I need help with a response to this prompt for Hot Mikado.  Focusing on Nanki-Poo's main costumes, please analyze how the psychology of his character is present or is not present in his clothing...

I need help with a response to this prompt for Hot Mikado

Focusing on Nanki-Poo's main costumes, please analyze how the psychology of his character is present or is not present in his clothing in Act 1 and Act 2.  Please use specific details when discussing the two main looks and if they are successful or not for highlighting his psychology (this includes color, fit of his clothing, patterns that may be present, are the clothes in good condition or disrepair, etc. and how they apply to the character's psychology).

Expert Answers
Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Different productions of Hot Mikado will always reflect the different directors' interpreation of the text and songs of the script. While the script may specify an era, say the 1930s, an individual director may envision an aspect of the 1930s that is unique from any other director's vision.

That said, Hot Mikado is part of a long tradition that begins with Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta The Mikado, set in Imperialist Japan at the height of England's colonial power. To us, in today's mileu, that sounds quite a bad era, but, at the time, it was a glorious era during which England envisioned a beneficial blending of East and West and during which Gilbert and Sullivan set some of the cultural differences to music in a lighthearted satirically comedic operetta about love between two youths living under Japanese political tradition yet educated under English academic tradition.

In the 1930s, Gentry Warden developed The Swing Mikado with an all-black cast and company; it opened in Chicago in 1938. In 1939, Mike Todd developed The Hot Mikado, also with an all-black company, after being turned down for producing The Swing Mikado for the WPA Federal Theatre Project (WPA was an FDR New Deal arts program in the Works Progress Administration). The Hot Mikado, opening in spring of 1939 at the Broadhurst Theatre, featured Zoot Suits, wing shoulder coats, white leather spats on black patent leather shoes and sequins, spangles and beads. Bell and Bowman's 1986 production of Hot Mikado is a modified version of Todd's 1939 The Hot Mikado.

Bell and Bowman researched the 1939 The Hot Mikado but could not find enough original material from which to write an adaptation. As a result, Bell and Bowman wrote their own original version calling it Hot Mikado. The all-black emphasis was dropped in Hot Mikado although the cool, zoot-style of the early black swing era still remains. All three adaptations incorporate the story and songs of Gilbert and Sullivan's original script and songs. With this rich tradition, costuming in various productions has latitude for versatility as well as scope for conveying psychological traits of characters.


To answer your prompt, you need to first analyze the costumes Nanki-Poo wears. This involves making a detailed description of them then applying color and style analysis to uncover the psychological aspects (if any) revealed. It is useful to compare two or more productions of Hot Mikado to facilitate your task. We'll look here at the costumes Nanki-Poo wears in three productions during the Act I song "This Is What I'll Never Do." [In the original Gilbert and Sullivan The Mikado, this song follows on the heels of "Were You Not to Ko-ko Plighted."]  

Tyler Donahue Nanik-Poo

When Tyler Donahue sang Nanki-Poo's role, he was costumed in well-to-do casual 1940's attire. The psychology presented in this well-to-do choice is stability of inner character, confidence, intelligence. Bear in mind that often theater costuming relies on stereotypes, positive or negative ones, such as the stereotype associated with being well-to-do in the 1930s and 1940s, to convey psychological aspects of characters. The details of his costume follow:

  • 1940s style white slacks, pleated, belted at waist with shirt tucked in
  • dark leather belt creates divide between man's broad shoulders and narrower hips: emphasizes physique to develop a "hero" image
  • pastel colored, wide-stripped shirt in pale pink, white and blue: develops "purity" image lending innocence and disingenuity to the hero
  • shirt is open at the collar with sleeves roled above the elbows, revealing the stripes and pastel colors: lends complexity to an otherwise stereotypical presentation providing psychological depth and intricacy
  • open collar and rolled sleeves reveal throat and arm: exposes sex appeal complemented by belted emphasis on physique
  • neutral grey-blue light-weight and tight-fitting sweater, tucked in, subtely changes from pink to blue to grey depending on the spotlight that is trained upon the actor
  • straw hat with white band coordinating with slacks and reaponding with varying shades as spotlighting varies (same as sweater)
  • brown suede, flat-heel casual shoes contrasting with near-monochromatic look (monochromatic: single color perhaps with varying shades) yet coordinating with the dark leather belt
  • actor's dark brown hair complements the dark shoes and belt while contributing to breaking the near-monochromatic appearance
  • 1940s "good guy" stereotype

The psychological aspects dynamically developed by these costuming choices present this hero as a man of depth and breadth with a personality that is honorable, complex and stable.

Loughrea Youth Theatre Nanik-Poo 

When the Loughrea Youth Theatre produced Hot Mikado, Nanki-Poo cut a flashier image though with perhaps less success in conveying psychological aspects of the character. His overall costume during "This Is What I'll Never Do" was that of an interpretation of a 1940s jazz musician (since Nanki-Poo is meant to be working as a musician). He is dressed in a sparkling, stylized tuxedo in a Cab Calloway fashion, the details of which follow:

  • bright salmon colored shirt, long sleeves, cuffs buttoned
  • black vest with sparkling grey lapels, exaggerated "dinner jacket" vest cut with arched sides and pointed front
  • black tuxedo slacks with grey side-stripe, no pleats, slim fitting
  • dark salmon bow tie (badly tied, not clip-on)
  • black Fedora hat with dark salmon band

The psychological aspects of Nanik-Poo developed by these costuming choices relate to his external choices that are driven by one element of his life motives: his desire to strike out on his own, independently of his father the Mikado. In general, while the salmon pink color shows his purity and honesty, the costuming reveals little else of Nanik-Poo's psychological qualities.

Argyle Diamonds Nanik-Poo

A third production shows Nanki-Poo costumed in a wrinkled white shirt (it's impossible to know whether the unironed, wrinkled shirt was a costuming direction or an accident of carelessness) with cuffs rolled up at wrists (not above elbows), a pull-over sweater-vest of dark brown with argyle diamonds in three varying shades of grey, crumpled dark-brown slacks with pleats and black shoes of patent leather.

While these costuming choices might go a long way to revealing Nanik-Poo's purity, honesty and trustworthiness, the crumpled, wrinkled appearance of his casual clothes subverts the effort and adds both confusion ("Is he meant to be seen as careless?") and an element disreputableness.

Psychological Comparisons

All three productions present Nanki-Poo as someone who has purity of character and motive: he is not double-dealing, he is not dishonest, he is not disreputable, he is not conniving or used to violence.

The Loughrea Youth Theatre costuming fails psychologically because it focuses attention on the external of the supposed career Nanki-Poo has adopted as a musician (remember, when he confesses that he is the son of the Mikado, Yum-Yum says she already knew he was no musician because he can't play) instead of focusing on the inner qualities Naniko-Poo possesses. The third example fails psychologically because the crumpled clothes convey a psychological message of their own that contrasts with the psychological message behind the orderly, dependable argyle diamonds and pure white shirt.

The one example of psychologically successful costuming is that worn by Tyler Donahue. The pastels and whites show his inner goodness and purity: he is what he seems to be, and he seems to be a good guy hero. The dark contrasts and emphasis on physique achieved through subtle attention-focusing devices show his manliness, courage and nobility (he must have courage to go against the Mikado, his father, and strike out on his own). The subtle changes varying spotlights throw over the costume colors reveals the psychological depth and complexity forming the foundation of his personality establishing his presence as a fully rounded, dynamic character.

[Image: Bill "Bo Jangles" Robinson in Todd's 1939 The Hot Mikado; Wikipedia, New York Sunday News 1939.]

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