In the thirteenth century, itinerant monk and former samurai Ippen Shōnin traveled around Japan, spreading Pure Land Buddhism by using Nembutus dance and song. His story is now being told in Fuuun Kabocha No Basha’s Dancing Monk Ippen, a musical playing at the eighteenth annual New York International Fringe Festival. The eighty-minute show, directed by Hiroaki Doi, features book and lyrics by Takaaki Shigenobu, music by Tokuaki Nakajima, and choreography by Chie Nakagawa. The show runs August 8-15 at the Loretto theater at the Sheen Center.
Update: Takaaki Shigenobu’s J-pop opera, Dancing Monk Ippen, is a swift, fun sojourn through the life of Shōjumaru, born into thirteenth-century Japan’s bitter civil wars between the Shogunate and the Imperial Army, which severely rend his family, his father and uncle fighting on different sides. Son of a noble family, the young man is sent to a Buddhist temple to protect his life. There he is given a new name, Ippen, and soon develops a unique brand of Buddhism that includes singing and dancing to bring peace and understanding to his fellow human beings. Playfully directed by Hiroaki Doi, Dancing Monk Ippen is energetically acted by the Fuuun Kabocha No Basha company, led by Ikumi Sugamoto as the title character, Motonori Mano as his comic sidekick, Mitsuaki Susa as his father, and Ayako Murai as temple monk Shotatsu. The musical numbers, which occasionally descend into treacly ballads, are sweetly choreographed by Chie Nakagawa and charmingly performed by the enthusiastic cast. Unfortunately, however, everything is in Japanese, with no translations, save for just a handful of hard-to-hear English descriptions read by a disembodied female voice in between certain scenes. The program, which comes with an origami gift, includes a detailed synopsis in case you want to know in advance what is going to happen. The show ends boisterously, with the actors dancing around the audience, cheerfully thanking the exiting crowd.