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

Hamilton

  • Hamilton

11/29/17 (Wed), LA Pantages

I hadn’t felt overly compelled to see Hamilton because of the insane pricing and the rap or hip-hop music (I’m not sure I know the difference). Still, it’s gone beyond musical to bona fide cultural phenomenon and a mega-hit on a scale I’ve never seen. As with Avatar way back when, I was curious to catch it at some point just to see what the fuss was about. I was happy when a friend said she managed to get a ticket when I visited LA, but was shocked when I learned that she had paid through the nose and only got one ticket. I wouldn’t have let her do that if I had known, not wanting to leave her behind or give that kind of money to greedy producers. But it was done, and I accepted her generosity. It turned out that four tickets were available at the box office at normal prices just before the show, but I thought it better not to mention that to my friend.

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New York (November 2017)

  • Junk, 11/16/17 (Thurs), Lincoln Center
  • Torch Song, 11/17/17 (Fri), Broadway
  • Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train, 11/18/17 (Sat), off Broadway
  • Time and the Conways, 11/18/17 (Sat), Broadway
  • The Band’s Visit, 11/19/17 (Sun), Broadway
  • Brigadoon, 11/19/17 (Sun), Encores!

A brief visit to New York on the way elsewhere. Shows I missed this time included Dear Evan Hansen (tickets impossible to get in the lead actor’s final days) as well as Hamilton and Bruce Springsteen (tried half-heartedly and unsuccessfully for the lottery for both). I decided against the revival of M Butterfly, one of my favorite shows, when I heard that the author had added a part describing how the Chinese guy disguised his “package”, which sounded much too literal for a show about illusion. (And I didn’t need another apparent reference by Hwang to small Asian penises, an obsession he needs to overcome.)   Continue reading