The brand new musical KAWAII Kabuki-Momotarō by the Hello Kitty Troupe (screenplay, direction, and lyrics by Kensuke Yokouchi) premiered on March 10 at the Märchen Theater, located in the indoor Sanrio Puroland theme park in the Tama section of Tokyo. Hello Kitty made her appearance as the chairman of a kabuki theater, wearing a cute kimono and showing off her mie technique.
The musical is a full-scale performance made possible by famed kabuki actors, such as Shidō Nakamura II, and the supervision of Shochiku, the leading Japanese movie studio and production company for kabuki performances. They hope it will attract visiting foreigners, as tourism continues to thrive in Japan.
In KAWAII Kabuki, the familiar Sanrio characters act out performances that are unique to kabuki, such as the dramatic exit technique called tobiroppo, and the stylized fighting scenes known as otachimawari.
The musical begins and the curtains rise as the kurogo, who are stagehands dressed in black, descend into to the audience to gently instruct us on how to do kakegoe, which is a kabuki term referring to calls from the audience made during the performance. The kabuki actor Minosuke Bandō II demonstrates examples of the calls, such as “Kitty!” through an enacted “live video,” creating a sense of unity that is achieved with the audience’s active participation.
When the striped tricolor curtain, called a joshiki-maku, depicting Hello Kitty is drawn, Hello Kitty appears in the samurai ceremonial wear called a kamishimo, and exclaims in an adorable voice, “I am Hello Kitty, the chairman of this theater!”
The Momotaro performance begins as the theater’s kokera-otoshi, the first event performed in a new theater. The familiar characters of Dear Daniel, Cinnamoroll, and Pompompurin, appear as warlords and vassals of Momotaro, to face Bad Badtz-Maru, who is the ogre. As the three warlords declare their names, projection mapping technology is used to impose vivid images onto the theater wall near the audience, adding further dramatic effect to the story.
The three warlords struggle against the ogres who dance with sharp movements. Hello Kitty, acting as Momotaro, eventually appears and daintily slays the demons, expressing the story through songs and the mie technique. The play-within-a-play is performed impressively.
Then there’s a sudden blackout. When power is restored, the ogre Gorou, voiced by Shidō Nakamura II, suddenly appears, sending Hello Kitty’s theater into a panic. At the end, the theater members and the ogre decide to develop the theater together, concluding that they “can get along and have one-heart,” if they “accept each other’s differences.”
Kensuke Yokouchi, who worked with the kabuki actor Ennosuke Ichikawa III for the immensely popular play Super Kabuki, expressed his expectations for this new production. “Whether you are a fan of Sanrio or a tourist from overseas, I hope you will help us make this play more exciting by participating actively, encouraging us with calls that are unique to KAWAII Kabuki.”
The Kabuki actor Emi Saburo, who instructs the actors, said: “I was initially worried about whether kabuki and musicales would merge well, but I also felt that it would work out somehow. I hope the audience will enjoy the elements of both kabuki and musicals.”
Director Aya Komaki of Sanrio Puroland said: “We are anticipating an increase of overseas customers beginning in 2020. We hope that these visitors will make great memories, and that Japanese people will come to like Japan even more.”
She has high hopes for this show, which actively involves the audience and pulls together the internationally popular Sanrio characters and Japanese traditional arts onto the same stage. She hasn’t decided the show’s duration, except to say the enchanting performance is scheduled to run over a long period of time.
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese.)