I saw the season’s first cherry tree blossom inside the Brooklyn Botanic Garden earlier this month and get wistful for Washington, D.C. each time the cherry blossoms emerge. So when I learned that a new theater work titled “Sakura no Ne” (“Root of the Cherry Tree”) included footage of trees in bloom, I knew I had to see it. Folks who feel the same have just one more opportunity (April 22 at 2pm) to see the family-friendly production being performed at Theater Works in Peoria.
“Sakura no Ne” is part multi-media production, part performance art, part morality tale and part homage to the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix (along with sister city Himeji in Japan). At times it has the feel of a fine work of theater for children. Other times it reads like a Japan-inspired version of “Riverdance” or “Stomp.” Everything about it is lovely, but it may need a bit more pruning as it evolves to reach wider audiences.
Children in the audience Saturday afternoon clearly loved the humor, drumming, martial arts component and digital projections. The 80-minute show also features diverse dance elements rarely scene on Valley stages. I chatted with a couple after the show, eager to see whether a storm scene filled with lightning and a fire-breathing serpent had scared their preschool-age son. “This is the first time he’s sat through an entire show,” they told me.
“Sakura no No” is the work of playwright Soji Kashiwagi (of Grateful Crane Ensemble) and music composer Scott Nagatani. It’s directed by Dominik Rebilas. “Sakura no Ne” is produced by Yoshi Kumagai (who also serves as art director and fight choreographer) and Ken Koshio (who also serves as music director), sponsored by the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix and funded by a Sundome Performing Arts Association grant. Kumagai shared with me after the show that they’re hoping to present the work in additional Valley venues.
The show’s most dramatic element is drumming by Ken Koshio in the role of Ikazuchi (Thunder God). The cast also includes John Tang (Taro “Tama” Yamazajura), Urashima Taro, Old Man), Dale Nakagawa (Justin, Sea Turtle) and Sandy Harris (Haley, Sea Princess, Crane). Most delicate is Koshio’s title song, sung in Japanese and English with harmonica and guitar. I also enjoyed creations by Zarko Guerrero (mask and turtle outfit) and Derrick Suwaima Davis (crane feather outfit).
“Sakura no Ne” follows the adventures of two tween-age siblings — a boy rarely parted from his Nintendo and a girl attached to her cell phone. Think “I’m so bored” and “O-M-G.” They’re left one day at the Japanese Friendship Garden by parents hoping they’ll find a bit of bliss. But the pair finds something more — a renewed appreciation for nature, family and community. Even each other.
The simple storyline is punctuated by music, dance and martial arts performance. There’s traditional Japanese dance featuring Mari Kaneta (whose choreography and dance I enjoyed with daughter Lizabeth during the 1996 Arizona Opera production of “Madama Butterfly”), taiko drumming by Fushicho Daiko and Jakara, martial arts by a trio from Arizona Aikiko and dance by the ASU Japanese Student Association’s Soran Bushi Dancers. It all comes together in the service of a single message.
Only the cherry tree’s strong roots make its beautiful blossoms possible.
Note: Click here to learn more about “Strolling in Yukata” (taking place April 28 at the Japanese Friendship Garden) and here to learn about a new musical titled “Allegiance” (which explores the World War II experiences of a Japanese-American family).
Coming up: Another tree tale, Don’t cry for me Shakespeare?