As the Curtain Draws Closed

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Mike Hagiwara discusses his return to East West Players for “Takarazuka!!!”

Tensions are revealed by Nigel’s (Joseph Lim Kim) questions during an interview with the Takarazuka “top stars” (Grace Yoo, Fiona Cheung, Klarissa Mesee) as theater headmaster Ariyoshi (Michael Hagiwara) observes in East West Players’ production of “Takarazuka!!!” (Photo by Michael Lamont/EWP)

Tensions are revealed by Nigel’s (Joseph Lim Kim) questions during an interview with the Takarazuka “top stars” (Grace Yoo, Fiona Cheung, Klarissa Mesee) as theater headmaster Ariyoshi (Michael Hagiwara) observes in East West Players’ production of “Takarazuka!!!” (Photo by Michael Lamont/EWP)

By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS, Rafu Arts & Entertainment Editor

Michael Hagiwara is returning to his home stage, and a shower would simply have to wait as he briefly discussed his latest role on Wednesday.

Speaking to The Rafu via telephone, Hagiwara was getting ready for Opening Night of “Takarazuka!!!” — the newest production from East West Players — running through Dec. 7 at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Little Tokyo.

“It’s a great view into something that I didn’t know much about,” admitted Hagiwara, who has been featured in more than a dozen EWP productions over more than 25 years and received the theater company’s Founders Award in 2011.

“It seems strange to say, but I find that I learn a lot about my own culture while doing theater, like the stories from the [internment]camps or the 442nd,” he explained.

“Takarazuka!!!” follows the days leading up to the end of a storied career for Yuko, the star of a Japanese theater that for decades has staged lavish all-female, Western-style musical extravaganzas.

Facing retirement, Yuko begins to be haunted by the ghost of a former top star. When she loses her partner, her fans and her tux, the question of what remains after her last performance begs to be answered.

Hagiwara described the musical play as a behind-the-scenes look into a world rarely seen by outsiders, one that raises questions about gender roles and the lasting value of fame.

“I think it’s a lot like pro athletes or child actors who rocket to stardom; once the limelight fades a little bit, the question becomes, ‘What am I going to do with the rest of my life?’” he said.

While EWP is quick to point out that its production has no official connection to the Takarazuka Revue Company of Japan, the play’s environment mirrors that of the famed Japanese troupe that celebrated its 100th anniversary this year.

The 1957 film “Sayonara,” starring Marlon Brando and for which Miyoshi Umeki won an Oscar, is also said to be based on the Japanese theater company.

Written by Susan Soon He Stanton, “Takarazuka!!!” also features Fiona Cheung, Joseph Lim Kim, Klarissa Mesee, Joy Regullano, Janelle Toyomi-Dote and Grace Yoo. The original off-Broadway production included Brooke Ishibashi, Jennifer Ikeda and Glenn

All performances of “Takarazuka!!!” will be staged at the David Henry Hwang Theater at the Union Center of the Arts, 120 Judge John Aiso St. in Los Angeles. Performances run Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets may be purchased online at www.eastwestplayers.org or by calling (213) 625-7000.

Chifumi (Grace Yoo) and Yuko (Jannelle Dote) perform in the style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in a lavish dance routine.

Chifumi (Grace Yoo) and Yuko (Jannelle Dote) perform in the style of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in a lavish dance routine. (Photo by Michael Lamont/EWP)

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