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J-pop star is a kabuki knockout
EAT your hearts out, Simon Cowell and Lou Pearlman - way before the pair hit the musical boyband jackpot on both sides of the Atlantic with One Direction and Backstreet Boys respectively; a Japanese impresario has been sending female music fans into a tizzy in the Land of the Rising Sun since way back in the 1970s.
Four decades in, Johnny Kitagawa, is still shaping the J-Pop scene with stadium-filling pretty-boy acts such as Kinki Kids, Hey! Say! JUMP!, Arashi and most notably, SMAP.
That feat hasn't gone unrecognised as the media-shy 83-year-old, who doesn't do interviews and is seldom photographed, holds three Guinness World Records titles for producing the most number of top acts (35), the most number one singles (232) and the most number of concerts (8419) by an individual.
One of Kitagawa's proteges, actor-singer Hideaki Takizawa from the J-pop idol duo Tackey and Tsubasa has gone on to become a breakout stage star and now has his own theatrical show named after him.
Originally conceived and directed by Kitagawa, Takizawa Kabuki has become a mainstay every Cherry Blossom season for the last decade. It sells out every year without fail since the inaugural one was staged in 2006 and tickets get snapped up in a flash as well - all 72,800 tickets for this year's run of 52 performances were gone in a fortnight.
The production is a star vehicle for Takizawa, who also has been directing it since 2010. Incidentally, he has the honour of being the youngest Kabuki actor to grace the stage of the historic Shinbashi Enbujo theatre in Tokyo, where Takizawa Kabuki is usually staged.
To mark its successful run and tenth anniversary, it will be performed outside Japan for the first time when it comes to the Marina Bay Sands in August.
Those expecting to see the traditional Japanese theatre art form unfold on stage might be in for a slight surprise because despite the title, this is no ordinary Kabuki performance, save for the elaborate sets and numerous costume changes the cast of 30 led by Takizawa go through.
Instead, the show, which costs 800 milion yen (S$8.9 million) to produce, takes elements of the classic Japanese art form and updates it with modern technology more often seen in Western musical theatre productions. A Taiko drum segment in this year's show, for instance, features Takizawa playing it while spinning 360 degrees in mid-air - just like Tommy Lee at a Motley Crue gig!
Kabuki with a modern touch
In fact, Takizawa Kabuki plays more like an all-star mega-concert with the 33-year-old leading man and his co-actors - usually members of other idol groups from Kitagawa's stable of boybands, such as ABC-Z's Fumito Kawai and Kis-My-Ft2's Kitayama Hiromitsu who are in this year's edition - joining him on-stage for gravity-defying acrobatic acts, energetic dance routines, comic skits and even a bit of magic.
Call it Kabuki 2.0 because the concept is as uniquely Japanese as capsule hotels and quite unlike any live theatre spectacular you've ever seen. Produced by one of Japan's leading movie studios, Shochiku Company - which has been a patron of Kabuki for the last century and now produces every Kabuki performance throughout the country - the show is something its vice-president and executive producer, Tadashi Abiko, is extremely proud of because it shows the continual evolution of the classic art form which dates back to 1603.
Despite kabuki still being extremely popular - 1.3 million people watch various shows staged throughout the year at Tokyo's famed Kabuki-za theatre in Ginza annually - Shochiku's involvement in Takizawa Kabuki also came during a time when it was looking to revitalise the art form to attract a younger audience who might want something a bit more contemporary.
Even with the show's unique "Japanese entertainment with Western elements" concept, Mr Abiko notes the success of any kabuki performance rests squarely on the shoulders of its charismatic lead actor. And Takizawa fits the bill not only because he's a household name but also because the latter loves the adrenaline rush of performing before a live audience.
The Singapore version of the show is set to be a special one - it will be altered slightly for an international audience and will feature highlights from the last 10 years. Takizawa reveals he felt inspired the moment he stepped into The Grand Theatre at Marina Bay Sands during a site recce earlier this year; and immediately he knew the venue was the right one for his show. "It's very beautiful and big enough for me to create various special effects and perform the acrobatic stunts," he muses.
Ever the crowdpleaser, he also has a special treat in-store for local audiences. "I hear it doesn't snow in Singapore so I will be bringing it with me," teases Takizawa.
- Takizawa Kabuki will run for eight performances at Marina Bay Sands' The Grand Theatre from Aug 18-23 at various timings. Tickets at S$95, S$115 and S$170 go on sale online and at Sistic outlets soon.