Kabuki heads for glitzy Las Vegas


Japan’s elaborate all-male kabuki theater is heading to glitzy Las Vegas for a series of paid shows, organizers said Monday, in a bid to spread the classical Japanese art form to a global audience.

Japanese film and theater company Shochiku said it would present the “Japan Kabuki Festival” in May, including a new play “created specifically” for a theater in the U.S. gambling and entertainment center.

Kabuki is a form of traditional Japanese theater that has been performed since the 17th century. Though women appeared in the beginning, kabuki shows came to be all-male affairs combining dance, drama and music with men playing female roles.

The actors, scions of families of kabuki performers who usually begin training in childhood, don elaborate costumes, wigs and heavy makeup for performances on equally elaborate sets.

“It will be a new step for us in our policy of creating fresh plays that match modern tastes while retaining classic works,” Tadashi Abiko, Shochiku’s vice president and chief of its theater business, told reporters.

The new play is titled “Shi-Shi-O” — “The Adventures of the Mythical Lion” — and will have seven performances over five days from May 3 to 7 at the David Copperfield Theater at the MGM Grand for about $200 per seat, Abiko said.

It marks the first time audiences will pay to watch kabuki in Las Vegas following free preview performances last year.

The move is also part of Shochiku’s strategy to attract inbound tourism that is expected to increase with Tokyo’s hosting of the Olympic Summer Games in 2020, company officials said.

Since the first performance abroad in 1928 in Russia, kabuki has been seen numerous times in other countries but repertoires were usually works from the classical canon, Abiko said.

Ichikawa Somegoro VII, who is set to be the featured performer in Las Vegas, also starred in the preview last year.

He said he wants to use the performance to demonstrate traditional techniques such as flying across the stage and quick costume changes that are mainstays of kabuki.

But he also aims to utilize nontraditional techniques such as video as well as fire and water.

“I have set a goal this time of kabuki taking root in Las Vegas as an entertainment form,” he told reporters.