Japanese co-producer shares in Tony win for Lauper musical

by Yuki Takahashi

Kyodo

Yasuhiro Kawana, 52, exchanged high fives with American pop icon Cyndi Lauper when “Kinky Boots,” a Broadway show he co-produced, was declared the winner of this year’s Tony Award for Best Musical.

“It was like a blue sky appeared on the ceiling” of Radio City Music Hall in New York when the announcement was made in June, Kawana said.

“Kinky Boots” is a story about a man who strives to rebuild a shoe business he inherited from his father. Cyndi Lauper composed the music and wrote the lyrics for the show, which is based on a book by actor Harvey Fierstein.

The musical was nominated for 13 Tony Awards and won six, including Best Original Score.

A native of Tokyo, Kawana was initially an actor with the Shiki Theater Company in Japan. He became interested in producing musicals while working with Keita Asari, founder and director of the popular troupe.

Longing to produce a Broadway musical himself, Kawana flew to the United States in 1993. He worked during the day but went to see shows every night, not just at theaters but also in nightclubs and warehouses.

Kawana said he was completely absorbed by the performances, each of which had its own originality.

In 1996, he invested in an off-Broadway musical for the first time. Among the staff was an HIV-positive costume designer who nevertheless continued to work hard until the final moment.

“After meeting people who even risked their lives to produce a show, my enthusiasm for theater grew stronger,” he said.

Kawana waited for an opportunity to officially break into Broadway while working on musical theater performances in Japan. He finally made his Broadway debut with “Legally Blonde” in 2007.

As a Broadway producer, one of his most important tasks is to raise funds, and appearances are important, he said.

“I always try to make myself look attractive even if it’s a bluff so I can win the trust of investors,” he says. “To be able to do so, I always stay cheerful.”

In fact this attention to looks has proved to have other health benefits: He also said he quit drinking to stay in better shape.

“I want to live long and produce as many musicals as possible,” he said.

Kawana has been splitting his time between Tokyo, where his family lives, and New York for the past three years.