This summer, actress Yonekura Ryoko (36) will star in a Broadway production of the musical “Chicago.” She will be the first Japanese woman to star on Broadway since Nancy Umeki’s performance in “Flower Drum Song” in 1958. She will also be the first Japanese person ever to play the lead as an American character in a long-running musical on Broadway.
Yonekura first watched a performance of “Chicago” on Broadway in 2002. After that, she watched more than 10 performances of the musical in multiple countries. She finally got the chance to play the protagonist Roxie Hart in two runs of the Japanese production of “Chicago,” in 2008 and 2010. Now, her dream of playing the part on a Broadway stage will come true this July, when she will perform the musical at the Ambassador Theater in New York.
For the 2010 production of “Chicago,” the part of Velma Kelly was played by actress Amra-Faye Wright, who already had Broadway experience. After seeing Wright take on the role in Japanese, Yonekura was encouraged to push herself further. The Japanese production team began discussions with producer Barry Weisler, and preparations for a Broadway performance began in secret.
In August of last year, the New York production team asked for videos of Yonekura performing scenes from the New York version of the musical, requiring her lines and songs to be done entirely in English. While taking lessons as often as 4 times a week, Yonekura recorded and sent a total of 7 videos, which earned the approval of the production team.