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Communique: Extra Spice In "Hot Mikado" At Brunswick Little Theatre

Brunswick Little Theatre
Christine Martinez (l) as Yum Yum with other Ladies of Japan

Some like it hot ... and according to Cal Chang and Christine Martinez, you might love this Hot Mikado regardless of how you feel about the operetta it's based on.

Brunswick Little Theatre presents Hot Mikado Thursday, June 14 through Sunday, June 24. Thursday, Friday, and Saturday performances are at 7:30pm; Sundays at 3:00pm. The show features a 7 piece orchestra conducted by Michael Stringer and 15 performers-the story and characters are nearly the same as the Gilbert & Sullivan classic, but you'll notice a new beat in the music.

Listen to Director/Choreographer Cal Chang and Actress Christine Martinez (Yum Yum) above; see our extended conversation below.  

Credit WHQR/gg
Cal Chang & Christine Martinez

Cal Chang: I'm directing and choreographing The Hot Mikado at Brunswick Little Theater in Southport. It's a great little show. It's an adaptation of Gilbert & Sullivan's Mikado, which if you know the Mikado it's a silly little story. It's funny, It's kind of zany. What they've done is they've brought that music up to jazz, swing, Gospel Music. It's absolutely wonderful - and I am with our Yum Yum, Christine Martinez.

Christine Martínez: I am working with Cal in the show playing a character called Yum Yum. Which, in and of itself, illustrates the silliness of the show. It's a lot of fun. The storyline is Yum Yum is in love with a character named Nanki-Poo, but is already engaged to her guardian who is named Ko-ko. There are other characters named Pish-Tush and Pitti-Sing. The silliness of the show, which lies in the dialogue and some of the choreography, is really fun, but the music is seller, absolutely dynamite. It's all upbeat. Great harmonies throughout. Four part harmonies, five part harmonies, and a cast that can pull them off. Michael Stringer is the music director.

Cal: We have a full orchestra. We have a seven piece orchestra in that small space, which is very amazing.

Gina Gambony: So, the Mikado itself is a comedy …

Cal: Yes.

Gina: Why the Hot Mikado?

Cal: This was put on Broadway in the 1930s with a full African American cast. It was Bellen Bowman who wrote, choreographed, and directed the whole production. What they did to the music, if you know the Operetta Mikado, is absolutely ingenious. All the tunes are recognizable. The storyline remains the same. It's the music. So amazing that they were able to adapt it to the 1940s style of swing and jazz and Gospel. There's some beautiful ballads in there. They did an incredible job.

Gina: Christine, tell me what piece is your favorite adaptation? Thinking about the original and thinking about the "hot" version of it.

Christine: Of course, I'm going to pick a song that I'm in. I love "Three Little Maids" done very Andrews sisters. True three part harmony. It's choreographed. The whole thing encompasses what I think of as the Andrews Sisters. I've always loved, as a singer, to sing in harmony is the funnest thing to do anyway. So that, and the big ensemble numbers are a lot of fun. It's funny to think of a show being "updated," and yet it was updated in the 40s or late 30s. But, it does not feel like the Mikado at all - hence the name "The Hot Mikado." Hot is a perfect word to slide in there because it's definitely got that - when we're dancing - almost jitterbugging type stuff with hooting and hollering in the background. It's just a good time show which we need so badly these days.

Gina: Cal, what is your favorite Mikado to the "Hot" version?

Christine: Be careful now.

Cal: [All laugh] I'm sure there's some Gilbert and Sullivan aficionados that judge your answer. I do love the Mikado, the original operetta. It is so silly and fun and what they did with their operettas was amazing. But, I think what pulled me into this show is the fact that they were able to maintain the story, maintain the music. It's totally recognizable, but with a different twist. That, to me, is very exciting. I think if you know the Mikado - the original Mikado - and you walk into this show, you're going to be quite amazed. It is just so much fun - not that the Mikado was not fun - but, to see that comparison in your head between the two pieces, is incredible.

Christine: I think the counterpoint to that too is, if you weren't a Gilbert and Sullivan fan, that this would be a show that you should give a looksy to because you would be really surprised. So, you do get the silliness of the original, but served up …

Gina: Hot.

Christine: Well, that was laying right there for us.

Gina: [All Laugh] How many people do you have in your cast?

Cal: We have 15 in the cast. We have our Nanki-Poo who is the hero, so to speak. We have Yum Yum who is the ingenue. Her two sisters who are very supportive of her. Then, we have the ladies with Japan. We have Ko-Ko, the Guardian, who is a really zany character. The Mikado is this huge, and I mean physically huge presence, on this stage. To see him tap - [they laugh] - an adventure.

Christine: I think you are a master magician there. It's a lot of fun and so much color. Jenny Epalucci did the costuming. She's done a ton of stuff here in Wilmington at TACT and Thalian. Nominated for awards for Shrek, which was a show you did a couple of years ago. There's just lots of color on the set. The set design is beautiful. Cal did a lot of the artwork.

Cal: Yeah. It's like a Japanese garden. It's filled with Japanese paintings, things like that. Then, against that are these bright, vivid primary colors in the anime style, which is cool.

Christine: Yeah, it's super cool. And again, updating it yet another step.

Cal: Yes. There's a mix because some of the characters still in are in traditional garb, and then we've got the anime style.

Christine: Which is really fun - and we wear wigs and completely become other people. Which is the best! Which is we do theater, right?

Cal: That's right. It opens on June 14th, Thursday, and runs for those four days, Thursday through Sunday. Then the weekend after that, the 21st, and closing on the 24th. The Sunday shows our 3:00 matinee, and the evening shows - Thursday, Friday, Saturday - are at 7:30.

Christine: Tickets can be purchased online at brunswicklittletheater.com. In Southport Proper at Ricky Evans' Gallery, hard copy tickets can be purchased there and at the door if they're still available. 

Gina: Cal, you live sometimes here and sometimes in New York, right?

Cal: Yes, I spend almost six months up in New York doing theater up there. I do a children's theater in the summer, and then I do high school/middle school shows in the spring.

Christine: And then we get him back.

Cal: [Laughs] Then I come back. I love spending the winter in New York. It's so wonderful [laughs] I'm being sarcastic.

Christine: I can sense the facetiousness from here.

Gina: Christine, how long have you been doing musical theater?

Christine: I returned from a long absence last year and did Smokey Joe's Cafe with Cal and Michael Stringer, which was the show they did last year. But I was a theater minor in college. I just always loved theater and singing. I have a band and I perform all the time, but theater is a special thing that I love. I had kept wanting to audition for a really long time, but it's a huge time commitment.

Gina: Yeah, and then you're like, "You know what? I'm going to quit my job and -"

Christine: "I'm going to keep doing this forever and I love you guys so much. Don't leave me." That's how you end up feeling, and I wanted to make that point too.  think community theater, in and of itself in its existence alone, gives you cause enough to want to go see a show. Because when you think about it - the entire cast, the entire orchestra, the entire tech fruit which contains lights, sound, set, design, set, construction - it's so many facets to putting on a show, especially a musical like this. Everybody is doing it because they want to. It is driven solely by passion.

Everybody's volunteering their time. The energy alone creates an event worth seeing. You're going to leave happy you came.

The idea of people volunteering their time and effort - it's a huge time commitment - it's worth checking out. What are these folks doing down here?

Gina: Why aren't they sitting at home on their computer, like, watching tv or something?

Christine: You can listen to the radio on the way home. It's just a great thing to do. Go see some theater, have dinner. Dinner and theater.

Cal: That's it. It's an evening.