In connection with International Peace Day (Sept. 21) commemorating the bombings at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Ohana Arts and Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, in partnership with Helen Bing, present the North American premiere of the new musical “Peace on Your Wings” on Friday, Sept. 18, at 8 p.m. and Saturday, Sept. 19, at 2 and 8 p.m. at the Aratani Theatre, 244 S. San Pedro St. in Little Tokyo.
The show is inspired by the real-life story of Sadako Sasaki, a young Japanese girl who survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima only to develop leukemia. She became an international symbol for peace through her quest to fold a thousand paper cranes in hopes of having her wish for good health come true.
The Broadway-caliber musical features an all youth cast, ages 6-18, from the island of Oahu, Hawaii. Tickets are $35/25 reserved seating; $15 for students 17 and under. For tickets, call (213) 680-3700 or order online at www.jaccc.org.
Set in post-war, 1950s Japan, the musical follows the lives of middle school students in Hiroshima. When one of them falls seriously ill, the children’s lives and their tenuous bonds unravel. But one girl’s struggle and dreams for a better tomorrow teach the children — and the world — about courage, love and peace.
The musical’s original score by Ohana Arts’ Artistic and Executive Director Jennifer Taira (composer) and Associate Artistic Director Laurie Rubin (lyricist) combines modern pop with Japanese influences to create a unique, uplifting, and inspiring show. They are joined by New York-based choreographer Danielle Hannah Bensky for this production.
According to Japanese legend, anyone who folds 1,000 origami paper cranes is granted one wish such as long life, eternal good luck, or recovery from illness or injury. Having survived the atomic bombing as a toddler, Sadako grew up to be one of the best athletes and most popular students in her middle school. At age 11 she was diagnosed with leukemia, or the “A-bomb disease” as it was then called, and given just one year to live.
Hoping to be cured, Sadako and her friends began making hundreds of origami birds out of needle wrappings, medicine labels, and any other paper they could find — hanging the birds from the ceiling of her hospital room. When she reached 1,000, she continued folding for herself and others until she died at age 12.
Sadako has come to symbolize the effects of the peace movement, as her death inspired a youth movement to have a Hiroshima memorial built in honor of the child victims. Notes co-creator Rubin, “While ‘Peace on Your Wings’ features a cast of children, there is nothing childish about the message. The musical explores Sadako as an individual, a student, and friend, and addresses universal themes present in young people’s lives, powerfully told by the voices of youth, touching intergenerational audiences, while sharing the message ‘Ichigo Ichie,’ meaning, ‘Today is the first and last day of your life.'”
After its Los Angeles performances, the musical will travel to Washington, D.C. and New York City before heading to Japan for a four-city tour in July and August 2016.
“Peace on Your Wings” premiered on Oahu in November 2014, and enjoyed a sold out state-wide tour in January and February 2015. Due to popular demand, the show returned to Oahu for an encore run of performances in August on the 70th anniversaries of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. On opening night, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, who was in attendance, proclaimed Aug. 6, 2015 “Peace on Your Wings Day.” The performances were also attended by Masahiro Sasaki, Sadako’s eldest brother, and his son, Yuji Sasaki.
Ohana Arts, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that aims to foster world friendship and peace through the universal language of the arts, was founded in January 2010 by Jennifer Taira, a sought-after composer, pianist, and clarinetist; Carolyn Taira, director of the Hongwanji Mission School Performing Theater; and Rubin, an opera singer and recitalist who concertizes internationally. Having received degrees in their respective fields on the mainland, they realized the need for more exposure to the arts in Hawaii, which would help foster and nurture the local talent, while building upon Hawaii’s already rich culture.
Their summer program was launched in 2010 with a musical theater workshop, culminating in a fully staged musical production comprised of 23 students island-wide, ages 8-18.
Ohana Arts has expanded to offer three additional programs, including morning acting, dance, and voice intensives, a composer-performer workshop for advanced middle and high school musicians, and Ohana Arts Keiki, a program for outgoing 1st- and 2nd-graders to receive a comprehensive introduction to musical theater techniques. Over 80 students from over 30 schools around the island are participating in Ohana Arts programs this summer.