Takarazuka stars shine in gritty war-era drama

Yomiuri Shimbun photos

Futo Nozomi, left, and Yu Todoroki talk about their roles in “Gaisenmon.”

By Sayaka Aoki / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WriterOSAKA — Takarazuka Revue Company’s Snow Troupe is wrapping up its staging of “Gaisenmon” (Arch of Triumph) at the Takarazuka Grand Theater in Takarazuka, Hyogo Prefecture, before taking the show to the Tokyo Takarazuka Theater later this month. The musical features French chansons and is based on a novel by Erich Maria Remarque depicting personal relationships in Paris on the eve of World War II. It was adapted by Yukihiro Shibata and directed and choreographed by Tamae Sha.

Yu Todoroki, who belongs to the group of elite Takarazuka performers called Senka, is resurrecting her previous role as the lead, while top Snow Troupe star Futo Nozomi plays a friend of the protagonist.

Takarazuka’s Snow Troupe first performed the musical in 2000. Todoroki, who was the troupe’s top star at the time, was awarded the Cultural Affairs Agency’s National Arts Festival Excellence Award in the division of theater.

Set in 1938 Paris, the musical features a surgeon named Ravic, played by Todoroki, who has fled the Gestapo in Germany and is living in self-exile. He is helped by his Russian friend Boris, played by Nozomi.

While living in obscurity, Ravic helps Joan, played by Kiho Maaya, after seeing her on the verge of throwing herself into a river. The two go on to fall in love.

War, persecution and pleasure entailing the risk of death — the production is immersed in a heavy atmosphere from beginning to end. In an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun prior to the first Takarazuka Grand Theater show on June 8, Todoroki recalled her performance the first time around, saying, “Some said this work would not be suitable for the Takarazuka Revue, which expresses love and dreams.”

However, after suffering horrific experiences, “Ravic, who saw no sense in living, gets a new lease on life because he loves someone. The invisible warmth and compassion of people can be felt in various parts of the story,” she said.

“Today, we often hear disturbing words such as ‘missiles’ and ‘refugees,’ and that is why I hope the audience receives the message that they are kept alive by others,” Todoroki said.

After serving as the top star of Snow Troupe, Todoroki was transferred to the Senka elite performers in 2002 with the expectation that she would take the No. 2 spot behind the late Yachiyo Kasugano as one of Takarazuka’s permanent matinee idols.

“I experienced playing various roles, and now I would like to show how I have progressed,” Todoroki said with a smile. “Recently, I think my style has been to incorporate reality into the absolute beauty of Takarazuka Revue.” Meanwhile, Nozomi is celebrating the first anniversary of becoming the top star of Snow Troupe this month.

“Through playing characters, I can learn various ways of living that I would be unable to experience in my own life. I enjoy such encounters,” Nozomi said in an interview.

Nozomi is known as an accomplished singer, so this year’s reproduction has more singing parts for Boris than the original performance. “I would like to make the songs ones that Boris, not Futo Nozomi, would sing,” she said.

She saw the 2000 rendition of the musical before entering Takarazuka Music School. “Everything looked cool, from the way they tipped a liquor glass to how they put on a coat. The love scenes were like those in a film. Todoroki is a great person who all the otokoyaku members [who perform men’s roles] respect and want to catch up with,” Nozomi said.

Ahead of performing with Todoroki, Nozomi said, “I would like to play my role without putting too much pressure on myself.”

“Boris fled the Russian Revolution and arrived in Paris. What burdens did he shoulder? What did his friendship with Ravic mean to him? I would like to play Boris in a way that reveals such things,” she said.

“Gaisenmon” (Arch of Triumph) is being held at Takarazuka Grand Theater in Hyogo Prefecture through July 9, and will be held at Tokyo Takarazuka Theater in Tokyo from July 27 through Sept. 2.Speech

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