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Phantom (ファントム) (2004)

     performed by the Cosmos Takarazuka Troupe (宙組)

          starring Yoka Wao, Mari Hanafusi &  Kei Aran

I am so excited to be featuring some Takarazuka shows here, y'all.  Let me explain what they are, for those that don't know!

This is actually a performance of the 1991 Yeston/Kopit musical, which I have already reviewed and which is a barrel of alternate-plot fun that you should all get to know if you haven't. Normally, I wouldn't be reviewing individual performances of a particular piece, but this one's different for a lot of reasons, the most major being that it's a performance by the Takarazuka Revue. For those who aren't in the know (probably most of us), the Takarazuka Revue is a Japanese performance convention in which all parts are played by women, in part as a cultural backlash to the long-established tradition of kabuki theatre in Japan, which allows only male performers. It's an extremely old and prestigious institution with wildly cutthroat competition for membership, and as one of the most popular spectacles of its area has a reputation for putting on shows that are, in a word, spectacular. Actresses generally specialize in playing either female or male roles and seldom switch between, and there are a lot of unexplained dance breaks and exciting costuming.

So you can see that I couldn't ignore this one. Gender fluidity, super-fancy stylized sets and costuming, and random dance breaks? Sign me right the fuck up for that.

This show was especially fancy because it was being put on for the 90th anniversary of Takarazuka shows in general. I spent much of it thanking my lucky stars that I already knew the show in English, because it's performed entirely in Japanese with no subtitles and I would have been hopelessly lost trying to untangle the alternate plot of the Yeston/Kopit version of the the story on my own. My Japanese is not exactly fluent, so I had to content myself with noting, "Hey, she said 'Really, I mean it!' And then she said, 'Are you okay?' And then she said something about, like, the wind," during most of the proceedings. There was even less I could do about the title cards and screens, which were indecipherable to me, but luckily they are few and not essential to enjoying the show.

This is a recording of a live performance, much like the 1990 Falstein production or the 1994 Danova show; however, the production values are obviously set to a very high standard. There are no sound issues and there are clearly a large number of cameras at varying distances and angles, so even though the mise en scène of being presented onstage is not lost, there's clearly someone who knows what to do with film behind the wheel when it comes to cutting it together. It's a very refreshing thing to encounter, considering that most recordings of performances I've seen are either one wide unbroken shot or heinously miscut.

Hilariously, the logo for the production used on the screen and curtain (but not on the cover above - sorry!) features the white half-face mask usually associated with Lloyd Webber's musical, a pretty recognizable homage. It's odd to see it there with the normal Yeston/Kopit candle logo, though even this has been spiced up to include a flame rising from it that melts into Wao's ominous (but oh so beautiful) face.

Act 1:

The show opens with a scene focusing on Erik, here played by Yoka Wao, a big-name otokoyaku (male role player) at the height of her popularity. Her reputation isn't exaggerated; the second she opens her mouth, her voice - powerful, commanding, low-register and spine-tingling - makes it perfectly clear why she was chosen for the role. Wao's got a voice like chocolate. Really nice, really rich chocolate. Christmas fudge chocolate. I couldn't understand a word out of her mouth, but at no point did that prevent me from wanting her to continue forever.

Wao is also extremely attractive (not kidding), and, unlike most other versions of the story, no attempt is made to ugly her up. This isn't out of laziness; in fact, it's an entire paradigm shift when it comes to representation of the Phantom. Wao's Erik is not apologizing for being hot. In fact, she's playing it up most of the time, and straight-lined, masculine-style makeup is not doing a thing to disguise it (if anything, it's just making her that much more swoon-worthy). Where I have thrown monumental shit-fits over this in past productions (most notably the 2004 Schumacher/Butler film, which came out at about the same time that this did), I'm actually not in the slightest bit bothered; this show is very intentionally skewed toward a specific visual dynamic, to the point where all other things are subordinate to it. The production is a visual feast, and everything from the sumptuous sets and lighting to the elaborate costumes and the undeniably gorgeous members of the cast is meant to contribute to an overall impression of otherworldly beauty. In this more stylized, much less realistic style of theatre, actual ugliness would be out of place; therefore, symbolic "placeholders" that are not actually ugly at all, such as Wao's half-faced "deformity" that really resembles nothing more than two large birthmarks, are inserted to prevent anything from breaking up the flow of that visual style.

Interestingly enough, I've seen a lot of discussion about the Schumacher/Butler film in which it has been suggested that a similar approach is taken there, thus explaining the meager deformity and oozing sex appeal of its titular character. I don't necessarily agree - certainly ugliness is not shied away from in other aspects of the film, nor are the attempts at magic realism particularly compelling, and if the film is trying to achieve that aim it's not succeeding - but it's interesting to speculate as to why two versions of the story in which the terribly disfigured main character was presented as spellbindingly attractive came out at exactly the same time.

Most Yeston/Kopit productions I've seen rely heavily on the mystery of the mask, to the point where many interpretations (most notably the 1990 Dance/Richardson miniseries) never reveal the title character's hideous deformity in its entirety at all. As they will be doing with so many other things, the Cosmos troupe tosses that convention out the window and presents Erik unmasked for the majority of the beginning of the show, delivering "Paris is a Tomb" with his face gloriously bare to the audience. Of course, no one in the audience is particularly revolted by this, but then again they aren't supposed to be, and the choice to have the Phantom parading about stern and barefaced puts a lot of oomph behind his character. Like Lloyd Webber's Erik, this one is the master of his domain; he does not tolerate bullshit. Like Leroux's Erik, this one only hides when necessary and is happy to appear (and terrify everyone in the vicinity) whenever the situation calls for it.

The idea of the artistic genius in control of the opera house's performances is also strong here, particularly since dance is an integral part of Takarazuka theatre and thus there are several scenes in which Erik takes visible control of the ballet chorus, directing them and in some cases causing symbolic changes of costuming (such as when his teaching suddenly causes a flock of traditionally white-skirted ballerinas to reverse and become black-clad). I don't think anybody is used to seeing the Phantom dancing ballet - even in previous versions where it was hinted that he had some dance facility, such as the Falstein musical, he never actually busts a move onstage - but Wao not only does it, she does it well. It's a fun and surprising change of pace to see the normally super serious-faced Phantom really physically express his artistry, as normally it is only expressed vocally.

And speaking of dance numbers, here comes a random one with a lot of funky beats and sexy stylings. If it's actually in Yeston's score I didn't recognize it, as it's been changed beyond all recognition. It's best not to worry too much about what is actually happening and just enjoy the shenanigans until the plot resumes, which it does a few minutes later with a rousing chorus of the very recognizable "Melodie de Paris".

I wouldn't have expected much of the original novel's influence to adhere to this particular show, but when Christine turns up she's blonde and braided, looking as winsomely Swedish as anyone could hope. Hanafusa also has a lovely voice, though she's often too light in her upper register for my taste; I often found myself wishing she would support more thoroughly, but it seems that her breathy tone and tendency to sit on her vibrato for a few seconds on extended notes are intentional choices rather than technical errors. I'm still not the biggest fan of those routes in the world; I'm never going to claim that she isn't easy on the ears, but I've heard stronger Christines.

Philippe rolls in, of course, still confusingly named, and immediately ignores the girl he's come with to go dote on Christine; he's turned up in a very British top hat and greatcoat here, which is confusing for me, but Aran has great command of her body language and pulls off a very masculine stage presence without resorting to shorthand or crudity.

A familiar staple of later Phantom interpretations turns up with Carlotta, who is wearing a ridiculous red wig to underline her otherwise just general state of ridiculousness. Her ordering poor Buquet into the basement to look for things is familiar, but Erik, when he comes out to deal with the interloper, is shockingly brutal; he straight-up cuts Buquet's throat with a knife after spending a few seconds intimidating the shit out of him, which surprised me in light of how much more sympathetic the Yeston/Kopit Phantom usually is than his ghoulish forebear.

The set for this production, by the way, is fantastic; it's not overly fancy in some areas, but its functionality can't be beat. Particularly wonderful are the rising and sinking platforms that are Wao's main avenue of entering and exiting the stage; they're a great visual tool and provide a constant reminder of Erik's lower, hell-like abode when she sinks slowly below ground, unmoving and stern-faced, before other characters return to the stage. Even when characters are underground in the cellars, Erik tends to rise up out of the blackness, as if even in his own domain he actually inhabits a lower sphere that no one else has access to.

As always, Yeston's music ably paints the contrasts between the opera house above and the stark dungeons below; the set designs echo the divide by favoring black and dark blues for the underground sets (also mimicked in the lighting) and bright, cheerful pinks and golds above.

Christine is the most well-dressed little street sparrow I have ever heard of. She even has a bustle! Again, this stems from the production's overall focus on imagery over historical reality, and apart from the faint, abused pinging of my period clothing sensor, it's not particularly irksome.

We get to hear Aran sing some here, and she also has a lovely contralto; it's a bit lighter and more pleasant than Wao's sepulchral tones, which makes for a good aural contrast between the two men.

A directorial choice for this show that I really dig is Erik's habit of just walking into the middle of whatever's going on to soliloquize, rather than singing his lines from a hiding place, cellar, or other place he would actually be. It's clear that the positioning is symbolic - none of the other characters notice him there - but it's a powerful choice that underlines both his omnipresence in the opera house and his inescapable influence and power over the other characters, none of whom see his face mere inches from their own. The lights obligingly play up this concept, darkening most of the stage but keeping Wao lit, so that it's clear that the character is simultaneously alone in the netherworld darkness and the vital and unignorable center of the events unfolding above.

Carriere, here played capably by Sakiho Juri, also has a lovely low-register voice, but it's difficult to see her as an older man when she's so obviously young (age makeup can only do so much). Another moment wherein the Takarazuka performance requires suspension of disbelief as one of its underlying necessities, though in this case it's especially difficult because Wao, playing Juri's son, actually looks older than she does to me (possibly it's just Wao's almost overpowering gravitas in this role).

Side characters come and go, all of them fulfilling their story functions and entertaining the audience. Of particular note is Madame Giry, dressed in a familiar all-black ensemble with her super-fancy cane, betraying some Lloyd Webber influence again. It's fun to see very Japanese choices being made now and then to portray these characters: Teru Suzuka playing Cholet, for example, manages somehow to keep her eyes crossed the entire time she's onstage due to crossed eyes being Japanese artistic shorthand for a foolish or agitated person. Ouch. Looking at it makes my head hurt in sympathy.

As usual, Carriere tries to warn Cholet about the Phantom (usually referred to by the Japanese word yurei or "ghost") quite severely, and as usual the new manager is having none of it and Carriere ends up canned. There are none of the playful ghostly shenanigans employed in the 1990 miniseries version of the story here; there is not a peep out of the Phantom until Cholet departs, at which point Wao's spectral voice (so powerful on its own that it almost doesn't need the echo effect added to it) blasts out from nowhere and terrifies even Carriere. Considering that this is a dude who is willing to personally knife people who go into his basement looking for costumes, it seems pretty clear that things are going to go unpleasantly for the new management.

It is only now, when Erik emerges to talk to Carriere in person, that he turns up wearing a mask; every previous scene has been played bare-faced. It's interesting to speculate about whether that means that the Phantom doesn't bother to go masked when he's alone in the cellars (and, I mean, why would he unless he has a strong psychological attachment to the thing?) or else that the choice is symbolic and represents the fact that Erik only has to hide himself while interacting with the rest of the world and embraces (or at least doesn't attempt to hide from) his deformity when left alone. It might also have to do with not wanting to feel "exposed" around Carriere, perhaps his only friend and ally.

Carlotta, played by Aya Izumo, suffers from the usual problem of Carlottas needing rockin' pipes to sing the role yet somehow also needing to find a way to convince the audience that they can't sing (this being the Yeston/Kopit version, nepotism plays a heavy role in her installment as singer and thus there's more leeway to make her just plain bad than in most versions). Izumo compromises by, once again, going for stylistic symbolism instead of realism, sounding perfectly competent most of the time but occasionally making demonstrably studied squeaks and groans to illustrate the fact that while she may sound fantabulous, her character does not.

I wasn't entirely sure if they were real or representational to this point, but around here, when they're helping dress Erik and carrying things around for him, it becomes clear that the chorus of black-clad dudes that follow him around and sometimes dance ballet with him are actually a retinue of people that do the Phantom's bidding. Who they are or why they're there goes largely unexplained, but as they never appear above-ground unless Erik calls on them, it seems likely that they share an origin with the subterranean helper races employed by the Perkins/Daughton graphic novel or the Danova musical. The idea of Erik as leader of a race of Morlock-esque underground people is a strange one as it can easily destroy the idea of him as an outcast out of hand, but the direction and behavior of the characters here makes it clear that there's no social interaction (nor, indeed, apparent fondness) between him and them whatsoever, leaving them in a supporting role that has more in common with the rats of the 1998 Argento/Sands film. It's also possible that they really are just representational of the general shadowy power of the Phantom and are not meant to be real people in the musical's world; it seems to be pointing the other way, but in a production this heavily stylized, anything goes.

Hilariously, my notes say that this is also the point at which I realized that the Phantom was wearing hoop earrings. I suspect I didn't catch them earlier because of plain old boring gender expectations; my subconscious was just more prepared to see them on a woman (though it should know better!).

I giggled a lot around this part, actually, sometimes at the Japanese pronunciation of "mademoiselle", which seems to come out of every actress's mouth differently, but mostly at Izumo and her acid trip of a Carlotta. She is probably the most overtly Japanese character on the cast in mannerisms, but even the foreign expression of her shrewishness can't prevent a western viewer from enjoying the treat of watching her stomp and growl and perform vocal acrobatics all over the stage. In a moment of further entertainment, I discovered upon deciphering the line notes that Carlotta's maid is named Valerius, a gem that I must have missed in previous Yeston/Kopit productions.

English-speakers watching this production may be startled to note that, while 95% of the lyrics have been translated and are being sung in Japanese, every now and then there will be a random line that is still in the original English, often the title of the song ("I'm home" and "You are music", for example). Part of this probably has to do with limitations in meter that make translation impractical, but English words and phrases being inserted now and then is also a common feature of modern Japanese popular music, so it seems unlikely that most audiences in the show's native land would bat an eye at it.

At the beginning of "Home," the usual scene is inverted and Christine actually rises up on a platform (half the stage, really), revealing Erik standing beneath her in a separate level. It's a lovely moment to invert our expectations and call attention to the symbolic height that Christine inhabits which Erik can never truly aspire to.

This duet is the first time we ever see any joy on Erik's face, and it's absolutely transformative, turning Wao from a handsome but dour-faced malcontent to resplendent loveliness for a few fleeting instants. Despite the fact that Christine has no idea she's being watched, Erik is beyond ecstatic that she responds to his overtures in absentia, and again the convention of him speaking from right beside her despite being in actuality far away is used to good effect.

It's worth noting, by the way, that everyone gets very carefully coiffed and styled hair confections in this show except for Erik, who wears his long and unkempt. While some audiences might have the same problem I did with not recognizing that as out of the ordinary due to the actress' gender and presentation, it still gives the impression of the character being more wild, unconventional, and frightening.

No punches are pulled again when it comes to Erik being right out there being himself and terrifying everyone as a result; far from the normal offstage antics that most Phantoms indulge in to disrupt performances, Wao's Erik personally crashes the proceedings and is not only better than the entire dance chorus but also beats the tar out of the male leads onstage before terrorizing the chorus into fleeing. Unsubtle as it is, there's no denying that it's one of the most effective destructions of a production any Phantom has ever engaged in. As always in this show, it's also possible that Erik isn't really there in person and all his onstage shenanigans are just representations of offstage things he's doing taking effect, but the enormous audacity of this version of Erik suggest to me that he really doesn't give enough fucks to not show up in person.

Once he finally departs (and you know when he does, because he turned up all in white, a stylistic choice seldom seen out of Phantoms that probably further illustrates his desire to be noticed and bowed to), it turns out that he also murdered one of the tenors in the hubbub. Trick set pieces that allow cast members to "disappear" combined with dim lighting help set off the fearful atmosphere of the fugue well, and provide an ominous lead-in to Christine having her vocal lessons down below (she's a brave lady, standing next to the wall o' faces to practice!).

Hanafusa actually sounds in-and-out better during this part, causing me to cherish hopes for a while that her slightly undersupported breathiness was all part of the show and meant to illustrate how much less well she sang before Erik's interference, but this does not appear to be the case. Still, she sounds lovely, and Wao's half of "You Are Music" is stunning enough that she could sound like a warthog and I'd probably be happy. And speaking of Wao, good lord, costume department, are you trying to give people heart attacks with those thigh-high boots? It's like Englund come again, except even hotter.

The triplets in the bistro song are almost unmanageable for the cast, which is not really their fault; the Japanese translation of the text appears to have too many syllables for anybody to manage in triplet form. Philippe turns back up, with Aran doing a cock-walk that would put many a young actor, and the bistro competition is handled very well; Christine sounds unremarkable at first and Carlotta dominates her, but again Erik enters the scene (symbolically; he's actually outside the window, but he comes in to sing encouragement in Christine's ear to represent his control over her voice and the strides she's made under his tutelage) and his voice makes her blossom. Like Englund back in the 1989 film, Wao does an entertaining job of pacing about and waving her arms, half-mouthing words and otherwise looking like a nervous music teacher watching a student make a debut. Wao actually sings some of the competition herself (again, symbolically, not literally), so that for the audience the winning voice is composed half of Erik's commanding contralto and half of Christine's light soprano, a lovely representation of his support and nurturing of her voice.

Of course, nobody wants to be nice to Christine anyway, as is mandated by the plot. Hanafusa does a kicked-puppy sad look that literally defies description. It makes you feel like you're being stared at by a baby bunny whose mother you've just bludgeoned to death. You want to put her in a comforting basket by the fire.

Despite the undeniable chemistry between Wao and Hanafusa, Christine and Philippe also make a believably adorable young couple, both obviously smitten and enjoying one anothers' company. As in most versions of the Yeston/Kopit plot, it's pretty clear that Christine doesn't have the same emotional investment in Philippe that she does in Erik, but Hanafusa pulls off being more innocent than manipulative enough that there's no hint of disliking her for her behavior.

In fact, this production hits heavy notes of an older man's doomed (and, he knows, unacceptable) love for a young student being naturally supplanted by an age-appropriate romance. Since everything's aboveboard here and Christine has no idea there's anything supernatural or shady about her teacher, there's nothing to motivate her preference for Philippe except for genuine affection and the student/teacher and age barriers. Erik quietly grieves for his unrequited love outside while the two go off to hang out, and is accompanied by white-clad dancers who again remind me of Danova's musical and its representational dance corps.

The night of Christine's debut comes and Carlotta poisons her drink with a throat-closing agent to prevent her from singing well. I thought I was hallucinating, but Wao is indeed down in the orchestra pit at the beginning of this, conducting the orchestra personally, a fun breaking-the-fourth-wall moment since it is also the physical orchestra for the entire musical. Christine's vocal failure is more convincing than most; Hanafusa combines coughing, loss of sound and off-key warbles to ably illustrate that something has gone terribly wrong.

In keeping with his more forceful, center-stage personality in this show, Erik does not immediately kidnap Christine and instead gets into an outright brawl onstage with Mifroid and his men. The mysterious black-clad helpers again appear to be real, as they come to Erik's aid and take on several of the police officers on their own. Finally, sick of all this shit, Erik decides to escalate the situation, pulls a gun, and shoots down the chandelier, which is something I've never seen before, before grabbing a fainting, miserable Christine and booking it.

Philippe, of course, attempts to follow in a panic and has to fight several of Erik's helpers before losing the trail. Interestingly, despite the brash way that he's running around dueling people with a sword, Philippe never kills anybody, just ends up knocking them away or clubbing them with his hilt. The direct contrast to surprisingly murderous Erik is obvious.

Act 2:

I love the set for Erik's domain, which we haven't really thoroughly seen yet. Things glide and move around on the stage with a dreamlike smoothness, and a fog machine obscures the floor so that any area is fair game for the lake, allowing Erik to enter and boat around for a while. Christine is laid out in his boat so corpse-like that there's brief question that she may have expired of nerves, though Erik seems unperturbed and she turns out to be fine later.

After laying her in a bed and preparing to go, Erik kisses the sleeping Christine, which is interesting because it's the first hint of any sexual relationship between the two of them whatsoever; up to this point, Erik's been very protective of her, but in a paternal sort of a way. Even now things are not entirely clearly spelled out, and the angle of Wao's head and hand intentionally obscures whether Erik has kissed the sleeping Christine on the forehead or the lips.

And, of course, this being the Yeston/Kopit show, the reason for all this sexual ambiguity comes to light - literally, as when Erik kisses her the lights come up on the portrait of his mother across the hall, making sure we can see the resemblance between the two women before he departs.

While Erik dons a full-faced red mask and makes it clear that he means business about whatever it is he's going off to do next, Carriere manages to bumble his way down to Christine and start explaining to her what Erik is all about, a pretty funny task when Christine is so obviously not worried about anything that's happening and only mildly confused about where she is. The flashback (a different actress, Izumi Otono, plays Erik's mother, an interesting choice; the two do share a certain resemblance, but she and Hanafusa are definitely not identical) tells the story of Erik about as expected, with the idea of Christine and the mother being the same heavily accented by separate groups of chorus members carrying the two of them around and crossing their paths several times over the course of the scene. The lights fade on child Erik just as adult Erik rises up out of the ground in all his Red Death glory, again a powerful use of tableau and set pieces.

And then John said, "...and now they're having a dance number?" But that's something that just kind of happens in Takarazuka productions.

After the sympathetic scenes of Erik's background, the next scene, in which he arrives as the Red Death in full costume to threaten Carlotta, is even more harsh by contrast. The entire scene fairly drips menace, and, following his already violent pattern, Erik pulls a sword on Carlotta and murders her at its end, apparently without any kind of remorse.

The underground garden, once he gets back and takes Christine to see it, is done very minimalistically with green drapes thrown over the set and soft green lighting to accent it. Birdcalls occasionally crop up, surprising both Christine and the audience, and motivated me to wonder if there were actually any subterranean birds here or if it were more likely that Erik was merely using ventriloquism to try to set a more pleasant stage for his pupil. His eagerness to please her is obvious and well played by Wao; there is almost a kind of innocence to his monumental lack of surety, which again stands in yet another strong contrast to his behavior in the previous scene.

The soft pastoral music playing the background is abruptly cut off the moment Christine asks to see Erik's face; those who have seen the show before know what's going to happen, but the aural clue foreshadows it well, pointing to the fact that she has irrevocably shattered the peace between them just by asking. There's quite a bit of melodrama to the rest of the scene, as Wao's hand spasmodically rises and falls from the mask while Christine sings "My True Love" cheerfully at him, but the actresses are capable enough to make it work without dipping too far into silliness. I wondered, given the visual aesthetics of the production, if things would be progressing as usual at this point, but Christine does indeed stop, stare, scream, and run for it upon seeing Erik's face. This also could look very silly considering that Wao is sort of dripping hotness all over the stage, but like so many other things in this show, the less-than-frightening deformity makeup is meant to represent something terrible rather than show it realistically, and Christine is responding to that terror that the audience sees only obliquely.

Things go downhill from there. People start using the word "Phantom" instead of yurei to refer to Erik, pointing toward them having realized that they're dealing with a discrete entity instead of an ethereal one. Erik, in yet another tussle with the police, shoots and kills one of them with a stolen handgun before being wounded and seeking refuge in one of his many hiding places. Carriere's final scene with his son really gives Juri room to shine, and I'm not going to lie, I teared up a bit at the end of "You Are My Own". The scene really highlights Erik's psychological state; it's not that he really wants to replace his mother (because, after all, unlike most versions of the Phantom he actually had one who loved him), but rather that he wants to regain the only person who has ever wholly loved him. Carriere manages to step into that role at the last minute, and it's just as arresting here as in English versions of the production.

And now it's time for the grand finale, starting with fisticuffs between wounded Erik and Philippe. The most interesting part of the scene is actually Carriere's helpless panic and agony over on stage left, as he can literally do nothing to help his violently criminal son at this point. When Carriere finally fulfills his last wishes and shoots him, Christine's distress is painful both for an emotionally overloaded audience and for poor Philippe, who, recognizing that this is something beyond his ability to deal with, quietly exits and leaves her with her grief.

Erik, commemorating his underground shenanigans, is put into a boat and given a burial at sea after Carriere manages to pull Christine away from the corpse. Strangely enough, he then immediately turns back up, clad all in white, and takes Christine away in the boat with him while she does a little dance for joy; this is probably not intended to be literal, however, and is more of an expression of his spirit comforting her than anything else.

And now the show is over - or at least the musical is over, but the spritely ladies of the Cosmos troupe are not tired enough yet and must first present a bewildering extra revue of dance numbers. Most hilarious is that most of them are between Wao and Hanafusa, and that the music is mostly repurposed and jazzed up operatic pieces of the time period, similar to the musical basis for the 1984 Hill production (and, in fact, many of the pieces used are the same - look for the zany purple-clad tango to the duet from The Pearl Fishers!). And, hey, they're gorgeous and talented, so I can take ten minutes of unexplained dance at the end of the musical. Sure, why not?

And in case you thought it was over after THAT, oh, no, my friend, first there is the most bonkers curtain call you have ever seen, reprising most of the numbers from the musical and featuring people turning up in Vegas showgirl outfits. Most entertaining of all is Wao, who comes out with the biggest feathered peacock tail you have ever seen, which is apparently a wacky Takarazuka custom that is used for most show curtain calls. It is hilarious. She looks like an ancient Mexican high priest.

But, despite all the additional wackiness, this is a thoroughly enjoyable show. You have to let your suspension of disbelief depart so far that it may never return, but once you do, there's a special sort of magic to this all-female, all-symbolism, all-sequins show that is as enjoyable as cracking open a nice bottle of wine. Which, if you'll excuse me, I am totally now going to go do.

For the interested, by the way, you can watch a clip of "You Are Music" from this show over on YouTube, which will get you an opportunity to hear the lovely contrast between two women singing in very different registers. If you really want the whole Takarazuka experience, however, I suggest enjoying the utter fantasy that is the curtain call. Go on. You know you want to.​

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