Takarazuka Boys (宝塚 BOYS)

宝塚 BOYS (Takarazuka Boys)

8/7/13 (Wed), Tokyo

A dramatization of Hankyu Corporation’s efforts to create a male counterpart to its all-girl Takarazuka troupe after the war. Given the experiment’s failure and the setting amid the ashes of a defeated Japan, I assumed the play would be a standard weepie. But a friend invited me, and I figured it may at least have some camp value.

It was pretty much as feared. Seven boys with various impossible personalities gather in hopes of becoming the first Takarazuka male performers, but face many obstacles and broken promises along the way. In the end, they find they’ve simply been strung along by the organization, which has had second thoughts in the face of strong opposition from within (female performers) and without (the fans). They realize that they will never be allowed to step on stage, making them question their dreams and future. The first boy who appeared was promisingly deferential and self-effacing, not at all the leader he is forced to be, which was appealing in small doses. His classmates were less likely, such as the wannabe young gangster and the arrogant ballet dancer, and ultimately the whole idea became ridiculous. Everyone had his moment of melodrama, like the boy on his deathbed escaping from the hospital for a final performance or another wailing uncontrollably upon learning that his missing father was killed in battle. Pretty much every line was screamed or delivered in an unnatural way, which surprised my friend, an American actor who obviously hasn’t seen much Japanese theater.

The direction was also as unhinged from reality as usual. For instance, when the Hankyu executive comes in with the proposed script in hand, one of the boys tries to sneak a look as the man waves his hand around – what exactly is the boy hoping to accomplish? Does he have X-ray vision? There must be a better way to show his eagerness to read the script than to have him do such impossible contortions. I’ve become so used to this laziness that it was a surprise to hear my friend comment on it. Smarter direction could improve the show immeasurably.

That said, the story itself was beyond repair. The author not only threw out any semblance of history but any semblance of reality as well. The scene in which the boy in a male role becomes nauseous at having to play a love scene against a boy in a female role is not only ridiculous – they had been doing this in Kabuki for about 300 years – but ignores everything Takarazuka represents in hopes of a cheap laugh. What did the boys think they were getting into when they signed up for an all-male show? What does the author want us to think? Given that show had emphasized how keen the boys were to appear on stage after waiting years for their chance, this reaction was not even dramatically acceptable.

One particularly strange omission was scenes in which the boys learned the Takarazuka ropes in terms of singing, dancing, acting, physical bearing and such. We were told that they were worked to exhaustion, but nothing on the stage itself suggested anything remotely as such. For a show about performers, the lack of performance was a pretty glaring flaw. Some of the characters were presented as so hopeless that it begs the question of just why Hankyu accepted them as students in the first place. At the very least, they could have shown some progression from awful to acceptable. We got little more than hints of this throughout. They finally gave a semi-performance as a finale, complete with the famous staircase. But from the evidence here, only two of the seven could dance and none could sing. What the heck were they doing for the nine years of the troupe’s existence?

The idea of a Takarazuka boy’s troupe had sounded promising enough, but I really should know better at this point. Ah, well.

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