AKB idols play Dorothy in 'Wizard of Oz' musical

AKB idols play Dorothy in 'Wizard of Oz' musical
Yuka Tano, left, and Ayaka Umeda.

A musical masterpiece "Wiz: Ozu no Mahotsukai" (The Wiz: The Super Soul Musical The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz) is currently being performed at a Tokyo theatre with members of the AKB48 and NMB48 groups double-cast as Dorothy.

The production, directed by renowned director Amon Miyamoto, is being staged until March 22 at Tokyo International Forum in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo. With powerful singing and dancing performances, the musical depicts Dorothy's journey through a magical land as she overcomes hardships and finds the power to live.

As in the production's previous performances in 2012, the actresses playing Dorothy were selected from members of AKB48 and its sister groups through auditions. Ayaka Umeda of NMB48, the Osaka sister group of AKB48, and Yuka Tano of AKB48 are doubling in the role for the current performances.

Umeda, who started her career with the AKB groups in 2006, is a skilled performer. Because she failed in the final audition for the 2012 production, she said she was happy to be playing the role now.

Umeda added: "I usually work hard together with the [NMB48] members. So I was struck when I saw my teammates looking really competitive in the audition this time."

Tano, who joined AKB48 in 2011, is a very good dancer. She has been amazed by the ability of the actors and actresses with whom she's performed, who all have strong characters. They include Takanori Jinnai, Masahiro Ehara, Satomi Achiwa and Rino Nakasone.

"All the performers are so amazing. I'd like to do my best. I'll steal [acting skills from them] and try to improve myself because I have been given an opportunity to learn," said Tano.

Umeda, who has been inspired by Miyamoto's careful and passionate direction, said: "I feel [he] is reading the depths of my heart, but he never makes the atmosphere tense. So I can perform at ease."

The musical premiered in 1974 on Broadway. It is a masterpiece that has won seven Tony Awards.

Regarding the appeal of the story, Umeda said: "It's simple but rich. I suppose everyone can understand it."

Tano said about the music in the play, "All the songs are very moving."

Performing in the musical is likely to have positive effects on activities of the two idol stars in their groups.

Tano said: "My ability to express myself has improved to an extent that I can actually feel it myself. I think I'll look more confident than before when I appear in AKB's next performance."

The performances will run until March 22 at Tokyo International Forum in Tokyo. The production will then go to Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka on April 4 and 5, Aichi Prefectural Arts Theater in Nagoya on April 18 and 19, and Canal City Theater in Fukuoka on April 25 and 26. For more information, please visit: www.parco-play.com/web/play/wiz2015/

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