The Legend of Oni is a charming musical from Musical Company OZmate, a company from Takarazuka, Japan. Onis are the Japanese equivalent of ogres. They come to punish us humans when we’ve been bad. They are fearful to behold, and we die if we see the Onis marching. We become Onis when we harbor in our hearts “grudges and anger” (the phrase occurs several times in the play).
The play is set during the Heian period (between 794 to 1185), before the Samurai. The story concerns the nobleman Nagamichi and his two children, his son Ebuki and his daughter Toki. Nagamichi is an Oni in the sense that he has an evil heart, but Ebuki is an Oni in a different sense. He turns into an Oni and lives with them on the mountain. The Onis kidnap Toki and Nagamichi sends a servant to take her home.
The script plays with the idea of Onis and tells us that humans are the true Onis (because we are really the evil ones).
The stage is bare except for small screens upstage that roll as required, but the show is beautiful to see. The costumes are marvelous, many based on kimonos. The Onis themselves are stunning in white costumes with white staffs. The stylized, angular movements are exciting, and the dance, some of it fan dancing, during the songs is great.
This is an all-female company, and casting only actresses contributes to the distance we feel from the piece. There’s no attempt here to make us identify with characters. It’s all as removed from our lives as any myth could be.
The drama is intense. The most positive moment comes from the Onis themselves, when they tell Toki “Enjoy the Oni life!”
The book, music and lyrics are by Naoko Tsujii, who also directed the show very well and with great precision. The show’s strange music and its singing are unremarkable, but we’re very glad that Musical Company OZmate came over. The show is presented as part of The New York International Fringe Festival.