“Color of Life” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival” at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre (Closed July 21, 2013)

Book and Lyrics by Sachiko Ishimaru
Directed by Sachiko Ishimaru
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Sachiko Ishimaru’s “Color of Life” chronicles the relationship between Rachel (Shino Frances) and Kazuya (Yasuhiro Ito) a young couple who meet on a flight to the United States from Tokyo. Kazuya is a young rising Japanese painter on his way to New York and Rachel is a half-Japanese lesbian young woman on her way back from Tokyo where she was visiting her mother. They have ninety days – the length of Kazuya’s visa – to determine how they relate to one another and what kind of relationship makes sense for them.

This new musical relates Rachel’s journey from loneliness through “bewilderment, perplexity, and being shaken,” through an identity crisis, to facing a new reality and beginning “one more time” a relationship – this time with the young man she met on the airplane. There are thirteen vignettes each with a musical solo or duet which underscores the theme of the scene. For example, scene seven deals with Rachel’s identity in relationship to Kazuya and her song is “Who am I? Who are you?”

Much of Rachel’s first song “Empty Room” which introduces the musical’s important theme of nothingness is difficult to hear because the balance between vocalist and soundtrack was off. The problem was rectified after that number and the rest of Rachel’s songs were delivered with exquisite craft by Shino Frances. Her strong, clear tones complimented the power of Sachijo Ishimaru’s lyrics and Yashhiro Ito’s Sondheim-esque music. Unfortunately, it was extremely difficult to understand the gifted and talented Yasuhiro Ito when he spoke or sang. This is unfortunate since his point of view and his motivation are important to completely appreciate Sachiko Ishimaru’s engaging book and lyrics.

Despite this difficulty, “Color of Life” is a remarkable new musical from Japan which graces the Midtown International Theatre Festival with consummate grace and power. It is not an easy musical to visit: its themes, though common, are disclosed in uncommon ways. Some might find Rachel’s (who is a lesbian) choice of Kazuya as a life partner unsettling: is she denying her identity to attain happiness? Others might be wary of Kazuya’s motives: is he, as he sings, seeing Rachel as a way to get his green card?

Indeed, “Color of Life” uses the extended metaphor of painting and color to celebrate life in all its vicissitudes, in all its wonder, and in all its possibilities. After experiencing deep loss, Rachel celebrates the opportunity life gives her to begin anew with a new partner and a new adventure. Hopefully, American audiences will see more of this