Saturday, May 3, 2014

Lady Bess Well Received In Japan

Hideki Sukenari writes in Japan's The Yomiuri Shimbun of April 30, 2014:

Lady Bess is a play based on the life of Elizabeth I who laid the foundation of the British Empire.  This bold and imaginative production turns the European historical drama not too familiar in Japan into a coming-of-age story of a young girl that resonates with the Japanese audience.  That which attracts attention on the stage are the two huge astronomical clocks.  They are placed in the background and on the floor, looking as though they possess a great power to decide the destiny of people.  In this mysterious setting, the girl accepts her fate as the heir to the throne and then sets out to walk the path of life on her own. This whole process of her extraordinary girlhood evolves with varied music having a Celtic flavor that is evocative of the time and the region.
It is Kunze's favorite style of play in which fictional characters leave their mark in the mind of lead characters.  In "Lady Bess," a young minstrel named Blake takes such role.  The drama centers on the
love story between Bess and the young poet, and illustrates how the princess grows up facing hatred of Queen Mary I, her older half-sister, seeking wisdom of her tutor Ascham and getting impressed by the wits of Prince Philip of Spain.  This extraordinary play unfolds with the dynamic direction effectively using a slanted revolving stage.

The Asahi Shimbun' drama critic, Michie Amano, wrote on April 24, 2014:

"Lady Bess" is a musical by Michael Kunze (book/lyrics), Sylvester Levay (music) and Shuichiro Koike (director/lyrics translation/additional translation). This production makes a good match with "Elisabeth," another masterpiece by the same three-man team. The Empress of Austria of the 19th century becomes obsessed with Death in "Elisabeth," while in "Lady Bess," Princess Bess gets through life's challenges and grows up as Kat, her governess (Mayo Suzukaze), sings in "Growing up."  Although the two storylines are the exact opposites of each other, they share the same central theme.
The heroines wished to live free.  However, they lost their freedom in exchange of growth, which brought them a great sorrow.  This sadness underlies these two stories.
Bess (double-cast by Mari Hanafusa and Aya Hirano) is encouraged by her tutor Ascham (Kanji Ishimaru and Yuichiro Yamaguchi) and endures persecution by Mary I of England (Yuki Mirai and Rie Yoshizawa). Hanafusa excellently personifies the proud character who relies on herself. Nonetheless, Bess's biggest challenge is more closely associated with her heart, in other words, the romance with Robin the minstrel (Ikusaburo Yamazaki and Kazuki Kato). Like Romeo in "Romeo and Juliet," Robin
dares to sneak into her bedroom and invites her on a wandering journey.  However, Queen Mary dies at that very moment and an emissary from the palace brings her a message that summons her to the crowning. The spirit of her mother Anne (Miou Kazune) who died a tragic death watches her over just like the ghost of the former king in "Hamlet." A number of citations from the works of Shakespeare can be found in this drama. Bess sings a duet of "My Heart Belongs to You" with Robin and abandons
her love, thereby putting an end to her girlhood.  "I will never have love again."  In this scene Hirano acutely portrays Bess's pathos.  The play develops with quite a few excellent pieces of music that grab the listeners' attention.
"Lady Bess" is being performed at the Imperial Theatre in Tokyo until 24th May and then will go on tour in Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya.

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