Review of the Scarlet Pimpernel (Star 2008)
(Originally written July 2008)
So, *this* time on my Crazy Trip to Japan, I demonstrated my (lack of) sanity by seeing the Scarlet Pimpernel eight times in eight days. Six of those times were seeing two shows in one day, which I don't recommend unless your only other option is seeing Scarlet Pimpernel less than eight times. ;)
Takarazuka's "Scarlet Pimpernel" is an adapted version of Frank Wildhorn's musical, which is of course adapted from the "Scarlet Pimpernel" novel(s). Although I listened to the original soundtrack and read the liner notes of the musical before seeing the show, I've neither seen the original Wildhorn musical or read any of the novels.
You can read a summary of the musical on the Takarazuka Wiki. The plot differs in significant ways from the original version of the musical: Percy is already the Pimpernel when the play begins, there is an entire subplot concerning the rescue of Louis Charles (the French crown prince), and motivations and lines of characters are made more "Takarazuka-like" (i.e. motivations of Percy and Marguerite are more "pure" and no explicit mention of Chauvelin and Marguerite having had a, er, *intimate* relationship). The friend I went with who had seen the original version also lamented that the comedy and adlibs had been toned down a good deal.
Not having seen the prior version, there was nothing for me to miss in the staging or atmosphere of the piece, so there was nowhere for me to be disappointed. I felt the show worked beautifully from beginning to end, with the plot moving along swiftly and clearly throughout. Takarazuka pulled out the big guns for this one: new, grand sets, new, gorgeous costumes, and full forward throttle from every member of the cast. For me, everything just *worked* from beginning to end - from the opening scene where the Pimpernel sneaks two women out of Paris, to the final scene on the boat (different boat than El Halcon, though it's hard not to be reminded...), to the line dance, to the otokoyaku dance (with swords! Never has it been more tempting to abuse the caps lock key!), to the parade at the end.
Sets: Very nice overall, though a couple looked a bit flimsy. Loved the boat with the rigging used for "Into the Fire" and the ballroom at the end of Act I and beginning of Act II was gorgeous. The use of the stage was a little bit less creative than in El Halcon, which made wonderful use of all Takarazuka's wings and gadgets to stage its various scenes. Aside from the ginkyou, Pimpernel mostly restricted itself to the main stage, which felt somehow too restrained after El Halcon...
Music: Enjoyed Wildhorn's music very much overall, though a couple of Percy's angsty solos failed to really differentiate themselves to me. Liked both of the new songs well enough, particularly "Days of Glory." Sadly for this Aran Kei fan, most of my favorite songs were sung by Chauvelin: "Madame Guillotine", "Falcon in the Dive" and "Where's the Girl." Very good singing from all the performers overall, though I must say that Toono Asuka in particular gave a performance that very few musumeyaku get the chance to even attempt. Given the chance to sing in something other than squeeky-musumeyaku-range, she delivered exquisitely.
Costumes: *Gorgeous* for the leads, and far from uninspired for the rest of the cast. Asuka consistently wore dresses that will make cosplayer's heads spin, and Aran Kei had some lovely cream visions... as well as a delightfully awful striped thing that manages to be horrific, and yet make her look gorgeous at the same time...
Actresses: You get a lot because I saw this in the theater. :)
Aran Kei: If anyone is left who doesn't know, I've been a Touko fan for 8 years and in her club for 6. My best attempts to be impartial are not particularly objective. ;) So: Touko was fabulous. Her singing was great, her acting was spot on, and she looked amazing. This role could have been built for Touko, as its requirements suit her strengths perfectly: comedic timing, dramatic skill, excellent singing. The only thing it would be possible to complain about (Which I'm not! Really!) is that it's almost not challenging *enough* - it gives her the chance to enhance areas where she's already strong, but it doesn't require the mental and emotional leap as a performer that El Halcon did. Again, I'm not complaining - there is absolutely nothing to complain *about* as a Touko fan - she belts out songs, angsts her heart out, and whips out improvs like she won't just have to do it all over again tomorrow (or in an hour, if it's a two show day...)
Speaking of improvs, the saddest thing about the ending of this show, and for me personally, never getting to see it again in the theater, is that there will be no more improvs, and whatever is done on the day of recording, will be *the* Scarlet Pimpernel in so many minds, forever and ever. Now, Takarazuka isn't big on improvs - it's really not fair to compare it to what one would expect at another kind of theater. BUT *for Takarazuka* this show is full of them, and pretty much all of them from Touko (probably because she's the one with the character that allows for it. And because she's the Top Star. ;) ) There were two places that she *always* did an improv: one, a spot where Percy poses to have his portrait drawn, where she would always start out by inserting a silly pose, and the second a place were Percy offers to create a costume ball outfit for Chauvelin. Some of the portrait poses were similar (there are only so many ways one can stand...) but the outfit suggestions were different *every single time*. I don't know if she can keep it up, but everyone I asked while I was there, had *never seen her do the same improv twice*. She would offer to dress Chauvelin as a cat, a rat, in lingerie, in a maid outfit, in funny hats, and so on. Meanwhile poor Chie (Yuzuki) had to stand there and try to look merely annoyed - perhaps growling a "Don't bother," if she trusted herself to speak. It was always great fun to anticipate what Touko would say each day.
In addition, there were lots of little places where Touko would try different gestures, such as wrapping herself up in Chauvelin's sash when shooing him offstage, or making bird motions in "Falcon in the Dive" - or, if in a particularly mischievous mood, stealing Chauvelin's chair at the theater. These always made the show interesting to watch, though it was sometimes hard to remember to focus on the other performers. ;)
Toono Asuka: Is phenomenally talented. I couldn't have created a better partner for Touko. Her voice, as I mentioned, sounds amazing, and though offstage she always seems tiny, onstage she's a powerhouse. It's so wonderful to see a musumeyaku getting to portray a character who is a *grown up woman* with a past, who has serious problems in her life, and takes action to try to solve them. My only minor, minor complaint would be that at the very end, Marguerite ends up back in a passive role, dependent on others to rescue her. Also, I feel robbed that she never brandishes a sword. Musumeyaku in Aran Kei shows always have weapons*! It's like a law! And my favorite law!
- Okay, fine. Not in Icarus. It's the show's only flaw. ;)
Yuzuki Reon: I like Chie, but am not a *huge* fan, as many know. But if anything wins me over, it's this role. Chie is fabulous, from beginning to end, in this villain role that is at times unexpectedly sympathetic. Her voice is beautiful, and powerful, and the way she stalks across the stage! Her Chauvelin is utterly convincing and I enjoyed her immensely in every single one of her numbers. Her solo in the finale's otokoyaku dance is of course crisply and beautifully danced, but I think my favorite Chie moment in the show is actually where she kisses her sword before stepping to the front to take over leading from Touko. Every angle - from her body, to her head, to her hand, to the sword, is so perfectly aligned, that just that simple motion became riveting. She is a supremely talented performer - I really look forward to seeing what she'll be capable of in a few year's time.
Ema Naoki (St. Cyr/Prince of Wales): I love her, whatever she does. Here she gets a nice song solo in the beginning, and then a fun comic role later on. She and Touko have great chemistry, and seem to be having fun together in the ballroom scenes. So multitalented in every way â€“what a great kumichou to lead the troupe.
Mari Yuzumi (Comtesse de Tournai): Her part is small, but sheâ€™s a noticeable presence in a couple scenes.
Tatsuki You (Anthony): Lots of stage time, a pretty solo in one number, and a smile that makes her stand out no matter how under-utilized she is.
Suzumi Shio (Andrew): Toyoko is a tricky one, because her stage style can seem almost under-played, which can mean that she doesnâ€™t always stand out when everyone else is hamming it up. At the same time, this gentle charm has its own appeal, and I can see why her many fans are so dedicated to her. Like Shii, she gets a lot of stage time and a solo, and not much else.
Kazu Ryouka (Armand): Isn't it enough that Chie's stealing the spotlight from her sempai? Now Kazu's going to start too? *g* Though one could argue, I think the role of Armand (Marguerite's brother) is better than that of Anthony or Andrew, and though I like Kazu a lot, I kind of wish Tatsuki or Suzumi had gotten it instead. Still, can't really hold the casting against her, and she does a fine job as earnest young Armand. She seemed particularly dedicated to making her character seem genuinely in pain where appropriate, and would hack and cough very realistically when Armand was punched in the gut - or was otherwise tormented. ;)
Yumesaki Nene (Marie): I know some people who don't like her, which I don't understand myself. I thought she was charming and showed strength in her several plot-essential scenes.
Nishiki Ai (Robespierre): One long solo near the beginning and a very significant role. Mostly got to be stern and be played by the Pimpernel, but almost seemed to bring a bit of fun to it all.
Asamine Hikari (Jeanne): Made her two scenes as the prince's caretaker count.
Shiran Masumi (Count de Tornai): Gets to pretty much introduce the show at the beginning. I fail, but she didn't really stand out to me.
Miki Chigusa (Sergeant Pipeau): Had an eye patch just so I'd be able to always recognize her. *g* Got a couple funny lines being bested by the Pimpernel crew. And the chance to harass peasants.
Koto Marie (Suzanne): Underutilized (What musumeyaku isn't?) A few misc lines and a nice solo with Suzumi.
Yuuho Satoru (Mercier): Played one of Chauvelin's guard sidekicks. Very stern, but with an interesting presence. Too bad she's retiring...
Mishiro Ren (Simon): Only a couple scenes as the prince's other caretaker. Gruff. I like.
Ayami Haya (Ozzy): I've become a fan since "El Halcon". I love the way she throws herself 100% into her roles. Her character here (one of the Pimpernel League) is young and brash, almost childish at times. Of the Pimpernel boys, Ozzy gets the most lines and the most laughs.
Amao Keika (Jessup): Ah, the way she danced the first part of "Creation of Man"! So funny!
Otohana Yuri (Juliei): Good. *Painfully* underutilized.
Tsurumi Mayuu (Coupeau): I liked her already so I'm biased. Chauvelin's other guard sidekick, so not a big role, but she tries so hard to look tough and serious, and instead is just adorable. She can't *not* be cute.
Yumeno Seika (Elton): The Pimpernel-ite with the second most lines. I had to train myself to recognize the rest of the "boys", but by the end I was getting her. She has some funny moments, though not quite as many as Haya. She's charming.
Mahiro Shun (Farleigh): Always instantly recognizable among the league boys by her black hair and round face. She's improving, and had some cute facial expressions in the background, but I can't help feeling like she's not quite *there* yet.
Hisaki Seara (Polly): I liked the way she performed her couple individual lines in the musumeyaku "Scarlet Pimpernel" number.
Kurenai Yuzuru (Ben): Also instantly recognizable, in her case by her BeruBara hair (if you see the hair, you'll know what I mean. There is flipping. And an interesting shade of blonde.) I think she was the one that did the really cute little "Walk Like an Egyptian" motion early in "Creation of Man."
Ichijou Azusa (Hal): Is CUTE. Despite protestations to the contrary. ;) Youngest of the Pimpernel League. Did adorable hand flappings. Looked earnest a lot.
Aono Yuki (Cate): There was a charm about her in the musumeyaku group number. Also a sweet duet with Tatsuki.
Kitori Mariya (Sally): When I flipped to her picture in my program I was all, "Oh yeah, I remember her!" but I can't remember what she did that caught my attention. See what we're reduced to with musumeyaku? *sigh*
Mizuse Chiaki (Louis Charles): This young (debuted in 2007!) musumeyaku played the crown prince and got a duet with Touko. Did a fabulous job acting boyish, and her singing voice sounded good too. Her career is already leaping forward, it seems. One to watch.
Shiotsuki Shuu (random peasant): Danced directly in front of me at one viewing and caught my eye - and was easy to find among the peasants by her messy hair. I liked her dancing and her earnest singing in the group numbers. And it's my review so I can write about whomever I want. Of course, should she change her hair for the next show, I am doomed. ;)
So, Star Troupe has now done "European" shows three times in a row... (El Halcon, Red and Black, and Scarlet Pimpernel) and their next show (BeruBara) will lead them to... 18th century France! I may not care for them much, but I bet our girls wouldn't mind a nice nihonmono next just for a change of pace...