The Takarazuka Revue, created by a man who thought old male-centric Kabuki Theater was stagnating and elitist has turned 100 since the theatre company was first formed in 1913. Ichizo Kobayashi, the man who created the company because he thought it would be well-received, believed such an attraction would help boost ticket sales of Hankyu Railways, which he was the president of. However, who was to expect that the musical company would become so large and eventually draw in “more audience seats every year, day in and day out, than any other in the land.”
Formed in Takarazuka, Japan in 1913, the Takarazuka Revue did not perform until 1914 where the company did a rendition of the famous story of Momotaro titled “Donburako”. Ten years after, the company became popular enough to have their own theater in Takarazuka called the “Dai Gekijo” or “Grand Theater”. The musical company proved to become even more popular causing another theater to open in Tokyo, the Takarazuka Theater.
Because the company has an all-female cast, women who play male parts are called otokoyaku (meaning male role) and the women who play female parts are called musumeyaku (meaning daughter’s role). Many of the performances that the company puts on are reminiscent of western theater comparably to lavish Broadway-style productions and consist of scores where the cast performs a stage-wide Rockette-style kick line.
As time passed, the Takarazuka Revue elevated in status as a performing arts and is now in the ranks of other famed Japanese performing productions such as kabuki, noh (tradition-based theatre), bunraku (puppet theatre), and rakugo (traditional comedic storytelling). Due to its prestigious nature, to become a cast member, a young woman must train for two years in the Takarazuka Music School, one of the most competitive of its kind in the world. In fact, only 40 to 50 applicants are accepted each time.
There are five individual troupes that make up the Takarazuka Revue, each with their distinct style and material that makes them unique from the other troupes. The Flower Troupe or Hana is famed to have consistently famed cast members of the company originating from it. It is often considered the “treasure chest” of otokoyaku. Performances by this troupe tend to have a larger budget than the other troupes and consist of operatic material. The Moon Troupe or Tsuki contains many of the young performers of the company and tends to perform Western musicals, drama, and often use a modern setting. The Snow Troupe or Yuki is the most traditional out in the company, upholding many of the traditions of Japanese drama. The Star Troupe or Hoshi tends to contain many of the stars (punny) of the theatre company comparable to the Flower Troupe in their output of famous otokoyaku performers. Finally, the Cosmos Troupe or Sora is the newest troupe and the most experimental. When it first began, the troupe started out obtaining talented performers from the other troupes.
With it being at the forefront of bringing Western musicals to a Japanese audience and the adoring fans of the otokoyaku, hopefully the theatre company lives to perform for another hundred years bringing more of the female Japanese youth into the world of theatre.