Monday, May 06, 2013

Japan to the rescue

Nothing in the entire cultural/theatrical history of the West is even remotely equivalent to the Japanese theatrical troupe Takarazuka. Founded ninety-nine years ago in the small Japanese city bearing the troupe's name, the (eventually) five companies of the outfit specialize in mammoth-scaled, elaborately costumed productions---with all roles played by females---of mostly Broadway musicals such as Guys and Dolls and Kiss Me Kate, revues, and musicalizations of fiction of the West, i.e. East of Eden andWuthering Heights, etc.

Every production features a cast of as many as eighty performers (singers, dancers, actors) plus a large orchestra. One could describe the operation as the Ziegfeld Follies x three and not really come close. Even today, one's first visit to a Takarazuka production operates as a kind of rite of passage for Japanese youth. The following link to
Wikipedia only begins to scratch the surface of all there is to know and learn about the subject of Takarazuka. And this youtube clip can give you only a sense of the magnitude of their productions.

Takarazuka also produces shows based not only on pre-existant musicals or fiction, but on biographical material. For example, this coming June 2013's Forever Gershwin, has to do with---of all things---the ten-year-long extra-marital affair between George Gershwin and Broadway songwriter-classical composer Kay Swift (“Fine and Dandy”, “Can't We Be Friends”),who was married to banker James Warburg. After Gershwin's death in 1937, his brother Ira Gershwin collaborated with Swift to complete and arrange some of his unpublished works. And she continued to hold the George Gershwin flame aloft until her death at age 95 in 1993.

This forthcoming outing will take place from 6/7 - 6/17 at Takarazuka's Bow Hall in Takarazuka City where the theatrical organization was founded in 1914. Obviously, the production will feature a healthy number of George and Ira songs. Here is a
link to one of the few web sites (published in Japan) that has ANY English language information about this singularly recherche and profoundly American subject matter of George Gershwin and Company as interpreted by Takarazuka. (And just look at that cast of characters! Mr. & Mrs. Jascha Heifetz, "Tin Pan Alley Salesperson," Walter Winchell, Al Jolson, Fred and Adele Astaire, Paul Whiteman, Irving Berlin, Gertrude Lawrence, et al!)

Is it any wonder that musician Van Dyke ("Polymath") Parks refers to the Japanese as "Cultural custodians to the West"? No question about it. If Japan doesn't do it. . .no one else (most especially the U.S.) will. Just wayyyyyy too hip for OUR "house."

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