‘Anime Momotaro’ at Imagination Stage by Julia L. Exline

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Imagination Stage presents Anime Momotaro, adapted from the traditional Japanese folktale by Alvin Chan, Eric Johnson, and Honolulu Theatre for Youth, and directed by Eric Johnson. While the tale is itself ancient, the concept is not: told through the popular and modern style of anime, Momotaro is able to reach out through the generations to entertain and inspire today’s children in a fun and relatable way.

 Momotaro and Ogres: L-R: Tia Shearer (Nakamon), Rafael Untalan (Daimon), Jacob Yeh (Momotaro), and Phillip Reid (Monmon). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Momotaro and Ogres: L-R: Tia Shearer (Nakamon), Rafael Untalan (Daimon), Jacob Yeh (Momotaro), and Phillip Reid (Monmon). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Scenic Designer Natsu Onoda Power spaced brightly colored, illuminated paper lanterns throughout the space, and framed the bottom of the stage with white and plastic orbs, varying in sizes and making the stage appear as if it were floating on a bed of bubbles. A large, slightly curved roof traditional to Japanese-style architecture caps the stage, and a peach (which will later on explode in an awe-inspiring moment of energy) is seen in the backdrop. Props are brought onstage throughout the production that enhances the different settings, my favorite being skeins of blue fabric used to create a flowey river. Since this show is told in the style of Anime, which uses vibrant colors, graphics, and all sorts of unique noises, Sound Designer Chris Baine and Lighting Designer Zachary Gilbert had an extremely tall order—and rose to the occasion magnificently. Bold, bright, and extremely creative, the lighting and sound of this production is so lively and animated that a sensory-friendly performance (scheduled for February 17th) is reserved for those who may need it. Since the actors perform multiple roles, Costume Designer Debra Kim Sivigny dresses them in all black and then accessorizes them appropriately for their characters, using bold wigs, colorful robes, and furry/feathered vests for animals and ogres!

Before the show begins, the Koken (Ryan Sellers) appears to talk to the audience. Sellers is not an actual character—he is, as he says it, a “theatrical ninja,” a puppeteer who manipulates the props (and sometimes the actors themselves!) while going unnoticed by the characters around him, and also does some narration to help move along the plot. In ancient Japan, an Old Woman (adorably played by Tia Shearer) and Old Man (Phillip Reid) long for a son to help them along their troublesome chores, and ease their suffering from ogres Rafael Untalan (Daimon), Tia Shearer (Nakamon), and Phillip Reid (Monmon), who routinely appear and steal their crops. One day, while the Old Woman does their laundry in the river (a fantastically done scene that continually changes to show multiple angles of the action, as is typical in Anime), a giant peach floats towards her. Taking it home for supper, she and her husband are shocked when it bursts open to reveal a baby boy hidden inside! They name him Momotaro, and he grows into in incredibly strong young man. When the gang of ogres steals his family’s crops, Momotaro (Jacob Yeh) bravely decides to seek them out and retrieve the stolen goods. Along the way, he makes a few friends: Inu (Phillip Reid), a dog whose bark is far worse than his bite, Saru (Rafael Untalan), a clever and mischievous monkey, and Kiji (Tia Shearer) a tiny bird with a large personality. Together, they travel to Ogre Island to face the bullies—but are they as fiendish as they seem? Perhaps, like everyone, they just need some comfort and friendship to bring out their good nature.

This show is highly imaginative, innovative, and loads of fun! All of the actors bring hilarious and energetic performances, and engage the audience as well (at one point, teaching them a special “ogre dance”). Melding tradition and popular culture is a great way to entertain the entire family, and on various levels. The stage was just popping with energy, effervescence, and oomph, and the result is enthralling.

I had a great time experiencing Anime Momotaro, and I’m sure you and the kids  will too! This is one show you don’t want to miss!

Ogre Island: Back:Phillip Reid (Koken), Rafael Untalan (Daimon), and Ryan Sellers (Koken). Front: Jacob Yeh (Momotaro). . Photo by Margot Schulman.

Ogre Island: Back: Phillip Reid (Koken), Rafael Untalan (Daimon), and Ryan Sellers (Koken). Front: Jacob Yeh (Momotaro). Photo by Margot Schulman.

Running Time: 90 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Anime Momotaro plays through March 10, 2013 at Imagination Stage – 4908 Auburn Avenue, in Bethesda, MD. For tickets, call (301) 280-1660, or purchase them online.

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