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