The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji, Musical Review – Guest writer John

「走れ!夢の新幹線 ~キクとシンジの物語~」

(Full speed ahead! The Shinkansen Dream ~The Story of Kiku and Shinji~)

This community musical (hereafter Kiku to Shinji) was the talk of Saijo, our small city in Ehime Prefecture. A collaboration between local residents, the municipal government, and an educational theater group, Kiku to Shinji sold out both its shows, drawing well over 1000 people. In this sense, it was a complete success. More than that, even the toughest local critics were impressed by the quality of the production.

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Kiku to Shinji is about Kiku and Shinji Sogo. Shinji (1884-1981) was the 4th Director of Japanese National Railways and a driving force behind the development of the shinkansen bullet train, completed in 1964. The tireless Shinji was supported by his wife Kiku, a music student he met while studying at Tokyo Imperial University. The play covers their life together in flashbacks narrated by the major characters from the corners of the stage, opening and closing with a catchy musical number called “Never give up on your dreams.”

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Even locally, some don’t understand the connection between Shinji Sogo and Saijo. After all, the shinkansen doesn’t have service on Shikoku. Shinji was born in Nakahagi, a village in between the present-day cities of Niihama and Saijo. As a boy, he walked four hours to-and-from Saijo for school and later served as Saijo’s mayor for nine months immediately after the end of World War II. (His tenure was abruptly ended, the play explained vaguely, as “part of the occupation army’s strategy.”) This is the basis for Saijo’s claim to his legacy, though Niihamans will dismissively tell you that Nakahagi is part of their city. Building on this connection, Saijo is home to Shikoku’s railway museum (which includes the Shinji Sogo Memorial Museum).

The musical covered Kiku and Shinji’s story in a brisk 80 minutes. It featured a lot of fan service for the hometown crowd, including praise of local food and heartfelt lines about the kindness of the people, as well as an anachronistic reference to a PR slogan created just this year. There were plenty of roles for local kids, including three little ballerinas and a high school dance troupe.

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All of these elements created a light atmosphere in spite of the play’s epic historical scope. The musical did spend a long and sober sequence on postwar education reforms, and a scene of teachers explaining why their lessons were wrong and encouraging students to think for themselves reflected current debates about textbooks and teaching history. The audience was gravely quiet during this passage, though the heavy atmosphere soon gave way to an amusing appearance by our own Rowan and a spirited musical number.

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As community theater, Kiku to Shinji struck the right balance between drama and comedy. And most importantly, the music was memorable.

Three people gave brief comments after the performance: the playwright, the author of the manga that the musical was based on, and the mayor of Saijo. The mayor called the Kiku to Shinji “Saijo’s treasure” (西条の宝物) and I strongly agreed with him. The palpable effort and enthusiasm of the performers and organizers, and the support of the city’s residents who turned out in droves, created an intense concentration of positive energy that I believe will encourage stronger community spirit and lead to more activities like this.

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John is a local JET and friend in Saijo City.

 

 

Sailor Moon Musical

I went to see a Sailor Moon Musical.

Impressed enough? This is actually the third in a new series of musicals each one being a modified version of one season of the show. This particular one being based on what is generally considered sailor moon at its best, Sailor Moon S. Which you know as the one that introduces the remaining “outer” planets, Neptune, Uranus and Saturn.

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Musical musings

The musical is finished! (well, was, like 2 months ago)

How was it?

Ummm, well, it was good! And tiring! … And umm… yeah. I am sure we have all done things for been in situations where someone asked us the simple question “How was it?” and yet been at a loss. There is almost too much to say and also not enough.

Doing a musical in Japan, in Japanese (mostly) was a very unique experience in a number of ways. And yet, in a number of others, it was remarkably similar to my time with the fantastic Burnie Musical Society’s production of Annie. Enough that I used my knowledge of that to fill in the blanks to generally not be in the way. Which was my general goal. I never expected to be a star or particularly good, I just wanted to avoid being a burden. A task which I can say I succeeded in mostly!

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And when I did have questions, often I would hear someone say “I was wondering that too” or something to similar effect. So I managed to mostly succeed.

Eventually.

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Musical Diaries, 11-14 Catch up

I have been a slacker haven’t I with these things. In real life and blog life that speech contest, and this interview  took more of my attention than it should. But it resulted in me missing a practice and a few posts about practices. I can’t remember what dates line up with what events, but generally things have been going very well.

The biggest change?

A CD.

It doesn’t sound like much, but finally having some music I can play at home to ensure I am getting the tune right is a life saver. I used to be able to sing from sheet music okish… But I have apparently forgotten and so listening to the music to follow is a great help. I had been struggling to really memorize the lyrics to my songs and this helped it all just lock in. There are a few bits that I am stumbling along more than I should, but without the pressure of the speech contest either it should be all good. Now that the music is setting in so much more, the main opening dance is too! Which has been a big challenge for me.

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Musical Diaries 10: Perfect Event Prep Point, PEP Point

In every large scale event, be it musical, convention, game tournament, if you are organised you should reach what I have scientifically called the PEP point. This point isn’t where you have organised everything, but you are at a point where you are sure if things keep going as they are, short of any major disaster, you are going to be fine. Event organisation this happens less so, my experience with Musicals makes me think this happens every time.

The great thing about the PEP point, is that it gives you a chance to play around a little, have fun with whatever you are doing as some of the stress is off, and also polish the things that are a little lacking.

So for this last rehersal, a number of us who weren’t in the scene being practiced, mostly spent the evening alternating between chatting, singing the opening number, and running through the dance. As many of us are at different skill levels and the first dance is actually fairly complex, so everyone can brush up on it.

Also, this is the point where subsitutions become a great thing! So, obviously not everyone attends EVERY time. So, people sub in for other roles. This is the point where everyone knows what the show generally should look like, and often subs take that role to 11! Most of the subs so far have been adults playing childrens roles. Which usually results in an extra line like “My my, you are big aren’t you?”

Other than that though, nothing too eventful. Although this should generally be the fun part of the musical probably until around mid to late July.

Then it will get serious.

So so serious.

 

Musical Diaries 8 and 9: ENGAGE FUN MODE, SING VERTICALLY

I realise I have missed a diary entry for last practice. So time to play a little catch up.

Last week’s practice was pretty simple, new song, dance routine, followed by some staging. I probably didn’t write much about it because there wasn’t much to say other than our dance instructor saying “Please use your fun mode” which I will interpret as ENGAGE FUN MODE like some kind of deadly dancing robot from the future.

In all seriousness, this is actually a pretty important lesson in any kind of performance, you’ve got to do more than perform, you’ve got to be happy about it if it’s a happy piece. If you aren’t cheery, how are you supposed to get the crowd happy about whatever nice thing happened.

Today’s rehearsal marks what I think is the best point for a musical to be in though. Everyone is generally familar with the script, all the scenes have now been generally mapped out, although not everything is perfect. We are at the time of polish polish polish! But… also at the time where people are really feeling out what they can be doing as we are beyond just the clear following instructions stage. This is feeling out our characters, postures, and so on. And also now everyone is familiar with how things should work, whenever someone isn’t around  you can bet on great substitutions from someone.

The last point of note for today’s rehearsal was towards the end, where we were asked to sing “tate”, vertically. Not that I am a huge singer by any means, but the idea of singing vertically has never cropped up before. By singing vertically I mean making the focus of moving your mouth on the top and bottom centers of your lips rather than pulling with the sides of your mouth so much.

But… curiously… it… really really helped with diction at least in Japanese.

So, remember kids, engage in fun mode and sing vertically!

Musical Diaries 7: Don’t give up, DANCE!

Last Thursday we started dancing.

I had kind of dreaded this to be frank. But was pleasantly surprised with how well I did it! Also, I think I managed to make a bit of a social breakthrough with a few people. Asking just the right questions, not in perfect Japanese, but the questions that showed I was really thinking about the motions going on. Obviously, we have a large range of skills within the cast, old, young, fit, … not fit. However, the dance is pretty manageable for everyone which is nice.

I must admit one of the biggest things I enjoyed about the dance practice was how less important language is… Because honestly it is SUPER SUPER DRAINING trying to work in Japanese all time.

However, on this day I also discovered there are people who can read sheet music while dancing.