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Japanese ‘As You Like It’ Rides Global Wave of Broadway Talent

Michael Mayer and Tom Kitt are working on a new version of “As You Like It” in Tokyo. In the same city, Broadway stars like Ramin Karimloo and Emily Skinner all starred in the 2015 world premiere of Harold Prince’s latest, “Prince of Broadway,” before it comes into New York this spring. And on the other side of the world, the latest musical by “Wicked” composer Stephen Schwartz, “Schikaneder,” recently opened in Vienna.

As the international theater market continues to expand and a greater variety of work pushes into new territories, projects like “As You Like It” and “Schikaneder” underscore the fact that these days it’s not just Broadway titles that translates overseas. Broadway talent translates, too.

The Japanese “As You Like It” is produced by entertainment company Toho — best known to Americans for the “Godzilla” movies — to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the 600-seat Theatre Creation, one of the live performance venues owned by Toho in Tokyo.

“I personally believe that Broadway is the top for musicals,” said producer Mariko Kojima. “So when we wanted to make something with the top of the world, we wanted to make something new where it’s American creators. And Michael is of course the top of the New York theatrical world.”

In Tokyo, the Tony-winning Mayer (“Spring Awakening,” “Hedwig and the Angry Inch”) directs a play-with-music staging of Shakespeare’s comedy that sets the action during the Summer of Love. Tom Kitt, the Pulitzer and Tony winning composer of “Next to Normal,” composes an era-appropriate folk rock score, with “Waitress” choreographer Lorin Latarro on board as choreographer.

These are names that will mean something to Tokyo’s theater fans, according to Kojima. American-style theater productions, and especially musicals, already have a well-established foothold in the country, which was one of the earliest in Asia to embrace the British megamusicals like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Les Miserables.” “I just opened a production of ‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,’ and then I’m doing ‘Big Fish,’” Kojima noted.

Originating in Tokyo Jan. 4-Feb. 4, “As You Like It,” performed in Japanese, will also make mini-tour stops in Osaka and Fukuoka. The show’s cast is led by Reon Yuzuki, the Takarazuka Revue star who was the only Japanese performer in “Prince of Broadway,” and Julian Cihi, a Japanese-American actor whose New York credits include “Doctor Zhivago” and “Romeo and Juliet” opposite Elizabeth Olsen.

“As You Like It” is just the latest indicator of the widening reach of Broadway names. Earlier this fall, “Schikaneder,” Schwartz’s eagerly anticipated new musical, bowed in a world premiere production directed by Trevor Nunn (“Les Miserables,” “Cats”) — not in New York or London, but in Vienna.

The show, described as a “Kiss Me, Kate”-style backstager about the creation of “The Magic Flute,” owes its Austrian roots to Christian Struppeck, the book writer of the show and also the artistic director of producing company Vereinigte Bühnen Wien. As a performer, Struppeck first met Schwartz when he was in the cast of Disney’s German-language stage production of its musical “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” for which Schwartz wrote the lyrics.

Like Tokyo, Vienna was another early adopter of Broadway and West End-style attractions in the age of the British megamusical. The government-subsidized VBW’s mission is not only to present international musicals, but also to develop new ones. According to Struppeck, the company’s “Elisabeth” is the most successful German-language musical in history, having sold 10 million tickets across 10 countries and seven languages.

It’s not yet clear what’s next for “Schikaneder,” but its future is bound to be an international one. “We’ve had a lot of producers here, more than usual, from Japan, Korea, London, Hungary, New York,” Struppeck said. “We’ll see what happens.”

 

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