The Swing Mikado (1938)
The earliest American adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan’s The Mikado was the 1938 Chicago production of The Swing Mikado. The production included several key alterations to the original libretto and musical arrangements including a tropical island setting, five re-orchestrated songs that mimicked popular swing music, popular dances such as The Truck and Cakewalk, and the insertion of imitated black dialect.
The most notable alteration of The Swing Mikado is the transposition onto an unnamed tropical island, as The Swing Mikado distanced itself from Japanese influence, authentic or falsely appropriated. The top image is of The Swing Mikado’s actresses for the three little maids. The trio’s floral pieces, loose skirts, and sandals are meant to evoke island life (most likely meant to appear as an island in the Caribbean).
The bottom image is of the three little maids from an original production of The Mikado, and demonstrates a stark contrast to the minimal clothing of The Swing Mikado.
Although The Swing Mikado’s detached itself from Japanism and false Japanese aesthetics, the production received backlash from other communities. Following its 86 performances on Broadway, there was public debate over whether or not the show reinforced negative racial stereotypes. The attempt at black dialect appeared particularly stereotypical to many audience members.