Review of El Halcon (Star 2007)

by jenebi

(Originally written November 20, 2007)

So, last week I visited Takarazuka and saw Star Troupe’s current show, “El Halcon/Revue Orchis” 8 times in 8 days. Considering that one of those days was Wednesday and another the theater was closed for a private showing, that should give you an idea of my sanity level.

“El Halcon” is a play based on two mangas by Aoike Yasuko – “El Halcon” and “Seven Seas, Seven Skies.” Roughly, the plot follows the adventures of Tyrian Persimmon (Aran Kei), an English navy officer who will do anything to reach his goal of heading the Spanish Armada. Along the way, he betrays pretty much everyone, kills several people, acquires an arch-nemesis (Luminous Red Benedict, played by Yuzuki Reon), and falls in love with a lady pirate (Gilda Lavanne, played by Toono Asuka).

No, this is not your mother’s Takarazuka hero – which, if there was nothing else, would be something to recommend this show. Tyrian is an absolutely despicable character, but the beauty of this show (both the writing and the acting) is how it makes you care about him anyway, making it even more heartbreaking every time Tyrian does something awful. You’re torn between wanting Tyrian to reach his dream and wanting someone to finally make him stop hurting people. I haven’t read the mangas, so they may be even harsher, but I applaud Takarazuka management for not taking the bite out of this story.

Coming from a long manga like it did, this play moves along VERY fast. Not speaking Japanese fluently, I found it almost incomprehensible the first time through – there are a LOT of characters, whose relationships are not always clear, doing a lot of things that are not always explicitly obvious. Even Japanese people have trouble with the plot at times, and the suggestion when you can’t follow seems to be to read the manga, which really shouldn’t be necessary for someone just wanting to enjoy a day at the theater. However, at the same time that speed is a weakness, it is also a strength – this show MOVES, and it does so by showing you the action. Weaker Takarazuka scripts have gotten through much less convoluted plots only by dragging out some underclassmen “villagers” to give us a play-by-play, or through extended voiceovers, or some other device that you end up fast-forwarding through once you get the DVD. This show has very limited, very short voice-overs, and they’re mostly just to tell you what a character is thinking. And though there are a few villagers, they do a group number rather than compensating for poor scripting. Instead, you spend your time watching swordfights, seductions, betrayals, ship-to-ship combat… and then a few more swordfights and seductions, because that’s the kind of show this is.

As for the staging, it is absolutely beautiful – from the anime-esque opening, complete with movie screen, to the use of the turning floor to represent competing pirate ships – Takarazuka knows how to use its stage, and they pulled out all the tricks for this one. The costumes were also incredible, particularly Tyrian’s, which were any shoujo manga fan’s dream of velvet, capes, sword-belts, black boots, plumed hats, more capes… Gilda’s costumes were also gorgeous, as she somehow managed to lead her gang of female pirates in full court-dress (they, more sensibly, wore pants). Luminous’s costumes effectively portrayed his progression as a character – from innocent college boy at the beginning, to black-clad, revenge-obsessed pirate at the end. I could go on through several other characters, particularly Koto Marie as Penelope and Minami Mari as Sigritte, who both had beautiful dresses, and Kazu Ryouka as Captain Black, who I think must have won the Pirate Costume Lottery before this staging.

The music didn’t particularly excite me the first time I saw the show, but it grew on me quickly. There are a lot of beautifully sung numbers in this show, many of them with lovely tunes, and I really hope that this is the rare Takarazuka play that gets a proper live CD. Most of the songs are (naturally) performed by Aran Kei, Toono Asuka, and Yuzuki Reon, all of whom have exceptional voices and could have pulled off even poor music, but it’s nice that they had something good to work with.

On to the actors – you get more than usual, since by seeing this in the theater, and many, many times, I had the opportunity to notice more people on stage.

Aran Kei: Eh heh. Well, it’s no secret that I’m a huge Touko fan (I’ve been in the woman’s fancclub for five years and following her career for seven), so I’m not sure how seriously anyone will take my opinion, but I think she was absolutely fabulous. I honestly don’t think that there’s anyone else in Takarazuka at the moment who could have pulled off this role the way she did. This is an extremely, extremely difficult role for a Takarazuka performer, as it requires expressing an absolutely cold, psychopathic self-interest and a restrained sensuality, with just enough humanity to force the audience’s sympathy. Oh, and then there’s all the singing.

Touko’s singing has always been strong, but I think with this role she moves into the company of the best Takarazuka actors. I don’t know what she went through to put herself into the right mind-frame for this role, but whatever it was, it worked perfectly. Sitting in the audience, you find yourself in the same position as the rest of the show’s characters: knowing this man is terribly wrong, but unable to say no to that look and that voice.

Toono Asuka: Is also one of my favorites, and was also splendid. Gilda is a dream role for a musumeyaku – strong, independent, love-stricken, beautiful, carries a sword – doesn’t sing so insanely high your ears want to bleed. Asuka has a very sweet, cute face, but this is not a cute role in the slightest, and she carries it off with aplomb. Her voice has improved vastly over her younger years, and though on a couple days there were moments where she would lose a note – I’m talking about once or twice in a two hour show, which is certainly better than most musumeyaku. Asuka has the trick of using her face, her movements, her voice, to make herself seem like a cute girl, or (now) a mature woman. I really don’t think there’s a limit to the kind of role she can play, and there couldn’t be a better partner for Touko. It’s like a dream that these two ended up together.

Yuzuki Reon: Okay, I’m not as much of a Chie fan. This was an excellent role for her too, but it’s a little closer to the typical Takarazuka milieu than Touko and Asuka’s roles. Luminous starts out as a very nice, earnest boy. He then becomes a very nice, earnest pirate – in any other Takarazuka play, *this* would be the main character and Touko would be spinning her wheels while Chie got all the fun. Chie did a fine job, her singing was beautiful, her dramatic and comic timing was excellent – yet this character can’t help but be over-shadowed by Tyrian. This is really as it should be, and I don’t think Chie fans will find much to complain about in a role in which Chie gets to run about, carry a sword, and sing duets with Touko for two hours.

(Going down the upperclassmen-order cast list now)

Mari Yuzumi – Had a small role as Tyrian’s mother, and was quite good. Many good musumeyaku parts in this show.

Nishiki Ai – As Tyrian’s father, had a very convincing death scream in the first scene.

Tatsuki You – Really didn’t get a very good part. She played Gerard, a Spanish spy and Tyrian’s mother’s lover, who had a big influence on Tyrian as a boy. She did a fine job, and had one very lovely solo, but very little stage time, most of which was flashbacks. I enjoyed her voice in the solo, but I can’t help but think she would have liked a little more to do.

Suzumi Shio – Was Edward, a friend of Tyrian’s who gets betrayed. Hmmm… She had a couple lovely moments, but this wasn’t a really exciting role. I can’t help but feel that she could have done more with it – I just didn’t see that extra push in her to make this role “pop” and without that, I just kind of got bored with it. Sorry.

Hoshikaze Erena- Played Queen Elisabeth. Seemed to have good comic timing, but this was really one of the play’s weaker spots, as the scene devolved to silliness in an attempt to add some humor to the show.

Koto Marie – Played Lady Penelope, Edward’s fiancée, who also ends up getting betrayed by Tryian – well, sort of. No spoilers from me. She did a wonderful job portraying the self-interested, naïve young lady suddenly faced by the darker side of life.

Ayaka Rei – Oh, I’m so sad she’s retiring. She plays Nicholas, Tyrian’s boatswain/sidekick. I’m glad she got a big role in this, as I think she’s capable of a lot. It is kind of a “cute” role, and though she has a lot of stage time and has a lot of lines, there are only a few places where she really gets to do much that’s interesting. Most of the time, her lines are just giving Tyrian information, but she’s very visible in the show, which is wonderful.

Minami Mari – Was Sigritte, who I thought was Tyrian’s lover, but is actually his step-father’s lover. Ah, these little plot points. It’s easy to get confused though, what with the way she’s constantly falling all over Tyrian, saying she’ll do anything for him, and being sultry. Another retiring sienne who thank goodness was given something to do in her last play.

Kazu Ryouka – Played Captain Black, briefly an adversary and then a follower/partner of Luminous. Will I be forgiven for liking her pirate more than Chie’s? From the moment she came up from below the stage with a red rose clutched between her teeth (Dare we ask why? Nah, it’s Takarazuka), Kazu stalked across the stage bold enough to captain a navy of Takarazuka pirates. The costuming certainly helped: flashy wig, wicked facial scar, black coat – black everything. But most of it was the swagger and brashness she put into the role.

Ayami Haya – Played “Masters” one of Tyrian’s auxiliary sidekicks. I was particularly keeping an eye out for her, as she’s a favorite of a friend of mine. Her role has a good amount of stage time, but not a large number of lines, and all of them of the “Look! It’s the Spanish Armada!” variety. I was surprised by the effort she put into her role – I don’t know if “Masters” is a character in the manga, and so she was just expressing a personality that was already set for him, but even without much in the way of dialogue, she was able to create a sense of character around her part. If you watched Ayami throughout the play, you could see what Masters thought, what he felt, and (even hardest) what his personality was like. I was very impressed, and intend to keep an eye out for her in future plays.

Tsurumi Mayu – Played arguably the cutest pirate in a group of extremely adorable pirates, and even had 2-3 lines. I so enjoyed watching Doi-chan’s “reaction shots” during her scenes – I think it’s going to be one of the things I miss most about seeing the show in the theater.

Mahiro Shun – Played Scott, Tryian’s *other* sidekick. She did a fine job, but being opposite Haya, her work paled a bit. She went through all the “Yes, Captain,” and “Oh, no! The forward guns!” motions just fine, but I didn’t get the same sense of character from her that I did from Haya. Haya made a small part seem like a *role*, whereas Shun’s part just seemed… like a small part. IMHO. Sorry.

Hazakura Shizuku – Had a purely dancing role as “Gilda as a Child.” I thought she was sweet and danced well.

Kitori Mariya – Was Juliette, a very typical shoujo-heroine sort of girl. Perky, innocent, silly, obsessed with pirates. Unlike another reviewer, I really liked her part – I thought she added a (not weird, unlike the Queen Elisabeth scene) light touch to the show, and her scene with Luminous was particularly fun. It’s hard to keep these sorts of “cutesy” characters from being annoying, and I (at least) thought she succeeded.

Tenju Mitsuki – Had a surprisingly large part as “Tyrian as a Child.” Lovely soprano voice, very sweet, earnest acting. Is probably in ecstasies of joy at getting to sing in duet with Touko.

Okay, on (briefly) to the revue. “Revue Orchis” has a theme of orchids, and tango, and they got in an outside “foreign” choreographer (Oscar Araiz), all of which got my hopes up.

I think for this reason, I really disliked this revue the first time I saw it. I expected a lot, and what I got was enjoyable, funny at times, well choreographed – and completely confused about what it wanted to be as a show. In effect, it was like someone took a very good, beautifully choreographed dance recital, and smacked it together with a rather silly “crack-tastic” style Takarazuka revue. I’m not quite sure what happened behind the scenes – Artistic differences? Unable to figure out how to make the theme work? Overwhelming urge to fit in all the Takarazuka embellishments?

There is a LOT of dancing in this revue, and though Aran Kei is a fine enough dancer, it has never been her strongest point (that being her singing, duh). Much as I love Touko, I think another performer could have done more with this revue. She can’t get the leg extension, the sharp movement, or the powerful jumps that some of Takarazuka’s best dancers can – some of her underclassmen were stronger dancers, and that’s hardly the right way to highlight your star. On her strong points, Touko’s expressive face and motions beautifully enhanced some numbers, and her sense of comic timing and her vocal tricks were perfect in the lighter pieces – basically, she did wonderfully in the *Takarazuka-like* numbers, which is not surprising given she’s a *Takarazuka* star. And of course, her singing numbers were absolutely exquisite – but in a Touko show, one would rather expect that to be the focus, rather than an occasional enhancement.

The usual lovely singing and dancing from Toono Asuka (who had some very impressive back-bends) and Yuzuki Reon, some nice moments from Tatsuki You, and Suzumi Shio – particularly in a dance duet between Suzumi and Yuzuki, where Suzumi was one of the better otokoyaku-in-drag I’ve seen. Nice, brief, dance solos from Tsurumi Mayu and Mahiru Shun as well. Koto Marie was very funny as Touko’s partner in the “Orchis Dance” number. Cute singing from the kumichou and co-kumichou. In sum, many fine moments, but I left everytime feeling vaguely dissatisfied.


El Halcon = Practically perfect in every way

Revue Orchis = Satisfactory, but needs improvement.

Thanks for reading!

Created by jenebi. Last Modification: Wednesday 20 of February, 2008 17:24:01 GMT-0000 by jenebi.