Saturday, November 18, 2017

『ALL FOR ONE』~ダルタニアンと太陽王~ and a Trip to the Takarazuka Grand Theater and What I Learned There



This past summer, for the third year in a row, I found myself in the tiny city of Takarazuka, walking down the Hana-michi--the “Flower Road”--on the bank of the Muku River. Bordered by lovely leafy trees, the pathway remains a pleasant place to stroll, despite the bright sunlight and already oppressive heat of the August morning.

I’d been in Tokyo that morning and rushed out of my friend’s apartment at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. in order to catch the first train south into Hyogo Prefecture, where Takarazuka is situated. Having gotten only about 3 hours of sleep thanks to an impromptu izakaya drinking party, I was running on adrenaline and numerous cans of the black, bitter, sugarless vending machine coffee that Japan does so well.

The play that day was All For One. I knew nothing about it except it was loosely based on Dumas’ The Three Musketeers and it would be my first time seeing Tamaki Ryou as the new Top Star of Moon Troupe. Would I like it? Would I like her? I’d grown quite attached to Ryuu Masaki and her Moon Troupe over the last two years--what if I didn’t like Tamaki Ryou’s Moon Troupe?! Of the actresses I’d fell in love with during 1789, Nagina Ruumi and Seijou Kaito had already left the troupe. Saou Kurama and Miya Rurika would be in the production but would it be enough for me?

(Spoiler alert: Yes, and so much more.)


I already had my ticket for that morning’s performance so I went to stand by the entrance to the theater. This wasn’t just my first time seeing Tamaki as the top star, it would also be my first time meeting an actual Takarazuka fan!! Through the magic of the Internet, I’d become acquainted with an English Takarazuka fan who lived in Takarazuka and she’d offered to meet me before the play for coffee and show me around.

“I’m white and quite tall with red hair,” I’d said in my message. “You won’t be able to miss me.”

Soon enough, a small, lacy sun parasol came bobbing towards me. The woman underneath it was my Internet friend, L.! Petite with a kind voice and gentle manner, she immediately put my jittery sleep deprived nerves at ease.

We walked down past the theater to a small cafe where we talked over coffees and pastries. We talked about Moon Troupe and our favorite actresses and the plays we’d seen. L. also explained some some of the unwritten rules and customs of Takarazuka fandom to me, as well as giving me some insider tips on things like the best bathrooms to use during intermission and which treats were worth getting. It was like a whole new world was opening up to me. The scraps of information I’d carefully hoarded were like kindling to the tiny flicker of fandom that had been lit when I wandered--unknowingly--into 1789 two years ago. I’d diligently kept it going by myself but now, with somebody to talk about this stuff to, the small flicker grew to a dull roar. This was dangerous territory and I loved it.

And all at once it hit me that I’d been missing out on half of what made Takarazuka different from other theater troupes--the culture of fangirling over the actresses. The magazines I’d seen in the shop weren’t just there to fill space, they were full of idol-style interviews and profiles and glossy photos for us to fangirl over. Much like the speciality magazines for the male idols of Johnny’s & Associates, magazines like 宝塚GRAPH and 歌劇 weren’t supplementary material to the product but a vital part of the product.  

My heart fluttered, laughing with L. about the idiotic character of Ronan in 1789 and gushing about how fetching Miya Rurika (my favorite actress) looked in those long, curly wigs.

The lobby of the Grand Theater in Takarazuka is warmly welcoming with its red carpet and cream walls. There’s a double staircase at the center with a player piano softly tinkling to one side and a beautiful display of flowers--changed with every production--to the other. One one side of the lobby is a great wall lined with the portraits of the actresses who will be performing.

“They’re in order of seniority,” explained L. “Everything in Takarazuka is done in order of seniority. Look, there’s Tamakichi (Tamaki Ryou) right in the center. She’s so young.”

By pure luck, our seats were very close together, a couple of rows apart on opposite sides of the aisle. L. gave me a sly look when she saw where I was sitting.

“Is that a good seat?” I asked, innocently.

“Well, I don’t want to spoil anything but...somebody walks down there,” replied L. with a grin. “I’m going to watch you with my opera glasses when it happens.”



And then it was show time. The curtain rose. There was a flourish of horns and a flourish of horns and--in front of my eyes--Miya Rurika in the dapper denim outfits of the All For One musketeers! She began to sing and all rational thought ceased as I watched the first act in a state of utter bliss, nothing existing except for the swish of denim capes and heavily lashed eyes. And when the somebody who walked down into my aisle turned out to be Miya Rurika, who stood and sang not even two feet from me--giving a large theatrical wink in my general direction before hopping back up stage--I thought seeing this show twice wouldn’t be nearly enough and cursed the schedule that had me returning to America so soon.

The second act upped the action even more and I sat in rapt attention through the final scenes of the play with characters running in and out and around the castle set on the rotating stage with swords drawn.

And then the finale revue with the feathers and the shan-shans and the thunderous applause.

My heart was so full of happiness, I may have started crying. Just a little.

L. had to leave to check on her rescue kitten and I walked directly into the gift shop to purchase… everything.


(Wine from Gascony, France was served in the lobby. Absolutely delicious. American could learn a lot about proper theater concessions from Japan.) 
------------

As much as I wanted to immediately write about All For One I knew that I had some work to do first. I wanted to give this production the full treatment. That means not just watching the DVD multiple times and reading up on the Musketeers (both of which I did, obviously) taking a deep dive into the fandom things I hadn’t even known existed. And so, I bought a few issues of 宝塚GRAPH and 歌劇 and I watched a few more things and learned who the actresses in the smaller roles were.

When my DVD came, I was prepared. 剣を抜くALL FOR ONE! (Draw your sword ALL FOR ONE!)

All for One was written specifically for Moon Troupe by Koike Shuuichirou. The story is something of a cross between Princess Knight (the story of a girl born with both a girl and boy’s heart, itself an homage to Takarazuka) and The Man With the Iron Mask. It’s equal parts shojo manga, boy’s adventure story, and French farce.


(Tamaki Ryou as our hero, d'Artagnan.)

In the peppy opening song, we’re introduced to the extremely dapper, denim-clad Three Musketeers--in order of seniority, of course. Former priest Aramis (Miya Rurika) is a lady killer. Sword master Athos (Uzuki Hayate) is cool and collected. Porthos (Akatsuki Chisei) is extremely strong (and loves to drink). And then there’s d’Artagnan the pure-hearted hero!


(L-R: Akatsuki Chisei (crouching), Uzuki Hayate, Tamaki Ryou, and Miya Rurika)

The exposition flies fast and furious and we learn that the musketeers have been requested to send somebody to teach the King swordsmanship. And who better than d’Artagnan?! The King, Louis XIV (Manaki Reika), is caught up in creating his “Sun King” ballet and leaving the actual running of the France to the evil Cardinal Mazarin (Itsuki Chihiro). But d'Artagnan is firm in his belief that his mission--their mission as musketeers--is to serve and protect the King and France and so he sets off to the palace while singing a beautiful ballad about being proud of being from Gascony.


(L-R: Tsukishiro Kanato, Shimon Yuriya, Manki Reika, and Saou Kurama)

At the palace, we’re introduced to the King and his court, including Louis’ mother Queen Anne (Touka Yurino), Cardinal Mazarin and the Mazarin Family--dopey nephew Philippe (Shimon Yuriya) and slightly less dopey Captain of the Guard Bernardo (Tsukishiro Kanato), as well as his six charming nieces (Saotome Wakaba, Harune Aki, Kanoha Toki, Urara Senri, Yukarino Koyuki, and Misono Sakura)--the indomitable Duchess of Montpensier (Saou Kurama), Louis’ Nanny (Kagetsu Miyako), and court composer Jean-Baptiste Lully (Kashiro Aoi).


D’Artagnan annoys the King by laughing after showing him up during sword practice and the King storms off after a petulant outburst, “How funny would you find it if I disbanded the musketeers?!”

Unwise words as Cardinal Mazarin senses an opening for some de-Baathification. If he disbands the musketeers he’ll eliminate a potential threat to his power…


(The Mazarinettes)

Meanwhile Louis has retreated to a secret room in his study where it’s revealed that he’s actually a woman! In an incredible soul music-inspired call and response number complete with an homage to James Brown’s cape, Louis gives us the story of how she wound up in this situation. Before Louis was born, a fortune teller told her parents that twins were a bad omen and could destroy the country. The girl twin was to be handed over to a monk to raise in secret. Queen Anne gives each twin half of a two-headed eagle pendant. Cardinal Richelieu and Mazarin, however, don’t hand her over to a monk at all. They throw her away in the wasteland! BUT THEN THE MISTAKE IS REVEALED! The one they threw away was… the boy twin! And the poor girl twin is left to be the King.




("Please, please, please...")

Finished with the exposition song, Louis is in a sulky mood and cheers herself up by dressing up a like girl. She decides to see if she can “pass” and wanders out into the town.

At a tavern, d’Artagnan, the Three Musketeers, and the other musketeers are enjoying their evening. D’Artagnan is worried about the events of the day but Porthos tells him to relax.

“Come on, what’s our motto?” chides Porthos.

“All for one! One for All!” recites d’Artagnan diligently.

“Not that motto, idiot. What’s our after-work motto?”



(D'Artagnan cannot stop being awkward with the ladies and it's glorious.)

Aramis sings it for us in a pleasant kayoukyoku-style number: 「酒、歌、女」 (Sake, Uta, Onna/Wine, Song, and Women).

While all of this is going on, Louis wanders in and bumps into d’Artagnan who is charmingly just as awkward with women as Louis (now “Louise”) is with men. The two hit it off immediately.


("Louise" forgetting women don't give hearty handshakes...)

But then, just as some of the musketeers start waving around a mock Cardinal Mazarin and calling for a revolution, in struts Bernardo and his guardsmen (featured are Kizuki Yuuma and Chinami Karan). Bernardo cannot resist starting trouble with d’Artagnan and the bar explodes into a massive brawl.



(I had my eye on Akatsuki through every brawl/door slamming scene.)

D’Artagnan and Louise make their escape and d’Artagnan then sings a beautiful, minor key ballad to Louise about why he is the way he is and how proud he is to be from Gascony and to serve his King and country. You can see the wheels start to turn in Louise’s head. She had been so caught up in her palace intrigue and her own small troubles it hadn’t occurred to her that there were actual people involved in this whole being King thing. D’Artagnan’s simple goodness plants a seed in her heart and when he steals a kiss later in the scene love begins to bloom. She’s so flustered she drops her pendant.


(Kabe-don!)

The scuffle with Bernardo was the last straw for the musketeers and they are disbanded.



Furious with this decision, Louis(e) calls for d’Artagnan the next day--“If the musketeers are disbanded, he’s going to be looking for something to do, right?!” she fumes.--where she reveals her true nature to him in an extended comical scene and they sing a lovely romantic duet.



(Saou Kurama is an absolute gem. Please marry me once you retire from Takarazuka. Sincerely, FG.)

The Duchess gets her own show stopper here, a jazzy Broadway style number about how it’s her turn to shine. (Note: It will always Saou Kurama’s turn to shine. The woman is a powerhouse.)



(L-R: Kizuki Yuuma, Tsukishiro Kanata, Chinami Karan)

And Bernardo also gets a villain number, backed by his henchmen, about how much he loathes d’Artagnan--although one might suspect his single-minded obsession is rooted in something else…






Aramis has returned to the priesthood and we’re treated to the Aramis Show, another show stopping soul-influenced call and response number set during a “ladies only” confessional hour. (Note: I died.)




Porthos is appearing as the “Titan” in an acting troupe’s stage play… Attack on Titan.



Athos has something up his sleeve and visits the Duke of Beaufort (Kouzuki Ruu) in prison. He was jailed for organizing against Mazarin. Could he be of help now?




Back at the castle, the Duchess accidentally discovers Louis(e)’s true gender and inadvertently reveals it to the entire Mazarin Family. Louise has had enough lies but Queen Anne trusts Mazarin and Mazarin is insisting that Louise continue to hide her gender and get married to the Queen of Spain Marie Therese (Umino Mitsuki, who uses an absolutely hilarious Spanish accent all the way through). The Mazarin Family sings a song about how devoted they are to the King and Bernardo’s goons haul the poor Duchess off to jail.



Meanwhile, D’Artagnan has promised Louise he’ll search for her missing twin. He meets with the Three Musketeers at the acting troupe’s master’s (Ayazuki Seri) house and have a giant exposition dump. It turns out the master has an adopted son Georges (Kazama Yumo) and Georges has a pendant… It matches!

The musketeers recruit the acting troupe to help get the Duke of Beaufort out of jail.


(The dashing Uzuki with Ayazuki Seri)


("From now this jail cell will be your salon, Madam." "Don't count on it, you Italian bastard.")

And with all those threads in motion Act One comes to a close with a rousing number called 「明日を信じて」 or “I believe in tomorrow” that brings the entire cast back on stage.

Act Two opens with a masked ball in honor of Marie Therese!


(L-R: Touka Yurino, Manaki Reika, Umino Mitsuki and I cannot emphasize enough how hilarious Umino's Spanish accent was.)

D’Artagnan and the Three Musketeers disguise themselves as guards in order to sneak into the palace and various small plots move forward: Philippe tries and fails to seduce Marie Therese in the background of various scenes. Porthos continues his love affair with alcohol. Aramis (in disguise) attracts the attention of one of Mazarin’s nieces much to his chagrin. Bernardo keeps trying to corner Louise and… do something to her. And Marie Therese herself cannot figure out why Louis is completely uninterested seducing her.


(This outfit was so cute!!!!!!!!)

D’Artagnan finds Louise and fills her in on what happened at the end of Act One. They found her twin! Louise cannot believe it. She cannot believe how much she owes to d’Artagnan. She is head over heels for him and sings it--powerfully, while dressed in my favorite outfit of hers with a hat that has a feather that keeps bobbing around on it--to a reprise of “I believe in tomorrow.”

With Louise informed, the musketeers gather their forces. They have themselves, the acting troupe, and the Duke of Beaufort. It’s go time.



("Fantastico!")

There is supposed to be a staging of Louis’s Sun King ballet but instead the acting troupe comes on with an exciting action story (“Oh, fantastico!” exclaims Marie Therese, who simply adores action stories.) This action story is about a pair of twins who are separated and the twins each have half of a pendant…

Marie Therese, who is extremely interested in the story, wanders into the action to grab the pendant for herself. The two halves--it’s a two headed eagle!

Queen Anne is shocked. Could it be?!

It is.

Louise enters the scene as herself, a woman. Everything is revealed.

But Mazarin won’t be stopped that easily. Bernardo springs into action. He grabs Louise and takes off.

And what follows is an incredibly complex Door Slammer comedy sequence where everybody chases everybody else around and around the rotating castle set and it completely blew my mind when I saw it live.

The Duchess even gets to make a triumphant return to thunderous applause from the audience.




Finally--FINALLY--Bernardo and d’Artagnan meet for their final duel. They parry and thrust but d’Artagnan is just too pure of heart to lose to a literal black-hatted villain. Louise is saved! Mazarin is banished! Georges will be King! d’Artagnan and Louise are getting married! Happy endings all around!




Miya Rurika, dressed in a purple suit with a little half cape, sings the opening song of the Finale, a reprise of d’Artagnan’s Act One solo.




The rockette follows, then the musumeyaku dance where Tamaki Ryou performs an absolutely glorious lift with the usually playing a male role Saou Kurama, who is enjoying the hell out of wearing a dress and making lovey-dovey eyes at the Top Star.



The choreography for the otokoyaku dance is vigorous, with echoes of the Brazilian jiu jitsu they used during the カルーセル輪舞曲 (Carosel Rondo) Revue from earlier that year.



I didn’t catch this until I read it in an interview with Tamaki but the final duet dance between her and Manaki Reika is supposed evoke the image of the two headed eagle from the play. Both dressed in flowing black, with choreography that mimics bird wings flapping, I’m not sure how I missed it.

And the parade and that’s it.

The more I watched All For One, the more I fell in love with it. Tamaki Ryou, as Top Star, has infused this troupe with her rough and tumble energy. She is all over the stage, fighting, dancing, giving people karate chops to the neck, taking pratfalls, making sure her cape billows out majestically. She is going to personally make sure everybody leaves the theater with a smile.



(From cool to dopey!)

Tamaki fits the role of d’Artagnan perfectly. She’s the Top Star of the troupe although she’s not the most senior nor the most experienced. What she does have is a face that looks like she’s never tasted skim milk, an absolutely gorgeous contralto, and a youthful desire to throw herself 110% into anything and everything.


(Manaki was beyond adorable through this whole play.)


(TFW you fucking finally make nibante.)

I don’t want to guess too much at Takarazuka inside baseball but with Tamaki coming in as Top Star there’s been a little reshuffling of Moon Troupe. The experienced Manaki Reika has stayed on as Top Musumeyaku and the experienced Miya Rurika has stayed on as Tamaki’s “nibante” or Second-in-command and both of them seem to have gotten a fresh burst of inspiration with Tamaki’s Top Star debut. Tamaki is a generous performer and acts with her co-stars, rather than try to bury them. She also seems to want to act with her co-stars in general as her two Grand Theater productions as Top Star have also both had very juicy roles for both Manaki and Miya.


(Working that cape.)

Most of the rest of the previous group of main players under Ryuu Masaki--Nagina Ruumi, Seijou Kaito, and Saou Kurama--have all moved to senka or the “senior” group which means Uzuki Hayate has finally broken through. She graduated just one year after Miya but had been buried on the depth chart. And now she has been given a little solo show titled Moon Skip that will run at the end of November into December. Will she also transfer to senka now that her talents have been proven?


(Look, nobody gets into Moon Troupe without being able to pull excellent comedy faces.)

Rising star Asami Jun was given to Snow Troupe in exchange for rising star Tsukishiro Kanata. Asami Jun is a talented singer and dancer but she also seemed to be just a little too formal in her stage presence for the “my pace” Moon Troupe. But Tsukishiro, as Bernardo, fit in perfectly, catching the goofy over-the-top energy of the production and committing to her angry-with-yet-also-maybe-in-love-with-the-King character.

Tsukishiro is being positioned for big things (as is the young, very perky Akatsuki Chisei) but who will the other main stars be?


(I need all of the SHIMON YURIYA PLEASE. Did you even see the stupid bows on those shoes?!!!! AH!!!!!!)

I’ve got my fingers crossed for Shimon Yuriya, who is a gifted physical actress and comedienne who also seems to have been buried on the Moon Troupe depth chart. My tastes in acting being what they are, she caught my eye immediately in 1789 and I was thrilled that she had such a juicy role in All For One. I hope we see more of her.

There’s also the two actresses who played Bernardo’s henchmen. Chinami Karan, who is another one who has been buried on the depth chart. She caught my eye as the bouncy Father Organtino Gnecchi‐Soldo in Nobunaga and it seems like she has a solid talent. And then there’s the very tall, very charismatic, very funny Kizuki Yuuma. Perhaps because of her height and her frame, Kizuki seems to be cast for the villain quite often but Takarazuka villains end up with some great songs so maybe that’s not such a bad thing.


(Umino is the best!!!!!! Her Spanish accent cracks me up so much.)

Umino Mitsuki seems to be favored right now as far as musumeyaku roles are concerned but who knows what will happen. Actresses retire, transfer in and out. Top Stars change, tastes change, but Takarazuka remains.

All For One was just such an incredible production, from the door slamming finale on the rotating stage to the Top Musumeyaku performing a take on James Brown cape routine. With a script that could have easily been played as smarmy parody in different hands, Moon Troupe committed to playing the drama earnestly and that’s what made it work.

Plus, the songs are catchy, the shojo manga gender disguise plot is an endless delight, and there’s always something new to find in the performances, even just on the DVD.

Every time I catch Shimon Yuriya in the background making a dopey face, I just lose it laughing. The same goes for Akatsuki and her wine pilfering. And Manaki Reika’s tour-de-force as Louis/Louise just gets more and more impressive every time I see it. She’s just as meticulous with her capes in boy outfits as she is with her skirts in her lady outfits. Miya Rurika is so campy as the ikemen priest that Johnny’s should be making their “Loveholic Oujisama” Nakajima Kento watch her for tips.  

I’d been worried about what would happen after Ryuu Masaki left but I think the troupe is in safe hands with Tamaki Ryou if this is the kind of product she’s bringing to the table. I cannot wait for the next Grand Theater production. Until then I’ll be re-watching my DVDs… 剣を抜くALL FOR ONE!

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