Kikuchi, Tanaka bring ‘Dream Boys’ back

The “Dream Boys” are back!

Fuma Kikuchi of the boy band Sexy Zone and Juri Tanaka of SixTONES are reprising their leading roles in the musical play “Dream Boys,” which returned to the Imperial Theatre in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Sept. 8.

The show premiered in 2004, starring Hideaki Takizawa. It was created and directed by the late Johnny Kitagawa, the founder of the Johnny & Associates, Inc. entertainment agency. Since then, “Dream Boys” has been regularly played mostly by performers belonging to the agency.

The story revolves around two young men, the protagonist and a champion boxer. Both have boxed since childhood, but their friendship is strained when the protagonist suddenly pulls out from a match that will decide the rookie of the year.

He has painful memories of being deserted by his parents and makes the big decision to save the life of a person whom he loves like a little brother.

Kikuchi plays the protagonist, a promising boxer who gives up his dream, and Tanaka plays the champ. Kikuchi and Tanaka appeared opposite each other for the first time in a production of “Dream Boys” last year. Both of them were born in 1995 and joined the agency around the same time. They’re also good friends, so their joint appearance drew much attention.

The two men spoke to The Yomiuri Shimbun before their Sept. 8 opening, talking about how they approached their roles last year and their enthusiasm for the show this time around.

The Yomiuri Shimbun: Tell us your thoughts about “Dream Boys” last year.

Kikuchi: I appeared in “Dream Boys” a few years before that as well, though not as the protagonist. I thought back then that I’d never have another chance to perform at the Imperial Theatre, that it would be the last time for me. Never did I imagine I’d be standing center stage.

What I felt was not really pressure — how should I put it — rather, I became very cautious, because I felt like I was visiting someone else’s house without knowing their rules or how to behave there. Yes, there were moments like that.

Tanaka: It certainly felt like visiting someone else’s house. I was on stage with members not from my group, for a show I’d watched from the time when I belonged to Johnny’s Jr. [the collective of the agency’s youth teams]. I also felt like I joined the show as a representative of SixTONES, so I worked with a sense of responsibility.

Kikuchi: Of course, I looked forward to the show’s opening. In recent years, I had fewer chances to work with Johnny’s Jr. members, so it was a good opportunity for me to directly set an example for them. I treasured what I felt at each performance. Until you actually go on stage, you don’t know how the day’s performance will turn out. It was very challenging.

Tanaka: Yeah, it was fun. I was able to appear in a show that I’d watched since I was a little kid, but, in a way, I also felt unsure what was going on, to be honest. It was like a dream. I think I was able to play my part freely because I was appearing with truly dependable performers like Ms. Ran Otori and Ms. Jun Shibuki.

Yomiuri: What is something interesting about “Dream Boys” that you rediscovered?

Tanaka: It becomes a completely different show depending on who’s performing. It may look the same, but it’s not.

Kikuchi: I think there’s something about the show that feels real no matter how the times change.

Yomiuri: Is there anything you two could express because you were doing the show together?

Kikuchi: Well, it’s hard for us to say. But, really, I think it was the best “Dream Boys.”

Tanaka: It was more life-size, more realistic, shall I say?

Kikuchi: Ultimately, it was easier to perform, wasn’t it?

Tanaka: I think [the show went well] partly because I was playing with Fuma, because it was the two of us. In my part, I could connect to the champ’s feelings. I also found it easy to play the role emotionally because we’ve also been working with each other since we were children. I never felt bashful or embarrassed.

Kikuchi: There was never a moment when I posed in a strange way. I was always ready to face my role squarely.

Yomiuri: Both your roles have been played by various people in the past. What did you work on in your own styles?

Kikuchi: In a normal play, I would approach my role after making decisions on how the character should speak. But in “Dream Boys,” that kind of attempt could be meaningless. The characters played in the past were all different depending on who played them.

If I were to pick one point that I did my way, it’s probably that I made sure the character is a more cheerful person than before. I’ve watched the show many times, and the protagonist always had a gloomy image, so I thought maybe he can be a little bit more cheerful. I explored that during the performances.

Tanaka: Normally, I read the script many times, wondering how my character should speak. The champ I saw in the past differed very much depending on the actor, who all showed their individuality. In a sense, there’s probably no need to overthink how to play the role. I didn’t decide on minute points beforehand.

Yomiuri: What kind of interactions did you have with fellow Johnny’s members younger than you?

Tanaka: Sometimes I heard them seriously talking about their future.

Kikuchi: Yes, yes. They consulted us about what to do from now on.

Tanaka: We gave them fairly serious, solid answers.

Kikuchi: When we were Johnny’s Jr. members, we joked around more often, I think. Now they’re all very serious and competent.

Yomiuri: Did the long run take a toll on you at some point?

Tanaka: It was really hard, even though I knew there were going to be lots of performances.

Kikuchi: It was difficult to keep not only my body but also my throat in good condition. It’s really tough to keep my throat in good form for a long time.

Yomiuri: Where in the show did you find the joy of stage performance?

Kikuchi: I enjoyed the scenes without dialogue. It’s not like a TV drama where they call, “Cut!” I can continue playing my part throughout.

Tanaka: Yes, I can perform every second without any interruption. That’s a fun part. You [the audience] have the choice where to look. That’s another fun part.

Yomiuri: How are you approaching the show this year?

Tanaka: Last year, there were many changes in the production during the performance period. We incorporated points for improvement as we did it. This year, I hope we’ll get even better feedback than last time.

Kikuchi: Last time, I was thrilled when everyone praised the show’s atmosphere, singing and acting. I’d like to deepen the color of the protagonist’s cheerfulness, which I worked on hard last year.

“Dream Boys” is playing at the Imperial Theatre in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, through Sept. 30. The cast includes Ran Otori, Jun Shibuki and members from 7 Men Samurai and Shonen Ninja, both units of Johnny’s Jr.

Last year’s show featuring Kikuchi and Tanaka was released on DVD and Blu-ray on Aug. 10.

Director Koichi Domoto: No worries at all

Koichi Domoto, one of the top stars of Johnny & Associates, is directing the current production of “Dream Boys” at the Imperial Theatre, starring Fuma Kikuchi and Juri Tanaka.

Domoto has been part of the show’s creative team since 2019, when Yuta Kishi and Yuta Jinguji of the boy band King & Prince played the leads.

The following are excerpts from his interview with The Yomiuri Shimbun ahead of opening night.

[The cast] are all very hard workers. There are many things about Fuma that are still unpredictable. He has a mysterious side to him. Of course, he’s working very hard, but I have a feeling that he’s not showing us all the cards he possesses. Juri is a really hard worker, too. I can see that he faces problems one by one and works on them sincerely.

Since I became involved, I think we’ve become able to deliver the work’s message effectively. Initially, I decided to participate because Mr. Johnny [Kitagawa] passed away. He may be telling me: “You! That’s wrong there,” but he took stage work very seriously. I don’t want to lose young people who become fond of theater.

The novel coronavirus pandemic has lasted a long time, and now we’ve become able to do more things in theater. I’m wondering whether we should bring back some production elements we stopped using as preventive measures against infection.

Both [Kikuchi and Tanaka] played the same roles last year, and many Johnny’s Jr. members who are taking part have also done the show before. If they want to make the show better than last year, it should naturally become a good show. I have no worries at all.

Whether it’s a stage work or an event, I think the audience comes with the desire for it to be successful. Since they come with this resolve, we want to give them our all. The times being what they are, I want people’s hearts and minds to be fulfilled.