The Swing Mikado
|The Swing Mikado|
|Lyrics||W. S. Gilbert|
|Basis||Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, The Mikado|
|Productions||1938 Chicago, Broadway|
The Swing Mikado is a musical theatre piece in two acts with music arranged by Gentry Warden, based on Gilbert and Sullivan's comic opera, The Mikado. It was first staged by an all-black company in Chicago in 1938, transferring to Broadway, and featured a setting transposed from Japan to a tropical island. Other changes from the original work included the re-scoring of five of the musical numbers in "swing" style, the insertion of popular dance sequences including "The Truck" and "The Cakewalk," and the rewriting of some of the dialogue in an attempt at "black dialect". Other than that, the original dialogue and score of 1885 were used. The show was also presented at the 1939 San Francisco World's Fair.
Background and productions
The Swing Mikado was a production of the WPA's Federal Theatre Project. The production was conceived, staged, and directed by Harry Minturn, with swing re-orchestrations of Arthur Sullivan's music by Warden, and starring Maurice Cooper as Nanki-Poo. After a five-month run in Chicago, the production moved to Broadway where it had a run of 86 performances. Its success inspired producer Mike Todd to mount a similar production, The Hot Mikado (1939). There is disagreement over whether or not the production reinforced negative racial stereotypes.
The opening night in New York was attended by Eleanor Roosevelt, Harry Hopkins and Mayor LaGuardia. The New York Times reviewer, Brooks Atkinson, gave it a good, if patronizing, review, praising Maurice Cooper as "a Nanki-Poo of superior voice and articulate acting capability" but complaining that the large company of "sepia show-folk" [sic] included "some that only fumble the music." Atkinson indicated that "after a slow start the show goes on a bender, the performers grin and strut and begin stamping out the hot rhythms with an animal frenzy. 'Za-zu-za-zu,' the three little maids from school say huskily, breaking down into a smoking caper. All this is something to see and hear ... the chorus includes some dusky wenches who can dance for the Savoyard jitterbugs with gleaming frenzy, tossing their heads in wild delight ... when [the company] gives The Mikado a Cotton Club finish, they raise the body temperature considerably."
- Vallillo, Stephen M. "The Battle of the Black Mikados". Black American Literature Forum, vol. 16, no. 4, Winter 1982, pp. 153–57, St. Louis University, accessed August 31, 2010 (log in required)
- Lee, Josephine D. (2010). The Japan of Pure Invention: Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado. University of Minnesota Press. ISBN 978-1-4529-1526-5.
- Atkinson, Brooks. "Chicago Unit of the Federal Theatre Comes In Swinging the Gilbert and Sullivan Mikado", The New York Times, March 2, 1939, p. 18
- Vallillo, Stephen M. "The Battle of the Black Mikados" in Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 16, No. 4, Black Theatre Issue (Winter, 1982), pp. 153–157.
- Article arguing that the production debunked rather than reinforced racial stereotypes
- Notes on the public and critical reception of the piece