Started by a railway magnate in 1914 to attract tourists to the hot springs town of Takarazuka, the all-female Takarazuka Revue has grown into a true cultural phenomenon, with a devoted fan base that clamors for the company’s sparkling adaptations of classic Western and Japanese stories, movies, and plays, and a cultural influence that extends into the realms of anime and manga.
--from "Takarazuka: A History"
Granted, I did not have the best vantage point for Japan's Takarazuka CHICAGO, seated near the rear of the Koch Theater's hall (my bad, I guess, for waiting too late to try for a press ticket). From there, I could see, very well, that Takarazuka Revue's cast--nearly all women, often taking male roles--had brought their sharpest knives to the Fosse (via Ann Reinking) banquet. But I couldn't make out facial expressions or the subtleties of gaze and body talk that usually connect and even bond me to performers and the characters they play. I struggled to recover some sense of the 1975 Kander-Ebb-Fosse musical I had seen and enjoyed only in its 2002 movie version. It didn't help to have to continually aim my gaze nearly to the ceiling, away from those distant faces, to catch whatever English supertitles I could catch. I felt lost and got lost more often than I'd care to admit.
At the outset, the CHICAGO of Takarazuka CHICAGO seemed sluggish. Post-intermission, though, it took on a certain charge, and I did get a kick out of Saori Mine (playing flashy, celebrated celebrity lawyer Billy Flynn) and the moxie of foxy Roxie Hart (played by Hikaru Asami) and Velma Kelly (Yoka Wao), our two vaudeville-era lady killers. But I did not really start rooting for Takarazuka Revue until the hard-working performers lowered the curtain on CHICAGO and gifted us with one their famous encores, a show in itself.
To Takarazuka Revue, "encore" does not mean one or two quick, rousing sendoffs. Oh no. It means a string of numerous songs, each a mini-production with different performers, about twenty minutes more of material--Takarazuka's own material, this time, and what material! Glittering light effects sweeping the theater's walls and ceiling; sexy, romantic tangos between women dressed to the nines; Vegas showgirl feather costumes and Rockettes-style lineups. It's also fun to notice how audience members, many of them Japanese or Japanese-American, recognize and hail specific players as they take the stage for their encore segments.
As I giddily discussed this, via Facebook app, with a Takarazuka fan who has seen the troupe in Japan, we hit on the same explanation for why these encores slay. It's really hard to separate how gaudily over-the-top they are from the exquisite technical excellence of the performances. Your brain instinctively says, "Wait, no. I can't believe this," but you're grinning. Confections coming after the dark meal of CHICAGO, they feel like acts of sincere generosity, feel-good rewards and guilty pleasures. Each number is bite-sized but packs a lot of calories, and everyone goes away richly fed.
The North American premiere run of Takarazuka CHICAGO continues at Lincoln Center Festival through Sunday. Remaining shows are:
Friday, July 22, 7:30
Saturday, July 23, 2:00
Saturday, July 23, 8:00
Sunday, July 24, 2:00
Note: The show runs roughly three hours with one intermission.
Get information and tickets here.
David H. Koch Theater
20 Lincoln Center Plaza, Manhattan
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