By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

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With a new twist to a classic movie musical, Mu Performing Arts is showcasing a captivating adaptation to the once landmark movie and book  Flower Drum Song. The musical explores the difficulty in balancing one's traditional Chinese culture in an American world.

By Albert Leung, Staff Writer

With a new twist to a classic movie musical, Mu Performing Arts is showcasing a captivating adaptation to the once landmark movie and book  Flower Drum Song. The musical explores the difficulty in balancing one's traditional Chinese culture in an American world.

web_authorsDavid Henry Hwang (L) and C.Y. Lee

Author David Henry Hwang, playwright of the award winning play M. Butterfly, re-envisioned the original musical and book by C.Y. Lee, to fit modern themes that mirror the experiences many Asian Americans may share when growing up in a household deep in tradition. Maintaining the original characters, and Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's music, Hwang reinvented the story's plot for a more bittersweet approach on the original story. Hwang also wanted to portray Chinatown's inner thriving community rather than a “tourist view” of Chinatown much like in the original movie.

“I hope this play is something that it true to Chinese Americans,” Hwang said. “I  believe this is a show which mainstream audiences can watch to better understand what it is like to grow up as a Chinese American.”

(L to R) Tianjiang Cui (Chinese opera choreographer in Flower Drum Song and artistic director of MN Chinese Dance Theater, web_authorsgroupCherie Chen (artistic collaborator of C. Y. Lee), Ming Tchou (CHF founder), David Henry Hwang (playwright of revision of FDS), C. Y. Lee, KaiMay Terry (CHF founding member), Pearl Bergad (CHF founding member), Rick Shiomi (artistic director of Mu)

In Hwang's rendition, the story follows Wu Mei-Li (Sara Ochs) who escapes from communist China in search of a new life in San Francisco, Calif. While adjusting to her new surroundings, she confronts many differences between traditional Chinese and American philosophies.

Arriving in San Francisco Mei-Li leverages her Chinese opera background, which she learned from her father, to find work at a local Chinese opera theater called the Golden Pearl. The theater is owned by her father's long-time friend Wang (Randy Reyes). Mei-Li is introduced to Wang's son Ta (Sherwin Resurreccion), a young Chinese American who struggles to get along with his traditionalist father. Ta's aspiration is to change the failing Chinese opera theater into a hot spot nightclub in the heart of Chinatown, San Francisco.

As Mei-Li navigates through the cultural complexities that estrange Chinese and Chinese Americans, she receives guidance from Ta and an sassy nightclub performer with Hollywood ambitions named Linda (Laurine Price). Romantic feelings bud between Mei-Li and Ta, forcing Mei-Li to learn that American courtship rituals can be vastly different from what she learned in China. Ta, on the other hand, struggles to be accepted by his father who is strongly opposed to his son's entrepreneurial ambitions.

Also featured in Flower Drum Song is Wang's quirky assistant Chin (Arnold R. Felizardo), Linda's loyal backstage assistant Harvard (Brian McCormick), the business savvy Madame Liang (Melissa Bechthold), and Chao (Kurt Kwan), a recent immigrant who traveled to the United States with Mei-Li.

The play is thought provoking and features a strong performance by Sara Ochs who portrays Mei-Li with a charming innocence. Flower Drum Song is directed by Mu Performing Arts veteran Artistic Director Rick Shiomi. The original scores by Rodgers and Hammerstein add extra fervor to an already outstanding story re-written by David Henry Hwang.

Flower Drum Song is showing in the McKnight Theatre at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts, located in downtown St. Paul. Shows will run until July 12. For more information on Flower Drum Song, visit www.muperformingarts.org or www.ordway.org.

 

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