Takarazuka

Ever noticed how most musicals have an inordinate imbalance of male to female roles favoring the males by about 89%!!!? For some reason, writers of musicals always overlook the glut of female talent banging at the golden gates of musical theater for a chance at even a bit part. But no, they keep churning out shows with 6 male parts for every female role. Think of all the popular musicals you can think of and my reasoning comes true at least 80% of the time. There are most likely two main female roles and 4-5 main male roles along with a handful of male characters that though they are not leads have sufficient dialog and singing opportunities to make the role notable (I’m calling them middle roles).

Japan has the answer to this. If you’ve never heard of Takarzuka it’s time you should. It’s an idea that turns Elizabethan theater on its head. That’s right, girls play the guy roles, and very well I should add. Now Japan does have a bit more enthusiasm for the gender-bending idol phenomenon but let’s look at the sheer feasibility of it. There are ten times more females vying for careers as performers than men, it is harder to find males to cast in many musical theater situations, there are tons more guy parts (am I making my frustrations clear enough with the verbal repetition sledgehammer?).

Takarazuka is one of the leading performance troops in Japan with a long history. Technically known as Takarazuka review, this all-female group performs Western-style shows in full Broadway glitz and glamor. Look up videos on youtube and you’ll see the pinnacle of lavish costumes, sets, singers and spectacle. Founded in 1913, the troop was set up by a railway company to attract visitors to a popular hot spring destination of the same name. To date, all girls performing in the Takarazuka review are technically employees of the Hankyu Railway.

Girls are carefully selected from thousands of hopefuls to begin two years of rigorous training at the Takarazuka music school. The first year, all inductees train together in acting, signing and dancing. In their second year, the faculty and current members decide which candidates should take on the masculine roles, then all candidates are funneled into one of 5 performance groups.

Though it began as a ploy to attract visitors and is ambiguous in it’s feminist ideas, I like what Takarazuka is today-a rich platform for a large number of female performers to shine on the global stage. With a modern venue in Tokyo, millions of visitors to the city can view this theater style. I was ready to buy tickets before I had to cancel my post-earthquake visit. I couldn’t wait to sit in a theater and see the pagentry of talented women who turned Kabuki theater tropes into a phenomenon.

No, I don’t dream of crossdressing, just having a chance at a decent role in a community theater world outfitted with 20 sopranos for every one male who can carry a tune in a bath tub.

Check out the opening of the Takarazuka show “Phantom.”    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qE75-74kc3Y&feature=related

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