Stage

Takarazuka double-bill special marks the end of a Star star's era

by Mika Eglinton

Special To The Japan Times

The 101-year-old all-female Takarazuka Revue company is currently staging a double bill of “Like a Black Panther” and “Dear Diamond!!” at its Takarazuka Grand Theater in the city of Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, prior to a long Tokyo run from late March that will see its top star, Reon Yuzuki, take her final bow after 16 years’ service.

Since 2009, Yuzuki has been the lead male-roles actress (otokoyaku) in the Revue’s Hoshi Gumi (Star Troupe) — one of its five sections of 80-plus members each, also comprising the Hana (Flower), Tsuki (Moon), Yuki (Snow) and Sora (Cosmos) troupes. However, whereas Snow Troupe’s forte is, for example, traditional dance and opera, Yuzuki’s Star Troupe specializes in musical theater.

So, during her time at the top — often playing alongside Nene Yumesaki, Star Troupe’s lead female-roles actress (musumeyaku) — Yuzuki has become known for her interpretations of classical and modern protagonists and historical figures, including Romeo in the 2010 and ’13 productions of “Romeo and Juliet,” Danny Ocean in a 2011 adaptation of the movie “Ocean’s Eleven,” and the doomed French king Louis XIV in “Le Roi Soleil” (“The Sun King”).

True to form then, in “Like a Black Panther” Yuzuki plays Count Antonio de Odalys, a fictional former sea captain who’s become chief of staff of the Spanish Navy. Written by Yukihiro Shibata and directed by Tamae Sha, the play is set at a large banquet in Barcelona where senior military and political figures are celebrating the second anniversary of the end of World War I.

During the festivities, Antonio meets Caterina de Ramirez (Yumesaki), a former lover of his whose rich and powerful husband, Marquis Ramirez, recently died in dubious circumstances Antonio suspects may have been the work of Duke Victor de Alarcon (Yuzuru Kurenai), a business magnate who’s also at the banquet.

As he unravels this web of subterfuge, Antonio — whose “Black Panther” nickname refers to his pirate ancestry, his lightning wit and ineluctable charm — becomes ever closer to Caterina before, missions accomplished, he is posted overseas in a fictional echo of the new horizons Yuzuki will face after her final Takarazuka curtain falls.

But hers will be a hard act to follow, since Yuzuki brings to Antonio — as she has to so many roles before — a mercurial temperament combined with a dominant, slick and feline feminine masculinity that here allows her to slip smoothly between cunning militarist and sensitive lover as her characteristic deep voice contrasts wonderfully with Yumesaki’s dainty and elegant Caterina.

In Takarazuka productions, however, the lead male roles generally attract most attention — a phenomenon reflected in the revue “Dear Diamond!!” that follows, which is centered on Yuzuki, who is referred to in it as a “diamond.”

Directed by Daisuke Fujii, this hourlong melange of song, dance and flamboyant costumes crescendos with a song written by Yuzuki and which she performs. Fashioned like a love letter, it ends: “Takarazuka forever, beyond time, shine on and keep flying.”

“Like a Black Panther” and “Dear Diamond!!” are at the Takarazuka Grand Theater until March 9, followed by a March 27-May 10 run at the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater. For more details, visit kageki.hankyu.co.jp.