Japan’s storied all-female Takarazuka theater troupe wows Taiwan

Kyodo

The Takarazuka musical theater troupe began a series of performances in Taiwan on Saturday, the all-female group’s first show on the island since its formation in Hyogo Prefecture 99 years ago.

All 24,000 seats have been sold out for the production, which runs through April 14 in Taipei’s National Theater.

The 190-minute show has three parts, beginning with “Takarazuka Japonisme Modulations” in which troupe members dressed in kimono perform a series of dances inspired by traditional Japanese music.

The second part is a musical, “The Bandit Chu Liuxiang: the Flower Thief,” a new production based on a popular Taiwanese martial arts novel and written specifically for Takarazuka’s run in Taipei. And in the flamboyant grand finale, the revue’s top stars, wearing plumes of ostrich feathers and fox-fur stoles, dance on a rotating stage and its grandiose staircase.

Takarazuka writer and director Daisuke Fujii said during a visit to Taiwan last October that audiences on the island would not be disappointed by the show, which includes a “dream stage,” dazzling costumes and feathered back pieces and headdresses.

The production features 40 of the top stars of Takarazuka’s so-called Star Troupe, led by Reon Yuzuki and Nene Yumesaki. Yuzuki, who debuted with the theater company in 1999, attributes her interpretation of male characters on stage to hard work and discipline.

“I’m a woman, so I have to study carefully the posture of men,” she said. “To get into the male characters, I develop the habit of talking, walking and acting like a man both on and off the stage.”

Perfecting such skills begins with two years of training at the Takarazuka Music School in Hyogo Prefecture, where troupe members — all young, unmarried women — must take lessons in performing arts such as ballet, singing and Japanese dance after passing the highly competitive entrance examination.

Launched in 1913 as the Takarazuka Shokatai (Takarazuka Chorus), the Takarazuka Revue gave its first performance the following year and will mark its centennial in July 2014.

On average, the troupe attracts an annual audience of 2.5 million in Japan, according to Kobayashi, entertaining families through good times and bad for almost a century. In fiscal 2011, the revue earned ¥25.7 billion in total revenue.

Koichi Kobayashi, head of its board of directors, said he hopes the Taiwan tour will help deepen bilateral exchanges and make more Taiwanese appreciate Japanese musical theater.

Since the company’s inaugural overseas tour in 1938, it has performed 24 times in 17 countries. However, the Taiwan trip is the first undertaking abroad in which the group is handling everything on its own, ranging from marketing and promotion to booking the theater.

The company has begun looking toward the rapidly growing Asian market because Japan’s dwindling population means it can no longer expect to significantly increase the number of new fans at home.