Musical inspired by Greek mythology wins at Tony Awards

The show is a modern take on the underworld myth of Orpheus and Euridyce. (AFP)
Updated 10 June 2019

Musical inspired by Greek mythology wins at Tony Awards

  • “Hadestown” was the big favorite of the 73rd annual awards with 14 nominations and in the end it took home eight gongs
  • It has become a hit album and an off-Broadway show in London and Canada

NEW YORK: A musical inspired by Greek mythology and a play about the conflict in Northern Ireland were the big winners Sunday at the Tony Awards, the highest honors in American theater.
“Hadestown” was the big favorite of the 73rd annual awards with 14 nominations and in the end it took home eight gongs, including best musical.
The show, a modern take on the underworld myth of Orpheus and Euridyce with jazz and folk, arrived on Broadway in April after an unusual 13-year journey.
From its 2006 origins in Vermont as a musical show without choreography, it has become a hit album and an off-Broadway show in London and Canada.
“If Hadestown stands for anything, it is that change is possible. That in dark times, spring will come again,” producer Mara Isaacs said as she received her Tony.
“The Ferryman,” written by Jez Butterworth, was also among the favorites this year with nine nominations and ultimately won four Tonys, including best play.
Directed by Sam Mendes, who won as best director of a play, it depicts a day in the life of a rural family in Northern Ireland in 1981 at the height of “The Troubles.”
Its large and colorful cast of characters includes a baby and a goose.
British actor James Corden, master of ceremonies at the event broadcast from Radio City Music Hall, opened the awards by extolling the virtues of live theater against streaming.
While his humor was apolitical, others spoke out during the three-hour show.
Bryan Cranston, who won best leading actor in a play for his role in the “Network,” adapted from the satirical 1976 film about a TV anchor, dedicated his award to “all the real journalists around the world.”
“The media is not the enemy of the people. Demagoguery is the enemy of the people,” the “Breaking Bad” star said, taking aim at President Donald Trump who frequently rails against unfavorable media as “the enemy of the people.”
While the entertainment world is frequently accused of downplaying the contributions of women and minorities, Broadway tried to redress the balance a bit on Sunday.
Actress Ali Stroker became the first wheelchair user to win a Tony for her role in the musical “Oklahoma!” but Rachel Chavkin, director of “Hadestown,” was the only woman directing a musical this year.
“There are so many women who are ready, so many artists of color who are ready,” Chavkin said in her acceptance speech.
“It’s not a lack of preparation, it’s a lack of imagination on the part of a sector supposed to imagine how the world could be.”


High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

Updated 18 August 2019

High-end rebrand makes life sweet for Japan’s ‘ice farmers’

  • Reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the ice-farming trade
  • The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores

NIKKO, Japan: In a mountainous area north of Tokyo, a priest blows a conch shell as Yuichiro Yamamoto bows and thanks the nature gods for this year’s “good harvest”: natural ice.
Yamamoto is one of Japan’s few remaining “ice farmers,” eschewing the ease of refrigeration for open-air pools to create a product that is sold to high-end shaved ice shops in trendy Tokyo districts.
His trade had all but disappeared in recent decades, and the shaved ice or kakigori that is popular throughout Japan in summer had been produced with cheap machine-made ice.
But reinventing natural-made ice as a high-end artisanal product has helped revive the sector and save his firm.
“When I started making natural ice, I wondered how I should market it. I thought I needed to transform kakigori,” Yamamoto says at his ice-making field in the town of Nikko, north of Tokyo.
Yamamoto took over a traditional ice-making business 13 years ago in Nikko, where he also runs a leisure park.
At the time, shaved ice cost just ¥200 ($2) in the local area and Yamamoto, who was fascinated by traditional ice-making, knew he couldn’t make ends meet.
“My predecessor used to sell ice at the same price as the fridge-made one, which can be manufactured easily anytime throughout the year,” the 68-year-old says.
The situation made it “impossible” to compete he explains, as producing natural ice is labor intensive.
Instead he decided to transform cheap kakigori into a luxury dessert, made with his natural ice and high-grade fruit puree rather than artificially flavored syrup.
After months of research, he began producing his own small batches of artisanal kakigori.
“I put the price tag at ¥800 for a bowl of kakigori. I also priced the ice at ¥9,000 per case, which is six times more than my predecessor,” he says.
At first, there were days he threw away tons of ice because he could not find clients.
But one day buyers from the prestigious Mitsukoshi department store discovered his product, and began stocking it, turning around his fortunes.
Kakigori dates back to the Heian Period (794-1185) when aristocratic court culture flourished in the then-capital of Kyoto.
It was a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, with the ice naturally made and stored in mountainside holes covered with silver sheets.
It was only after 1883, when the first ice-making factory was built in Tokyo, that ordinary people could taste the dessert.
With the development of ice-making machines, the number of traditional ice makers dropped to fewer than 10 nationwide.
The story is one familiar to many traditional Japanese crafts and foodstuffs — with expensive and labor-intensive products losing ground as cheaper, machine-driven versions become available.
And making ice naturally is a grueling task.
The season begins in the autumn when workers prepare a swimming-pool-like pit by cultivating the soil and pouring in spring water.
Thin frozen initial layers are scraped away along with dirt and fallen leaves.
The ice-making begins in earnest in the winter, when water is poured in to freeze solid, but it must be carefully protected. Producers regularly scrape off snow that can slow the freezing process.
“I once spent 16 hours non-stop removing snow,” Yamamoto recalls.
And rain too can ruin the product, causing cracks that mean the whole batch has to be discarded.
“I check the weather forecast 10 times a day,” Yamamoto laughs.
Once the ice is 14 centimeters (5.5 inches) thick, which takes at least two weeks, workers begin cutting out rectangular blocks.
Each block, which weighs about 40 kilograms (88 pounds), is glided into an ice room filled with sawdust on a long bamboo slide.
The blocks are sold to some of Tokyo’s high-end shaved ice shops as well as department stores.
In the Yanaka district, more than 1,000 people queue up every day for a taste of kakigori made with natural ice produced by another ice-maker from Nikko.
Owner Koji Morinishi says the naturally made ice has a texture that is different from machine-made products.
“It feels very different when you shave it. It’s harder because it’s frozen over a long period of time,” explains Morinishi.
“It’s easier to shave really thin if the ice is hard. If not hard, it dissolves too quickly.”
Morinishi himself struggled when he first opened the kakigori shop, but has gradually built a cult following for his desserts topped with purees of mango, watermelon, peach or other fruit.
And Yamamoto’s firm has seen demand soar — he now harvests 160 tons a year and knows two new producers who have entered the market.
He says: “This business has become attractive and the ice makers are all busy.”