Power house performances especially from Maya Britto in the title role as well as a terrific second act save this interesting but flawed musical about the woman dubbed Tokyo Rose who broadcast on the Japanese propaganda programme aimed at the American troops in the Pacific in the Second World . It has a cast of six, all women, all talented, but six female voices can end up – and they do give William Patrick Harrison’s score – sounding like a collective screech. Nor are things helped by the decision to stage the show in oblong format so that the audience stretches for what seem like miles down one side of the room. This means that at times the cast collectively or individually are performing to about a third of the audience and it becomes impossible if you are in the third farthest away section to make out what is going on. All this is dictated by the decision to place the audience in what is a space that can be used any way one wishes. But whoever made it, presumably the director, took the wrong decision. By the end of act one the book devised by Maryhee Yoon and Cara Baldwin has proved so tedious all interest has waned and, had I been a paying customer, I would have been tempted to quit.
Iva Toguri, a Japanese American whose immigrant parents had a store in Chicago went to Japan to care for a sick aunt. When America joined the Second World War she was trapped there and was unable to support herself until she got a job which lead to her broadcasting on that propaganda
programme. She does not seem to realised what the programme was about and saw what she was doing was cheering the troops like a good American should. The programme does seem to have been popular with the American soldier because of the entertainment it provided. But in spite of the versatility on stage one really does not care about her plight.
However in Act two things change when we get to the really interesting part of Iva’s story – what happens after peace is declared and she goes back home to the land of the free. She is arrested, held without charge for months, and finds herself charged with treason. The trial is fixed by the FBI who have found witnesses persuaded to say Iva was spouting treasonable propaganda and she is sentenced to ten years in prison. In other words the Establishment wanted someone to be an example. Iva’s problem was that the media of the day had decided she was Tokyo Rose. In reality there was no Tokyo Rose, it was a name dreamt up by the American press in 1943 to cover the several women who broadcast on the programme. But society demanded someone to blame and that someone was Iva. Her fight to clear her name – after she was released on parole she embarked on a campaign to secure a presidential pardon – is genuinely gripping and the score rises to the challenge with some splendid power ballads which Maya Britto as Iva delivers superbly. But she is not alone. The other five get their chances to shine individually and shine they do.
By the end Tokyo Rose has turned into a triumphant show which confirms the rule for critics that one should never leave at the interval because who knows what will happen. Starting with Eisenhower the pardon was refused and it was not until 1977 that Gerald Ford granted it. Tokyo Rose should have a future, but it does need work, better sets – fringe shows do not have money to spend but the drab brown furnishings and a rather horrible overhead chandelier were not exactly easy on the eye – and a better first act. However Forget the first half, act two turns it into a triumph. That said it does not need a better cast.
Maya Britto: Iva Toguri.
Kanaki Nakano: Aunt.
Lucy Park: Papa/Fujiwara.
Yuki Sutton: Mama/Collins.
Any Parker: Brundige.
Cara Baldwin: DeWolfe/Cousens.
Director: Hannah Benson.
Associate Director: Amelia Kino Muus.
Vocal Arrangements & Musical Direction: Hannah Benson.
Choreography: Hannah Benson & Amelia Kinu Muus.
Set Designer: Luke W Robson.
Lighting Designer: Holly Ellis.
Sound Designer: Jamie Lu.
Costume Designer: Erin Chouying Guan.
Production photographs: Steve Gregson.