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Monday, September 2, 1991 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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`Labor Of Love' Vibrant, Alive

"Labor of Love: A Rice Farmers Musical"; written by Chad Henry and Katsuhiko Ishizuka; music by Chad Henry and Tateo Teramoto. Produced by One Reel. American premiere at Bumbershoot; final performance 4:30 p.m. today at Bagley Wright Theatre.

"Labor of Love" is a musical that resulted from a good idea: having a cast of Japanese and Americans tour both Japan and the United States with a bilingual, bicultural show that deals with a situation common to both nations: the problems and rewards of rice farming.

Few good ideas end up as good shows, but "Labor of Love" is terrific, receiving a deserved standing ovation from its first American audience Friday afternoon at the Bagley Wright Theatre.

The colorful, spirited show is in two languages, without ever having unintended linguistic confusion; it is genuinely bicultural, drawing on Cajun music and dancing as well as Japanese festival-music and dancing; and it has a cast of Japanese and American actors who are irresistible in communicating the joy of performing and working together.

The idea came from Norman Langill, president of One Reel, a Seattle production company which, among other things, stages Bumbershoot.

The idea was given musical- theater form by Seattle playwright/composer Chad Henry, working with writer/director Katsuhiko Ishizuka and composer Tateo Teramoto. The show was pumped full of theatrical savvy and infectious energy by director Linda Hartzell (the artistic director of the Seattle Children's Theatre), working in collaboration with Ishizuka.

The story is about an exchange of visits between Cajun rice farmers and their counterparts in Japan. The visits involve a romance which functions well enough as a plot device, but is hardly compelling.

What is consistently compelling in the 2 1/2-hour show is its genuine charm, lyricism, energy and, above all, the genuineness of its bilingual, bicultural nature.

The music, dancing and costumes in the kagura, a Japanese rice-planting festival dance, are stunning, a high point in the show. The Cajun music and dancing that follow are fun, but you'd have to be a blinkered Cajun not to prefer the kagura.

This is a show to embrace. Its rice-trade discussions are superficial, and its characters are only lightly sketched in. But the intensity and affability of the performers make the show vibrant and alive.

"Labor of Love," which already has toured in Japan, will go on a nine-city U.S. tour after its final performance today at Bumbershoot. It will make many audiences happy.

Copyright (c) 1991 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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