Although the songs and themes are not groundbreaking, Tokyo Rose tells a story that deserves your attention.
Tokyo Rose tells the story of famed war-time disc jockey Iva Toguri, an American of Japanese descent who found herself stuck inbetween countries and identities at the beginning of World War II.
From the opening few scenes, it would be easy to compare Tokyo Rose to any other popular historical musical from recent years such as Six, or perhaps even Hamilton; the lyrics in the opening song contain the same meta themes of rewriting history and reclaiming the narrative (‘her story was defined by will; not twisted up by fate’), all served up in the form of an energetic, modern pop song. However, 30 minutes into the show reveal that its purpose seems not to be trying to rewrite or reclaim history, but rather tell the truth of an untold story.
The titular voice behind that story is that of Iva Toguri, played by Maya Britto. Britto’s voice, alongside the rest of the cast’s sublime vocals, is what really draws you in. Throughout portraying Toguri’s many trials and tribulations, Britto’s incredible passion and unwavering voice are able to convey such a range of emotions that have you truly feeling for her character – and consequently, her real-life counterpart.
What’s most compelling about this character is her struggle of identity – from being an American citizen trapped in war-torn Japan, to being alienated from her own country and stripped of her citizenship, the character of Iva Toguri excellently explores the devasting effects of war on identity.
Alongside Britto’s Toguri is a handful of talented cast members who make up the rest of the characters in the story. Despite there only being 6 cast members overall, the actors still managed to portray a wide variety of changing characters between them with what seemed like little effort. However, it sometimes felt like these characters were introduced and discarded equally quickly, to the point that the audience had no time to get to know them, and consequently, empathise with them. For instance, Iva Toguri’s lawyer is introduced in the last portion of the show, and his only purpose is to represent the legal battle that Toguri had to endure. Yet, he exits with an emotional address to the audience that implies that we had developed a special relationship – despite the fact that his character was on stage for only a few short scenes.
It is this kind of quick turnover which sometimes let the production down – scenes often felt like they lasted either too long or too short for the amount of impact that one would assume it was supposed to have. What seemingly should have been a central part of the show – Iva Toguri’s time as a disk jockey on Radio Tokyo, broadcasting the secret Zero Hour show to the allied troops – only took up one short song, and was quickly moved on to allow time to show Toguri’s later strife.
Despite this, the show still managed to pack a solid two hours of enjoyable pop songs and ballads into an emotional and important untold story. While reclamations of historical narratives through the form of popular modern music have become a bit of a trend in recent musical theatre shows, Tokyo Rose is one that deserves your attention – if not for the songs, then for the story.
Tokyo Rose is playing at MAST Mayflower Studios between the 16th-18th of September 2021. Find out more here.