The Tokyo-based It’s Follies musical-theatre company has just been to Washington D.C. for the first time since 1988, when it played there during a six-city US tour with Izumi Taku’s musical “Utamaro” about the life of the famed “floating world” (ukiyo-e) painter and woodblock artist Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806).
This time, almost exactly 25 years after Taku’s death, the company he founded in 1977 was invited by the Freer and Arthur M. Sackler galleries — the Smithsonian Institution’s national museums of Asian art — to create and perform a condensed version of “Utamaro” to complement a special exhibition it was planning of works by the genius renowned for his portrayals of beautiful women and the “pleasure quarters” of old Edo (present-day Tokyo).
So, between June 30 and July 2, It’s Follies staged five performances of its brand-new show that features five songs selected from the original, and the cast in gorgeous kimono costumes.
The galleries’ specially-built, 60-seat auditorium was entirely full for every performance, though the numbers standing grew each time. Then by the end, people were also sitting on the steps to enjoy the show and soak up the atmosphere of Utamaro’s Edo that It’s Follies evoked.
Altogether, along with the beautiful, two-dimensional pictures on display, its live performance, powerful singing and witty jokes made a great finale to the culturally rich experience conjured up by the galleries.
After every performance, members of the audience made a long queue to take selfies or have friends take photos showing them with the five splendid young actors who’d put such beaming smiles on everyone’s faces. I’d be surprised if it’s another 29½ years before It’s Follies returns to the US of A.