Jesus Christ goes kabuki in Japan "Superstar" play

Thu Feb 19, 2009 11:10pm EST
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By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - A rickshaw, women in elaborate brocade kimonos, the echo of bamboo flutes. And Jesus of Nazareth, his face painted white with the flaring red lines typical of makeup in Japan's kabuki theater.

All share the stage at Gekidan Shiki, one of Japan's best-known theater troupes, in its revival of the hit rock opera "Jesus Christ Superstar" -- with some very Japanese twists.

First adapted by Shiki founder Keita Asari in 1973 from the original, a 1970 album by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice followed by a 1971 Broadway production, the "Japonesque Version" is one of several local adaptations of the play around the globe. Shiki also does a more conventional "Jerusalem Version."

"There was a New York version, and I thought I should do a kabuki version," Asari said recently, surrounded by cast members after the musical's final dress rehearsal in Tokyo.

"Then later I was told it was too avant-garde, so I made another version, the Jerusalem Version, in response."

"Superstar" depicts the last week of Jesus Christ, including his betrayal by Judas Iscariot, his arrest, his appearance before Pontius Pilate and, finally, his crucifixion.

Asari's production is a powerful, if sometimes disconcerting, blend of Japan and Jerusalem.

Jesus, Judas and the others have faces made up with the ghostly-white foundation and flaring lines, in red or black, of kabuki. One woman flaunts a Japanese parasol.   Continued...

<p>The actor in the role of Jesus Christ (C) performs at the final dress rehearsal of "Jesus Christ Superstar" in Tokyo in this picture taken February 14, 2009. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon</p>