Mary Poppins comes to Tokyo

  • メリー・ポピンズ: Mary Poppins comes to Tokyo

More than a dozen years after its debut in London, the stage production of Mary Poppins is finally making its way to Tokyo in an all-Japanese version this month. The show ran only around three years in London, a considerable disappointment given the potency of the title and the pedigree of mega-producers Disney and Cameron Mackintosh. It posted a stronger and profitable run of over six years on Broadway, but never became the iconic hit that many had envisioned.

My review of the London production from September 2005, when the show was still in its first year, says it all, so I’ll repeat that here.

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My Not-So-Fair Lady: Those dangerous old musicals

  • My Not-So-Fair Lady: Those dangerous old musicals

The New York Times has decided that old musicals are a danger to society. A recent article, “The Problem With Broadway Revivals: They Revive Gender Stereotypes, Too”, complains that revivals of Carousel, My Fair Lady and Kiss Me, Kate present women as inferior beings who endure abuse from their male counterparts: “Billy Bigelow hits Julie Jordan. Henry Higgins molds Eliza Doolittle. Fred tames Lilli.” It claims unsurprisingly that these revivals are a “huge conversation” among the #MeToo movement. (It also discusses Pretty Woman, a new musical based on the film that is scheduled to open this year.) The article quotes worried musician Georgia Stitt as saying, “In 2017 is the correct message really ‘women are there to be rescued’?”

Well, no. That’s not the message at all, and the problem isn’t the musicals but the shriveled viewpoint of those perpetual victims who turn everything they touch into proof of their own suffering. Stacy Wolf, an academic (naturally) who has written a feminist history of Broadway, calls the characters in such musicals “pathetic”, and Stitt asks rhetorically, “Are these the shows I’m going to take my 12-year-old daughter to?”

Depends on how you look it, doesn’t it? Continue reading

Takarazuka: South Pacific (宝塚: 南太平洋 )

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  • 宝塚: 南太平洋 (Takarazuka: South Pacific)

4/10/13 (Wed), Tokyo

At first glance, South Pacific seemed the least likely of the big Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals to be given the Takarazuka treatment given the high macho factor: “There’s Nothing Like a Dame” has a whole chorus of men grumbling about the lack of women, “Younger Than Springtime” calls in the script for a shirtless guy (implying some off-stage fun), and “Honey Bun” features a man in drag with coconuts for boobs. Also, the theme of racial discrimination wouldn’t resonate whatsoever with this group’s core audience. More than that, the text states explicitly that the soldiers are there to fight the Japanese, which no one in this country wants to hear about. (In the last version I saw in Tokyo, an import from London, the subtitles used katakana, the alphabet used for foreign words, for all references to the Japanese military (ニホン軍) as if Japan were a foreign country.) But, of course, it’s a big romantic story with two juicy male leading roles, an ideal combination for these guys (girls), and the super-maleness was certainly a prime attraction for me. There was no way I was going to miss this opportunity to catch some high camp.

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The Exterminating Angel (Met Live)

  • The Exterminating Angel (Met Live)

1/29/18 (Mon), Tokyo

British composer Thomas Adès’ new opera, based on the 1962 Buñuel film, was a big popular and critical success in Salzburg, London and New York, and I was eager to catch this Met Live production from last November. The source film, which I had somehow never seen, happened to be playing in Tokyo at a retrospective of Buñuel’s Mexican works, so I caught that the night before.

The story, a Beckett-like setup where fancy guests at a dinner party find themselves mysteriously unable to leave the room, didn’t seem a promising subject for a full opera. For one thing, it’s largely an ensemble piece with no real leads, less about individual characters than the breakdown of the social order and how people behave in extreme situations. The film wraps up in a brisk 90 minutes or so, suggesting that a one-act opera might be more appropriate. (That appears to be the approach that Stephen Sondheim and David Ives are taking in their musical version, which will combine this film with that other Buñuel dinner-party piece The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie.) The fact that this all takes place largely within the confines of a single room with the same costuming throughout also doesn’t suggest much in the way of scale or glamour. In any event, I was curious to see what Adès and his co-librettist Tom Cairns would make of this.

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Spielberg’s (!) West Side Story

  • Spielberg’s (!) West Side Story 

Steven Spielberg’s intended film remake of West Side Story is apparently a go, for better or worse. While the original 1957 stage show was a modest success, it was the smash 1961 film that put the musical on the map with the second-highest grosses of the year and ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture. The love was not shared by its creators, who did not approve of the numerous revisions in song order and such, and it has not aged particularly well, coming off today as rather stagy despite its on-location shooting. Still, it is an historic work with a perfect cast, that amazing score and the iconic Jerome Robbins choreography, making the challenge of a remake formidable. The innovative approaches of recent musical films like Sweeney Todd and Hedwig and the Angry Inch (as well as the NBC Live musicals) do suggest a new path for musical film, and a creative look at old material is always welcome. (The stage show itself could stand some polishing if the Robbins estate would ever allow it.)

So why am I skeptical? Let us count the ways.  Continue reading

コメディ・トゥナイト (A Funny Thing…Forum)

  • コメディ・トゥナイト (A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum)

3/7/17 (Tues), Tokyo

Amon Miyamoto, who brought his maverick (and Tony-nominated) production of Pacific Overtures to Broadway some years back, is the go-to director for Sondheim musicals in Japan, but I was still surprised to hear that he was tackling this pure farce versus the more pseudo-serious shows that he prefers. It made more sense once I realized that he’s given it a twist: he’s changed the setting from ancient Rome to Edo, the name for present-day Tokyo through the mid-19th century. This is the first time I know of that Sondheim has permitted a fundamental change like this in any of his shows throughout his long career. (I understand that he’s also given the okay for a Company in the UK using a female lead.) Maybe he’s getting more mellow in his old age. I had assumed that this was one of Miyamoto’s wacky ideas but was surprised to learn that it came from Sondheim himself (a friend of Miyamoto’s since happening upon Pacific in Tokyo in 2000) at the suggestion of Japanese writer Aoshika Koji, who translated the script alongside Miyamoto’s lyrics.

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メンフィス (Memphis)

  • メンフィス (Memphis)

12/12/17 (Mon), 新国立劇場

An original Japanese production of the hit Broadway musical from some years back. A white music lover in Memphis in the 1950s overcomes prejudice by persuading (1) a white record store to play black music in the shops, (2) a white radio station to play black music on the air, (3) a black singer to become his girlfriend, (4) his suspicious mother and the girl’s suspicious brother to accept his relationship with the girl, and so on and so forth. He fails to convince TV executives to accept mixed-race shows and ultimately loses the girl to reality, ending his days as DJ at a second-rate Memphis radio station while she goes on to New York and stardom. But never fear: it all comes to an upbeat ending that sends everyone out dancing. The maudlin plot was impeccably PC and nothing new, even for Japanese audiences, but it offers a harmless framework for some energetic singing and dancing against a nice pastiche of 1950s R&B.

The impressive physical production, directed and choreographed here by Jeffrey Page, was on a Broadway scale in every way. Continue reading