2016 FringeNYC Review: ‘The Legend of Oni’

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Fulfilling a ten-year dream, the all-female Musical Company OZmate, from Takarazuka, Japan, has brought its epic tale, The Legend of Oni, to FringeNYC, and NYC couldn’t be more fortunate! Based on iconic figures from Japanese folklore, the original production, with book, music, lyrics, choreography, and direction by the uber-talented Naoko Tsujii, is performed in Japanese, with English translations by Hiromi Zeppieri on a video screen stage left, so you can easily follow the narrative if you don’t speak the language.

Mai Kisaka and Hiro Matsumoto. Photo courtesy of Musical Company OZmate.

Mai Kisaka and Hiro Matsumoto. Photo courtesy of Musical Company OZmate.

The moralizing story is set in the Heian Perioid (794-1185), at a time when men were competing for power in the imperial court, and plagues, crime, and fires were rampant in the city. Oni, the fierce mythological ogres who were believed to come down from the mountains to punish people when they misbehaved, appear en masse to teach a lesson to a family devastated by ambition, rumors, anger, and vengeance. Though they look ferocious, the creatures ultimately reveal that, as incarnations of the mountain god, they harbor “deeper thoughts of love,” and remind us that “hatred expands” and “Oni is a mirror of your heart” and “a reflection of your true soul,” so we should all develop our inner beauty by practicing love, kindness, and respect. It’s a lesson that should not be forgotten.

Along with the didactic legend being told, the authentic sights and sounds of the spectacular show will transport you to another time and bring to life the age-old traditions of historic Japanese culture. Lavish costumes, wigs, and make-up define the array of human and anthropomorphic characters, a simple but evocative set design by Hitoshi Fujii and Yumiko Fujii employs movable frames with painted fabrics and bamboo shades to shift the scenes, and dramatic lighting by Marie Yokoyama accentuates the performers’ actions and emotions. Exquisite segments of movement and dance are punctuated by the resounding symbolic beats of two drummers on taiko and bachi and the haunting notes of end-blown shakuhachi flutes that reverberate throughout the space.

Mai Kisaka (behind), Kaho (middle), and Kanae Kiuchi (front). Photo courtesy of OZmate.

Mai Kisaka (behind), Kaho (middle), and Kanae Kiuchi (front). Photo courtesy of OZmate.

Each and every member of the thirteen-woman ensemble—Roko Hidayama, Hiro Matsumoto, Saki, Kaho, Yoko Higuchi, Hinata Aoi, Mai Kisaka, Azuki, Kanae Kiuchi, Chihiro Sakae, Yan, Ayaka, and Asami Mino–is heartfelt in her delivery and expressive in her performance and vocals, with musical arrangements by Tomoko Otsuki and sound operated by angella tomato. They fully engage the audience for every second of this compelling and meaningful top-quality production.

I can only hope that OZmate will be able to bring The Legend of Oni to more cities and festivals throughout the US and the world, so that more people can experience its beauty, power, and timeless moral.

Running Time: Approximately 100 minutes, with no intermission.

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The Legend of Oni plays through Wednesday, August 17, 2016, performing at the Flamboyán Theater at the Clemente – 107 Suffolk Street, in New York City. Purchase tickets online.

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