Futo Nozomi wields magic in her voice

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Actor and singer Futo Nozomi

Having achieved immense popularity for her wide-ranging voice as top star of the Takarazuka Revue Company’s Snow Troupe, Futo Nozomi is now putting her talents to the test in the award-winning musical “Into the Woods.”

The musical tells the story of a baker and his wife who, unable to have a child because of a family curse, head into the woods to find items needed to lift the curse. There they meet various characters from famous fairy tales.

Little Red Riding Hood, Cinderella, Jack from “Jack and the Beanstalk,” Rapunzel — a virtual who’s who from the world of fairy tales show up in the forest, each harboring a wish that intertwine with the others. Even though the word “wish” has a nice ring to it, in one way it exposes the egoism of the characters, and reveals another side of the fairy tales.

Nozomi sings as Der Tod in a special tribute to the Takarazuka hit “Elisabeth.”

“The story is tricky and complex,” Nozomi said in an interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun ahead of the opening. “There are many moments when you can relate to the characters. Being human, we can’t live without some needs. While there are things we sacrifice for our desires, the work also shows there are important things such as human relationships that transcend desires.”

Nozomi plays the Witch in the musical, her first theatrical performance since leaving Takarazuka in April last year.

While a witch is prototypically “bad” from the viewpoint of fairy tale protagonists, Nozomi’s character behaves with human qualities and has an aspect of a sorrowful woman.

“Instead of a typical witch, I feel like I’m playing the role of someone whose name is ‘Witch,’” she said. “I’ve always felt that there are clues as to why she is categorized as a witch.”

The musical premiered on Broadway in 1987 and won three Tony Awards in 1988, including for best book of a musical and best original score. It was made into a film in 2014.

A promotional image of “Into the Woods”

The original music and lyrics were written by the late great composer Stephen Sondheim, whose works include lyrics for “West Side Story” and music and lyrics for “Pacific Overtures” and “Sweeney Todd.” His death last year at the age of 91 made headlines around the world.

Sondheim’s works are known for their complexity, which made it all the more of a challenge for Nozomi.

“It’s tough,” she said. “If you just sing trying to keep up with the notes, you can’t convey the meaning of the lyrics. I’ve hit a wall wondering how to add emotion to the music.”

Nozomi said one key point in the staging of the production is that the witch evokes a sense of floating.

“It’s as if my feet are not on the ground. Come out and see how it’s done on stage. You’ll have fun,” she adds with a charming smile.

The musical will run from Feb. 6 to 13 at Umeda Arts Theater in Osaka. Performances in Tokyo are finished.

Pursuing her natural voice

Nozomi joined the all-women Takarazuka Revue in 2003 and specialized in male roles. She secured her stardom with her female-role partner Kiho Maaya. Together they won praise as an “uta-uma combi,” meaning a pair of great singers.

Just 11 days after leaving the company last year, Nozomi appeared in a special gala concert commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Takarazuka production of the musical “Elisabeth.”

Nozomi, center, sings during her solo concert tour titled “Spero.”

The concert featured different stars each day, and Nozomi performed songs of two leading male characters: the murderer Luigi Lucheni, whom she had played before, and Der Tod (the Death), whom she performed for the first time.

Nozomi long admired the role of Tod, and was unusually nervous on the day of the concert. “It was the first time that I’ve ever thought, ‘What if I just ran away?’” she recalled.

Amid the uneasiness, she felt the support of her fellow performers. “As rehearsal time was short, everyone from the cast and staff to members of the orchestra encouraged me with ‘You’ll do fine.’ I’m glad I took up the challenge,” Nozomi said.

From August to October last year, she went on a nationwide concert tour titled “Spero.” She decided on the songs in consultation with the director, Etsuko Kawasaki, together coming up with a diverse set list that included jazz and movie tunes.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

“Up until then, I was used to singing in the voice of a male-role performer, so I couldn’t sing well at all in my natural voice,” Nozomi said. “In selecting the songs, I thought about how much of my natural voice I’d be able to produce by rehearsing.”

Looking ahead, Nozomi has already signed on to appear in two productions of overseas musicals, “Next to Normal” from March to April and “Guys and Dolls” from June to July. “I’d like to continue performing musicals,” she said.

After the challenging year that was 2021, 2022 looks be the year when Nozomi makes her big leap as a musical performer. What worlds will she bring to us? Her voyage has only just begun.