The Old Razzle Dazzle: Thoughts on Takarazuka Chicago – July 23, 2016

Music is often called the universal language, with its unique ability to invoke emotions and / or memories (good, bad or neutral) shared by a wide cross section of people, regardless of gender, race or ethnicity. Musicals have that similar pull, even if the score is sung in a different language that one’s own native tongue; while some of the lyrics might not be exactly the same, the overall theme remains intact. I don’t often get an opportunity to see familiar musical performed in different languages (though I have listened to non-English cast recordings), I was intrigued by the production of Chicago performed by Takarazuka Revue, a Japanese, all female theatrical company, finishing its limited run today at the David H. Koch Theater, as part of the Lincoln Center Festival.  More information about Takarauka can be found on their website: https://kageki.hankyu.co.jp/english/

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The overall design was the same as the current Broadway revival, which is now the longest running American revival in Broadway history, celebrating its 20th year on Broadway. Its minimalist set design, limited use of props and practical costumes allows the actors’ performances to shine and the songs to be the centerpiece. The story of Chicago is about the trials and tribulations of Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart, two “merry murderesses” and the hoopla around creating celebrities from known criminals. The show’s themes have a such a timeless quality and omnipresent relevance that it’s revelatory that the original production was four decades ago – John Kander and Fred Ebb were certainly visionaries in that respect (of course, all their collaborations are brilliant).

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The all-female cast of the Takarazuka Revue was astounding, and the choreography meticulously synchronized; stand outs among the leading cast were Natsuki Mizu as Velma Kelly, Yuga Yamato as Roxie Hart and Saki Asaji as Billy Flynn. As the entire show was in Japanese, there were super titles above the stage so the non-Japanese speaking audience could follow along, though I was quite familiar with the songs (and much of the spoken dialogue) that I focused more on the performance and less on reading the super titles. Per their tradition, after the curtain call, there was the “Takarazuka Encore” – a spectacle wherein the cast performs a medley of songs (in English and in Japanese) with lavish costumes and brilliant choreography.

 

Overall, it was a different yet familiar experience of a story that serves as a reflection of society today and reminder of the fleeting nature of celebrity and the power of the press. I would love to see other productions from this amazing troupe of performers, and hope they will return to New York in the near future.

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Broadway in Bryant Park 2012: Rebecca, Sistas: The Musical, Chicago, Rent, Evita, & Newsies – August 9, 2012

For the penultimate 2012 Broadway in Bryant Park lunchtime concert, the apparent theme for the afternoon was one word titled musicals (discounting the usually ever-present “The Musical” descriptor) with grand showstoppers and loyal and vocal fan bases: Rebecca, Sistas: The Musical, Chicago, Rent, Evita, and Newsies. I arrived at Bryant Park that morning at my usual time and sat in my usual seat, and like the previous week, the weather was warm and sunny, but it wasn’t to be exactly as usual. Not too long after I settled into my seat, I was politely informed by one of the event volunteers that the row in which I usually sat (front center, on the lawn behind the gravel path where the press sat) as well as the rows to the left and right was to be reserved for VIPs. It was the first time this has happened (at least to me), so I moved to the second row on the left side, which was still a good view of the stage, albeit a smidge to the left. As always, the seats filled up quickly, with some opting to stay in the shade until the performance began. The 106.7 Lite FM host was Victor Sosa.

106.7 Lite FM host Victor Sosa

First to perform was the upcoming Rebecca, which starts its preview performances on October 30, 2012 at the Broadhurst Theatre, and is based on the book of the same name (from which the 1940 Alfred Hitchcock film was also based) by Daphne du Maurier. Stars Ryan Silverman, Jill Paice, and understudy Maree Johnson were on hand to perform four songs: Jill Paice sang “Free Now”, Maree Johnson sang “She’s Invincible” Paice and Ryan Silverman sang “Help Me Through the Night” and all three sang the title song “Rebecca”. I must say I am looking forward to seeing this show (and hoping it succeeds), which was originally produced and performed in Vienna (and in German) – the songs were grand, sweeping arias befitting the grandeur of the source material.

From left to right: Jill Paice, Maree Johnson & Ryan Silverman

Next to perform was Sistas: The Musical, an off-Broadway show about a multi-generational African-American family, currently playing at St. Luke’s Theatre, and was a “Broadway Bite” (though technically speaking the show is running off-Broadway) with the cast Tracey Conyer Lee, Lexi Rhoades, April Nixon, Jennifer Fouché and Amy Goldberger singing a pair of songs; I wish I could recall the first song they sang, but the second song was the oft-used family oriented anthem “We Are Family”, to which the cast encouraged the crowd to sing along (most did).

Cast of Sistas The Musical: Tracey Conyer Lee, Lexi Rhoades, April Nixon, Jennifer Fouché and Amy Goldberger

Next was Chicago, which is currently the longest running revival, playing at the Ambassador Theater, and is (as stated at the very start of the show) “a story of murder, greed, corruption, violence, exploitation, adultery and treachery – all those things we all hold near and dear to our hearts”. The cast members on hand were Donna Marie Asbury, Dylis Croman, Cristy Candler, Tonya Wathen, Tony Yazbeck, Peter Nelson, Amos Wolff and Denny Paschall; the songs that were sung were “All That Jazz”, sung by Donna Marie Asbury, “Roxie” sung by Dylis Croman, “All I Care About”, sung by Tony Yazbeck, and “My Baby and Me”, sung by Dylis Croman, all performed with the classic Bob Fosse choreography.

Clockwise from top left: Donna Marie Asbury, Tony Yazbeck & Dylis Croman

Next up was Rent, the off-Broadway incarnation of the modern adaptation of La Bohème playing at New World Stages until September 9, 2012. Cast members Anthony Federov, Sean Michael Murray, Emma Hunton, and Shaleah Adkisson were on hand to sing three songs: Anthony Federov sang “One Song Glory”, Federov was joined by Sean Michael Murray to sing “What You Own” and Emma Hunton, and Shaleah Adkisson sang “Take Me Or Leave Me”.

Clockwise from top left: Anthony Federov, Sean Michael Murray, Emma Hunton, & Shaleah Adkisson

Next was Evita, currently playing at the Marquis Theatre and tells the life story of Eva Peron, the former first lady of Argentina. Stars Christina DeCicco, Max von Essen and Rachel Potter were on hand to sing a trio of songs: Christina DeCicco sang “Buenos Aires”, Rachel Potter sang “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”, and Max von Essen and Christina DeCicco sang “High Flying, Adored”.

Left to right: Christina DeCicco,Rachel Potter & Max von Essen

The final performance of the afternoon was from Newsies, based on the Disney film of the same name, currently playing at the Nederlander Theater based on a true story about the trials and tribulations of teenage newspaper sellers at the turn of the 20th century. This was the show that had the most vocal fans present at the park, and presumably the reason for the increase in reserved seating. Cast members Corey Cott, Kara Lindsay, and Julie Foldesi were on hand to sing three songs: Julie Foldesi sang “That’s Rich”, Corey Cott and Kara Lindsay sang ‘Something to Believe In” and Corey Cott sang “Santa Fe”.

Left to right: Julie Foldesi, Corey Cott & Kara Lindsay & Corey Cott

 

Again, despite the warmer than usual yet typical August weather, it was  an enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.