An Anime-zing Production
Clara Whippy is a staff writer for Hitting The Stage. She is an island girl with an MFA in Theatre for Young Audiences, who works with children and has a soft spot for puppets.
“Banzai, Banzai, Banzai!” Honolulu Theatre for Youth brings back Anime Momotaro by Alvin Chan, Eric Johnson, and the HTY Company in a great way. Having missed it in 2011 when it had its Honolulu premiere, I am glad they have remounted it and that I was able to see it for the first time. This stage production of the classic Japanese folktale of Momotaro the Peach Boy is like… a peach! A sweet treat with a tangy edge which is also warm and fuzzy.
As the classic tale goes, an old man (Sean Joseph Choo) and old woman (Maile Holck) wish they had a child to help them. Lo and behold, the old woman finds a giant peach in the river, and from that peach is born Momotaro the Peach Boy (Alvin Chan). “Peach Power!” Meanwhile, three bright, furry ogres with horns (Choo, Christina Uyeno, and Hermen “Junior” Tesoro) are causing trouble with their mean, greedy, ogre-y ways. Momotaro goes on a quest to Ogre Island to deal with the ogres and gains the help of three animal friends whom he meets along the way (also played by the furry ogre actors). Throughout the story, themes of bullying and inner strength are explored. The theme of how to respond to bullying is presented in an easily accessible and effective way.
Johnson’s directing and the talented cast and production team create a great fusion of traditional and modern, nodding to HTY’s efforts to appeal to inter-generational audiences. The cast effectively utilize traditional Japanese performance styles from Kyogen and Noh (stylized walks, poses, use of voice) and design elements from anime and manga (perspective shifts, emojis, blue hair, J-pop music, neon lights). The black backdrop works with the dressed-all-in-black-stagehands, or “koken”, maneuvering puppets and props that playfully take you into the cartoon/comic book world (designed by Chesley Cannon). The set pieces are cleverly used to convey motion and perspective. A delightful highlight is the sound effects (designed by Barrett Hoover) which marry the action well and add an extra fun factor. The transitions are very tight and carefully choreographed. It’s amazing how much story is packed into the one hour of run time.
The cast is also impressive. When there are so many dual roles there is a risk of some redundancy. However, the actors are so strong that I didn’t realize they were the same actors for a while and it became a little side game in my head- trying to figure out which actor was which character, knowing it was only a cast of six. This was hard to do as I kept getting sucked into the story despite myself. To me, the ogres stole the show. Tesoro and Uyeno’s talent really shine. Special mention must be given to Choo, whose portrayal of the blue ogre was absolutely phenomenal- cute, sincere, and hilarious. Special moments include a chase scene in which all the dual-casted roles are chasing each other and some epic fight scenes.
Though the show is great for children (there are a few moments of audience interaction in which the audience is sweetly referred to as “little ogres”) it is highly enjoyable for adults as well. I attended the opening night with my husband as a date for our wedding anniversary, and it was a great night out! Banzai!