By Mary Lake
Student-written humor and music that will make the audience want to get up and dance has Champlain Valley Union High School’s drama program certain “Hot Mikado” will be a hit Thursday night.
After a jittery moment about a week ago when junior Jacob Tischler said cast and crew felt a little unprepared, spirits are changing.
“Now, we’re like, ‘Oh, man, we’re ready to rock,’” said Tischler, who plays Koko.
The musical comedy written by David Bell is a 1940s version of Gilbert and Sullivan’s 1885 opera “The Mikado,” a satire of British rule set in Japan. CVU’s adaptation adds local references, present-day political jokes and a youthful interpretation of a complicated love triangle, or rather, quadrangle.
Along with writing most of the comedic sketches under the guidance of director Sebastian Ryder, students put in two hours each to design and build the set with art director Tim Duvernoy. Also a CVU art teacher, Duvernoy said he and Ryder acted more as facilitators because of the high level of motivation and creativity of the students.
To set the scene of 1940s Japan, CVU’s stage is decorated with blue and purple paper lanterns constructed by junior Matt Winter and illuminated white paper walls designed by freshman Jenn Dunn.
To add to the brightness, costumes – zoot suits and 1940s attire hand-made by Joann Frymire, a program member’s parent – consist of all the colors of the rainbow.
“Take a box of 64 Crayola crayons, take out the black, browns and white. That’s the color palette for this show,” Ryder said.
If the visual intensity of “Hot Mikado” isn’t enough to please the audience, the physical humor of the actors and jokes grown-ups will appreciate should do the trick, said senior Dan Liebman.
Liebman, who plays the Mikado, spent the fall learning tap dance so he could perform a six-minute number for the musical. In the scene, cast members are supposed to act surprised by his talent, but when Liebman completed the routine for the first time in rehearsal, fellow actor, junior Haley Perkins, said no one had to act.
Learning tap was the highlight of preparing for “Hot Mikado,” said Leibman, who worked one-on-one with Ryder after rehearsals.
Ryder, a dance instructor at Essex High School, said it is important that acting be a comprehensive learning experience. To help prepare students for CVU’s past production of “Les Miserables,” Ryder had a French teacher attend rehearsal to talk about French history, brought in a doctor to explain the effects of hunger and invited a former prisoner to describe what it’s like to be incarcerated.
In “Hot Mikado,” students are learning about comedy, which may seem trivial, Ryder said, “but the ability to see what’s funny in life will enable a person to be happy forever.”