The allure of becoming a teenager again has long been the muse of actors, writers and filmmakers. Everything from Francis Ford Coppola’s 1985 film Peggy Sue Got Married to Jiro Taniguchi’s manga A Distant Neighborhood have portrayed an adult character magically transporting themselves to the awkward, dramatic and magical teenage years. Even during the Covid-19, adults have reportedly dragged out DVDs, video games and electric guitars – hobbies and artifacts steeped in nostalgia for that simpler time.

When 27-year-old actor Ryoma Takeuchi was asked, if he was given the chance to transport into the past what age would he choose, his answer came quick. “15 – right when I was starting out high school,” says Takeuchi. “I played soccer in a professional youth team and it was the hardest three years of my life, but I do want to know how things would’ve turned out if I had my current mindset and done things differently. “At the same time, it’s a difficult decision because I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not experienced that setback in my soccer career.”

Where Takeuchi is today is at a press event promoting his first theatrical performance in the upcoming production of 17 Again. Earlier in the day, before his interview with TW, Takeuchi was performing two songs from the musical at the premiere in front of an audience for the first time. Takeuchi showed the poise of a stage veteran, projecting his voice clearly and nailing his choreography. But he still expressed his concerns. “I was completely clueless as to where on stage I should’ve positioned myself,” he says. “The stage felt very spacious – something I had not expected or imagined during practice. “But I do want to prepare myself well enough to feel that the size of the stage isn’t too big for me. I would feel like I’ve achieved something if I am able to establish a form of expression that is unique to me.”

Takeuchi is already well familiar with the small screen. After making his acting debut in 2013 in the Kamen Rider series Kamen Rider Drive, 2017 became a turning point in Takeuchi’s career. He took the role of a university art student, Hajime Mugino, in the television drama Kahogo No Kahoko (Spoiled Kahoko), in addition to his role as Junichiro Shimatani in the NHK morning drama series Hiyokko. In the following year, his popularity won him the Newcomer of the Year Award at the 41st Japan Academy Film Prize.

As an actor who has only performed on-screen, that is a very scary thought, but I do believe if I practice enough I could very possibly enjoy every step of the way until the last day of our performances.

Having worked in primarily on-screen productions over the past seven years, Takeuchi is now ready to face new challenges in a new environment he’s found on the theater stage. He believes that taking part in theater will help him broaden his possibilities to further grow in the industry as a multitalented actor. “In dramas and movies, we film multiple takes and edit the good parts together, but on stage, everything is exposed to the audience live, whether that may be a subtle pause to unexpected events,” says Takeuchi. “As an actor who has only performed on-screen, that is a very scary thought, but I do believe if I practice enough I could very possibly enjoy every step of the way until the last day of our performances.”

The musical 17 Again is expected to launch in May. The story is based on the American fantasy comedy film of the same title released in 2009, directed by Burr Steers and featuring Zac Efron. The story follows the life of a 35-year-old man named Mike who is unhappy with how his life turned out. Mike is transported back into his 17-year-old self, when he was the star of his high school basketball team, and is given a chance to relive the prime of his life. The film was later made into a musical by its production company and will be performed for the first time in Japan.

Because of the musical’s comical, positive and easy-to-follow storyline, Takeuchi hopes it will bring joy to the audience, especially during this challenging time. “I want people to experience something similar to what they would feel after getting off a ride at a theme park,” he says “I’ve never really come across a musical where the audiences can participate as if they are actual audiences at a live show, so the ideal would be to win their hearts, make them feel like they want to clap along, and leave the theater in a state of euphoria.”

Looking towards the future, Takeuchi says he has always wanted to work abroad to help expand his knowledge, capabilities and techniques to help him “play an active role at the frontline of the industry.” Looking back again, Takeuchi measures his words as he thinks about the advice he would share with this teenage self, eventually drawing upon his experience from his new musical. “I would tell him to not run away from what seems hard and to actively put himself through those challenges,” he says. “In high school, all I was interested in was how to run away from hardships and wanted to get over them as quickly as possible.  “Now, I choose to put myself in a difficult situation because I know it will ultimately help me grow after overcoming those challenges, but obviously teenage me couldn’t think that far ahead.”

Ah, to be a teenager again.

17 Again runs May 16–June 6, 2021 at Tokyo Tatemono Brillia Hall