Singer Misato Watanabe: Always a queen at heart

With many years of singing already under her belt, Misato Watanabe debuted in her first musical "Wonderland" in 2012. Two years later, the production is back at a Tokyo theatre where she's playing the Queen of Hearts once more.

"I was happy they reached out to me again. The queen costume actually looked good on me - so much so that it made me want to wear it for my own concerts," Watanabe said.

"Wonderland" is based on Lewis Carroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," but it's an original piece. Watanabe has become a big fan of the pop-tinged scores by Frank Wildhorn, a popular composer in the world of musicals.

"They let me sing the way I want to. Mr. Wildhorn told me that the way I sing looks fun," she said.

The musical centers around an author, Alice (played by Kei Aran), who is separated from her husband and lives with her daughter in New York. Her work is rejected by a publisher who says she needs more adventures in the story. She comes home in the evening and decides to take a nap.

Then, she suddenly finds herself in Wonderland where she encounters strange characters like the Queen of Hearts, the Mad Hatter (Megumi Hamada) and White Knight (Zen Ishikawa). The production is directed by Yumi Suzuki.

The Queen of Hearts may utter the familiar line "Off with their heads!" but this musical portrays her more as an innocent character with a big heart.

"She's the alter ego inside Alice. I want to portray her not as an eccentric person but as a sweet queen," Watanabe said.

When Watanabe landed the role for the Japanese debut two years ago, she prepped by studying the demeanour of such noble women as Queen Elizabeth and Princess Diana.

"But my younger brother said I'd be fine because I always behaved like a queen anyway," the singer said with an embarrassed smile.

Born in Tokyo in 1966, Watanabe made her debut as a singer in 1985. Her "My Revolution" single released the following year became a huge hit. She held concerts at the Seibu baseball stadium for 20 years in a row from 1986 to 2005, earning her the "Queen of Stadiums" nickname.

Watanabe energetically keeps up her main passion as a pop singer.

On Oct. 29, she released her 56th single "Yumette donna iro shiteru no" (What are the colors of dreams?) from Epic Records. Both this song and "Doko ni ite mo" (Wherever you are), the B-side, give insight into the world of Watanabe with her characteristic use of "boku" and "kimi," which are male speech terms for "I" and "you."

"Since my early days as a singer, I've always felt more comfortable with male speech. It's easier for me to sing that way. I think the lyricists came into the Misato Watanabe wonderland," Watanabe said with a smile.

Watanabe celebrates her 30th anniversary as a singer next year. She plans to hold a concert at Shibuya Kokaido in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on New Year's Day. The singer will then kick off an anniversary tour in May with stops in all 47 prefectures.

For 30 years, she has sung songs about equality in the relationship between men and women, symbolized by her use of "kimi" and "boku." Some of her songs are also about the pure, fresh sparkles of youthfulness.

"Many people from my generation are now in positions that come with responsibility, and I heard them say they would've come to my concerts if they'd been held near where they lived. So the upcoming nationwide tour is sort of like an expression of my gratitude toward such fans of mine," she said.

Watanabe added she wanted to directly thank her fans who have supported her for a long time.

"I hope I'll be able to say the 30th anniversary was just a checkpoint when I look back on the occasion in the future, 10 years from then, and 10 years from now," she said lightheartedly, quoting from her hit song "10 years" in that refreshing voice heard so clearly in her songs.

"Wonderland" (Japanese title: "Arisu in Wandarando") will continue until Nov. 30 at Aoyama Theatre in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo. The musical will be performed at Umeda Arts Theatre's main hall in Osaka from Dec. 5 to 7, and then at Chunichi Theater in Nagoya on Dec. 19 and 20.