`Goodnight, Gracie’

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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 20, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Broadway: `Flower Drum Song’

Except for the lovely and lilting, but less familiar,

score by Rodgers and Hammerstein, "Flower Drum Song" has been

largely renovated and revised and, depending on your point of view,

rescued from the presumably dated 1958 Broadway hit. David Henry Hwang,

the new book writer (after first book authors Hammerstein and Joseph

Fields) has replaced the original’s largely sentimental and homey

Chinese-American family ambiance with a decidedly coarser, if entirely

fun and functional, reflection of Chinese assimilation into American

culture.

In collaboration with director Robert Longbottom, Hwang has kept the

action in San Francisco’s Chinatown, but has given more razzle-dazzle

and a satiric point of view. Although its main characters are still

conflicted between old-world traditions and the enticing differences

in the American way, the question remains whether the new book’s attempt

to turn what might be perceived as Asian stereotypes into more acceptable

and politically correct types has been achieved.

Although I seem to remember a gentler quality in the show that is

really just a memory, I am ready to accept this very different consideration

of the younger generation trying to assimilate while the elders resist.

The new plot, also set in the present, revolves around turning a money-losing

business, the family-run Golden Pearl Opera House, into the profitable

Club Chop Suey. It’s no great shakes, but it allows for lots of heated

talk between its founder Wang (Randall Duk Kim) and his son Ta (Jose

Llana). It also serves to bridge the breezy and girly production numbers.

To this end, the unit set designed by the genius Robin Wagner, the

lighting by Natasha Katz, and the costumes by Gregg Barnes sparkle

aplenty.

Ta is smitten with leggy show girl Linda Low (Sandra Allen) and motivated

into action by smart and sassy theatrical agent Madame Liang (Jodi

Long), he is unaware of the love that is surfacing between him and

Mei Li (Lea Salonga), an orphan refugee from Red China. Although the

talented Salonga (the original Miss Saigon) sings beautifully, she

gets little to do except be effectively demure, Llana is an excellent

singer and dancer and is altogether winning the young entrepreneur.

Long gets the most laughs as a wisecracking Chinese version of Eve

Arden. By the end, the right people are getting married, the opera

is given a one-night-a-week slot at the club, and we go home humming

such tunes as "A Hundred Million Miracles," "I Enjoy Being

a Girl," "You are Beautiful," and "Love Look Away,"

among others that may not be ethnically authentic, but are as tasty

as chop suey. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

Flower Drum Song, Virginia Theater, 245 West 52nd Street,

New York. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
`Goodnight, Gracie’

One way to praise first-class impressionist Frank Gorshin’s

portrayal of actor and comedian George Burns in "Say Goodnight,

Gracie" is to say I was convinced that it was Burns who was on

the stage of the Helen Hayes Theater.

As written by Rupert Holmes (who also wrote the musical "The Mystery

of Edwin Drood") and directed with grace (no pun intended) by

John Tillinger, "Say Goodnight, Gracie" is more of a mitzvah

than a mystery. Whether or not you are a fan of Burns and his wife

and professional partner Gracie Allen, this autobiographical tribute

is to be treasured. Nostalgic to be sure, the play is a loving valentine

to this team’s long-time partnership and marriage.

That Gorshin has every gesture, inflection, and movement down pat

is only half the pleasure of the play that begins amusingly with Burns,

having just died at the age of 100, standing in the clouds awaiting

permission to enter heaven and join Gracie. Before he gets the okay,

he must audition for God. He does and how. With the help of film and

TV clips, and 90 minutes of wonderful anecdotes of a life in show

biz, and even some poignant and revelatory confessions, Burns’ talent

is revisited through the artistry of Gorshin, who, as Burns is instructed,

gives the performance of a lifetime. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.

— S.S.

Say Goodnight Gracie, Helen Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th

Street, New York. $61 & $66. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.


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