Must see: Takurazuka, theater with a kick

 

The Takarazuka Revue (宝塚歌劇団 Takarazuka Kagekidan) is a Japanese all-female musical theater troupe based in TakarazukaHyōgo PrefectureJapan. Women play all roles in lavish, Broadway-style productions of Western-style musicals, and sometimes stories adapted from shōjo manga and Japanese folktales. The troupe takes its name from the Hankyu Takarazuka rail line in suburban Osaka. The company is a division of the Hankyu Railway company; all members of the troupe are employed by the company.

Whereas the first few years saw the Revue put on just three or four shows a year, today’s troupes have a far more demanding schedule performing multiple times each year in Tokyo and Takarazuka plus a whole host of other locations.

The history of Takarazuka revue
The Takarazuka Revue was founded by Ichizo Kobayashi, an industrialist-turned-politician and president of Hankyu Railways, in TakarazukaJapan in 1913. The city was the terminus of a Hankyu line from Osaka and already a popular tourist destination because of its hot springs. Kobayashi believed that it was the ideal spot to open an attraction of some kind that would boost train ticket sales and draw more business to Takarazuka. Since Western song and dance shows were becoming more popular and Kobayashi considered the Kabuki theater to be old and elitist, he decided that an all-female theater group might be well received by the general public.

The Revue had its first performance in 1914. Ten years later, the company had become popular enough to obtain its own theater in Takarazuka, called the Dai Gekijō meaning “Grand Theater”. Today, the company owns and operates another theater, the Takarazuka Theater, in Tokyo. Currently Takarazuka performs for 2.5 million people each year and the majority of its fans are women.

Part of the novelty of Takarazuka is that all the parts are played by women, based on the original model of Kabuki before 1629 when women were banned from the theater in Japan.The women who play male parts are referred to as otokoyaku (literally “male role”) and those who play female parts are called musumeyaku (literally “daughter’s role”). The costumes, set designs and lighting are lavish, the performances melodramatic. Side pathways extend the already wide proscenium, accommodating elaborate processions and choreography.

Regardless of the era of the musical presented, period accuracy is relaxed for costumes during extravagant finales which include scores of glittering performers parading down an enormous stage-wide staircase and a Rockette-style kick line. Lead performers portraying both male and female roles appear in the finale wearing huge circular feathered back-pieces reminiscent of Las Vegas or Paris costuming.

Before becoming a member of the troupe, a young woman must train for two years in the Takarazuka Music School, one of the most competitive of its kind in the world. Each year, thousands from all over Japan audition. The 40 to 50 who are accepted are trained in music, dance, and acting, and are given seven-year contracts. The school is famous for its strict discipline and its custom of having first-year students clean the premises each morning.

The first year, all women train together before being divided by the faculty and the current troupe members into otokoyaku and musumeyaku at the end of the year. Those playing otokoyaku cut their hair short, take on a more masculine role in the classroom, and speak in the masculine form.

The company has five main troupes: Hana, Tsuki, Yuki, Hoshi, and Sora (Flower, Moon, Snow, Star, and the Cosmos respectively), and Senka (Superior Members), a collection for senior actresses no longer part of a regular troupe who still wish to maintain their association with the revue and perform from time to time. Flower and Moon are the original troupes, founded in 1921. Snow Troupe began in 1924. Star Troupe was founded in 1931, disbanded in 1939, and reestablished in 1948. Cosmos, founded in 1998, is the newest troupe.

Unfortunately tickets for Takarazuka are generally not easy to come by, but a little effort in terms of research, the knowledge of date sales start and different forms of ticket on sale should see persistence pay off somewhere down the line.

For tourists or short-term visitors to Tokyo, ask at your hotel reception for advice on ticket purchase, but to resident and visitor alike, Japanese and non-Japanese, irrespective of background, and perceived comprehension of Takarazuka prior to attendance, please DO NOT live your life, or leave Japan without seeing this truly wonderful, passionate and wholly unique form of theatre.

Reap what you sow and the efforts made in obtaining tickets, and attending a performance of Takarazuka will be paid back a hundred-fold in terms of memories that will last a lifetime.

The 100th anniversary of the establishment of Takarazuka as one of the nation’s premier forms of stage based entertainment will be in 2013.

Takarazuka homepage:

http://kageki.hankyu.co.jp/english

Tickets available via:

Ticket Pia: http://pia.jp/t/

CN Playguide: www.cnplayguide.com

Lawson Tickets: http://l-tike.com

 

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