The audience gets its first exposure to the unusual stylized vocals from Saopeng, who performs most of the narration in the show (he also plays a squid warrior and a scarlet-haired, golden-clawed ogre). He begins the play with a drawn out, high-pitched word of welcome--"Yo . . . KO . . . so"--followed by a singsong "Mukashi, mukashi" (Long ago . . .). He was self-conscious at first, he said.
"It felt kind of weird. There's usually laughter--'oh, he's talking funny, that sounds strange.' But I just kind of take that and push on and continue and get them used to listening to the musicality and the style of it."
Stepping in as narrator in "The Snow Woman" is Shimoda, whose multiple roles include the fisherman Urashima, who elicits nervous laughter from the audience as he echoes a son's grieving cry at losing his father to the cold-hearted Snow Woman.
Furumoto, who also teaches Asian theater at the University of Wisconsin, gave the actor this advice: "Don't be afraid of being accused of being melodramatic. The more honest you can make that cry, the higher the payoff will be."
"There's a certain wonderful emotional quality that comes out when the person who's reciting goes into this type of stylization," Furumoto said. "One of the interesting things for me in writing the adaptation was having that style of delivery in mind--but how do you make the English work with it? Vocal technique in Kabuki is probably even harder to teach than the physical movement."
"I told [the cast] in the long run, it's the truth of you, the actor, bringing the emotions and the truth of the moment. I said, 'Think of the Kabuki style as a gemstone that you're shooting your acting energy through. If your truth and heart are in what you are doing, then the energy comes out like a laser beam and you will touch the audience, you will make them cry and make them laugh.' "
* "Wondrous Tales of Old Japan" will be performed for the general public at Colburn School, Zipper Hall, 200 S. Grand Ave., L.A., on Saturday at 11 a.m., $6, (213) 202-2287; New Ivar Theatre, 1605 N. Ivar Ave., Hollywood, on March 17 at 1 p.m., free, (213) 972-7589 and (213) 972-7587; Asian Youth Center, 100 W. Clary Ave., San Gabriel, on March 24 at 3 and 5 p.m., free, (626) 309-0622, Ext. 101.