Reviewer: Holly Spanner
Tokio Confidential premièred Off Broadway in 2012, withmusic and lyrics by Eric Schorr. It was made possible through support from the Asian Cultural Council, Japan Foundation New York, Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.
The musical takes place in the late 19th Century, in a time when tattooing has been outlawed by the emperor in an attempt to make the Japanese people look more civilised to visitors from the west. Tattooing foreigners however, is permitted. American civil war widow Isabella (Jill Paice) becomes so enraptured by the beautiful Japanese prints that she decides to undergo the long and painful process to get one on her back. Horiyoshi is Japans most talented tattoo artist, and can afford to be picky with his clients. Performed by Jose Llana, the artist is cold and cool, yet also beautiful. ‘The Tale of the Yoshiwara’ is an interesting look at Horiyoshi’s liaison with a beautiful courtesan and again enlightens the listener. As eventsunravel, Isabella is placed in mortal danger, and it is interesting to note that the story is based on both fictional and non-fictional characters, which makes you wonder which is which.
In addition to the subject matter, the music has subtle Japanese influences throughout. What is quite a complicated story is presented in the guise of simplicity; it is understated and soft. Pleasing to the ear, the cast of 6 and small orchestra are in the main, gentle in their presentation of this creative story. However, it is all very ‘nice’ sounding, like a delicate bone china figurine which you’re afraid to touch for fear of it breaking. The lack of ensemble does not help, and the musical feels like it’s missing that one defining song. That said, the questioning ‘Are you prepared for that’ is woven throughout following the traditional musical theatre formula, but the production still needs something more.
The narrative is good, and an interspersed dialogue helps the listener understand the story. The lyrics are often quite wordy, but this is not always a bad thing. ‘Power of Suggestion’ examines artistic differences in western and eastern culture, and it is interesting peek at the symbolism in Japanese culture, which is also reflected throughout the musical. Jill Paice as Isabella hits all the right notes as a charming and radiant living work of art. Her duet with her dead husband Ralph ‘Restless Spirits’ is a lovely opening to the album.
Tokio Confidential has a fascinating subject, the listener feels as though they have learned more about the world from this musical. How many productions can boast that?! And if you’re wondering at the spelling, Tokio is the old way to spell Tokyo, commonly used during WWII. An interesting album, but lacking the ferocity the musical warrants as the story progresses.
Tokio Confidential is available from Broadway Records