thing. A bit like a Hollywood history - the first casualty is the truth. But, although the libretto has the odd cringe worthy moment (as I'm sure would the original if I listened again), the music is good. In fact the best numbers are the ones Sullivan wrote and Rob Bowman messed with. Hot, certainly. Fun, fast and furious. I just hope, for my sake and everyone else's, I can reproduce it satisfactorily tonight.

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