Takarazuka: Rose of Versailles

Archives: Takarazuka: Rose of Versailles「ベルサイユの薔薇」

19 March 2006 (Sun), Tokyo

A revival of the quintessential production by the all-female Takarazuka troupe based on a famous Japanese manga involving two star-crossed couples in revolutionary France. There are two versions that focus on one or the other couple, though both appear in each. The one we saw put Marie Antoinette and the Swedish noble Fersen (both historical figures) at the fore; the other version, which will play the following month, looks more closely at the fictional couple Andre (a woman raised and living as a man, now the commander of the Queen’s bodyguards) and the stablehand Oscar. In our story, Marie pursues an illicit affair with Fersen despite knowing the potential consequences. In the end, for this and her other excesses, she ascends the long stairs to the guillotine with a slow and dramatic flourish.

This was my first time in the rebuilt theater, which is only around 4-5 years old. The building is spacious and well laid-out, with plenty of room for them to barter programs, CDs and Takarazuka trinkets not even related to the show itself. The theatre itself was also extremely well constructed, with a great sense of space, sufficient leg room, and good sight lines everywhere. Our seats were in the very back, but we were able to see and hear perfectly. The audience, as expected, was 90% female. This was the first time in six years for this popular show to be revived, so tickets sold out for the entire run as soon as the box office opened some months earlier.

As befitting the show’s setting in 18th century France (as well as brief forays in Vienna and Sweden), costumes and sets were spectacular. The music was, as my friend put it, like James Bond music from the 1970s, which is of course when the show was written. The story was very melodramatic with plenty of chances for the cast, especially the male roles, to look good. The acting was Takarazuka at its best, which means overacting at its worst. My favorite point was the death scene between Andre and Oscar. The latter, who has been shot multiple times, stands on a bridge dying while calling out dramatically to his lover below in an incredibly overwrought scene – fantastic. A close second must be Marie’s theatrical climb towards the guillotine, which was followed immediately by the chorus in a rousing line dance.

The cast overall is all very posed and mechanical with no evidence of any distinguishing personalities, as if they could just replace the pieces anytime. There were no singing voices to speak of; they basically took girls who could carry a tune and simply stuck them on stage, with no sign of any training whatsoever. The fact that the roles are all played by women puts the romance in the realm of fantasy, so that it poses no threat to the starry-eyed girls in the audience, even when the “man” suddenly grabs the woman and kisses her. (The same can be said of all-male Kabuki in a way, I suppose, but there is certainly no deep kissing or such among the Kabuki cast.) The formula of all image and minimal talent is well worn and extremely successful, so I don’t blame them for maintaining it. The fault is with the audiences, who don’t demand anything more. They know what to expect from a Takarazuka production when they enter the theatre, and they get it. Actually, the campiness of the experience extends to the audience, who seem to be watching with utmost seriousness. It was certainly an experience, and one I’d definitely recommend for first-timers, though not necessarily one I feel compelled to repeat for original shows. (That doesn’t apply to their adaptations of Broadway musicals, which cast a new light on the material, to say the least. We bought a Takarazuka Guys And Dolls video that was very entertaining in its own inimitable way.) I can see why Tommy Tune was so eager to direct here, but I’m not quite sure what’s enticed Frank Wildhorn to write songs for an upcoming production. A bit afraid to see that one.

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