Noh: Youchi Soga (夜討曽我 )

  • Noh (夜桜能): 夜討曽我 (Youchi Soga)

4/5/17 (Wed), Yasukuni Shrine

The cherry blossoms were in full glorious bloom for Yasukuni Shrine’s annual outdoor Noh series this year, so the setting was magnificent. Gensho, a National Living Treasure, had played the previous night in the wonderful Saigyozakura (西行桜), but I opted for tonight since it was a play I hadn’t seen. My friend was late, so I missed the torch lighting and had to watch the opening dance from the back. Grr.

The Noh piece, Youchi Soga, has an unusual pedigree. The author Miyamasu is a contemporary of the pioneering Zeami, but while the latter went all aristocratic once the shogun took him in, the former continued to write common man’s Noh – not a genre I was even aware of. His plays apparently are nearly all genzai plays featuring living people as opposed to ghosts, with actual plots and lots of characters. A good number are about the Soga brother vendetta that also features so prominently in Kabuki.

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Electoral college — again

I had thought the subject of the electoral college had died out until the next presidential election in 2020, but this excellent Frontpage Mag article defending the system recently comes not too long after a New York Times editorial on November 7 that had taken precisely the opposite view, recommending that the electoral college be jettisoned and the presidential election held by pure popular vote. I had made my views clear around a year earlier in the wake of the November 2016 election and recycled those in a response to the Times editorial:

“In the EU, four countries (Germany, France, UK, Italy) have more than half the population of the 28-member bloc. There is no way that Belgium or Greece or Denmark, say, is going to allow the Big Four to have their way through a pure popular vote given the deep differences among the member nations.

“That’s how Alabama and North Dakota and Alaska feel about NY and California. Thirty states chose Trump vs. 20 for Clinton, for better or worse. I don’t see how Clinton could have claimed legitimacy in that case. The electoral college may need reform, but a popular vote in a continental-sized country makes no sense to me.”

That may have been too brief to get the point across, but it generated a large number of comments, some of them pretty outrageous. Continue reading

Minority performers vs. minority audiences

A recently released survey on the ethnic makeup of Broadway performers made for an interesting comparison with another survey this month on the composition of Broadway audiences. (The former survey examines the 2015-16 season and the latter 2016-17, but the trend is broadly the same.) The Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that minority actors accounted for 35% of all roles on Broadway in the 2015-16 season. The vast majority were blacks, who represented 23% of all roles, with Latinos at 7% and Asians at 4%. That is, blacks are significantly overrepresented on the Broadway stage given that they are 13.3% of the US population (July 2016 census estimate), while Latinos (17.8% of population) are significantly underrepresented and Asians (5.7%) more or less balanced.

The survey also notes that minorities account for 56% of the New York City population, raising the question: who the heck is the majority? In any event, as the other survey by the Broadway League shows, this is not the percentage you find in the theaters. A whopping 76.8% of Broadway audiences last season were white, well over both their New York numbers (where, as we have seen, they are a minority) and their 61.3% ratio of the US population. Asians are also overrepresented at 8.4%. In contrast, both Latinos and blacks are pitifully underrepresented at 7.1% and 3.4%, the latter only around one-quarter their ratio of the US population. That is, those last two categories together account for around 30% of the population and 30% of Broadway roles but only around 10% of Broadway viewers.

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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

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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