The Fewer the Merrier in Theatre Three's Frenetic Hot Mikado

The fewer people onstage in Theatre Three's heavily populated Hot Mikado, the more fun the show. A 1986 adaptation by David H. Bell and Rob Bowman of an even older jazz version of the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, this one is directed and designed with an emphasis on frenetic movement and clashing colors (fuchsia! orange!) by Bruce Richard Coleman.

"We are Japanese," say the actors in a winky running joke about how nobody in the cast is Japanese. They are a diverse lot indeed, of many sizes, ages and ethnicities. It's just that there are so many of them crowded onto T3's small in-the-round stage. Choreography by Kelly McCain follows the usual pattern in T3 musicals of everyone walking in rhythm counterclockwise, then turning and shuffling the other direction with their hands in the air. (They've cut one tap number.)

When the throngs clear off, however, leaving Denise Lee (as the hilariously slatternly Katisha), Paul Taylor (as flirty old executioner Ko-Ko) and Natalie Coca (as ingénue Yum-Yum) to sing their faces off, it's delightful. Lee belts a terrific torch song, "Alone and Alive," late in the second act. Taylor and Lee have fun with the comic duet "Beauty in the Bellow." Coca twinkles through "The Sun & I." (Too bad baby-faced Dennis Weiss, who plays her romantic lead Nanki-Poo, sings wincingly off-key and hasn't a lick of comic timing.)

T3 tries and fails with big musicals like this at least once a season. This time musical director and keyboardist Scott A. Eckert has to pound away from a muffled corner above the stage (did the trumpet player have a cold sore last week?) and some of the performers are miked and some aren't. Hot Mikado is kind of a hot mess.

Hot Mikado continues through April 5 at Theatre Three, 2800 Routh St. (in The Quadrangle). Tickets, $10-$50, at 214-871-3300 or