Flower Drum Song hits all the right notes: Vancouverites should see it and demand more!

Flower Drum Song makes you laugh and sing…
It's Rogers and Hammerstein in 1950's San Francisco Chinatown!

May 29-June 14
Waterfront Theatre
Directed by Rick Tae
Produced by Joyce Lam
Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre
www.vact.ca

This VACT production is amazing, it should become a Vancouver regular.  Who knew Asian Canadians could put on such a good song and dance musical, worthy of being included into “Theatre Under the Stars” or at any of Metro Vancouver's stages. 

Actor Jimmy Yi is a knockout!  He plays Sammy Fong the night club owner who might or might not get married to Linda Low, played coquettishly by Lannette New.  But Linda might also marry Wang Ta, played by Isaac Kwok.  Or Ta might marry Mei Li (Rosie Simon).  And somebody else also has a crush on Ta.  Sound confused?  You should be.  It's a classic Love triangle times 2 with some great songs and dance numbers thrown in.

But then there is also Ta's father Wang Chi Yang, played by BC Lee (now known as the former Vancouver City Councilor), who wants to lay down the family law as he insists that Ta should be married, and sets out to set up a traditional Chinese style arranged marriage.  Gee… Sammy Fong has a picture order bride just arrived into town… how convenient.

Jimmy Yi as Sammy Fong with Lannette New as Linda Low – photo courtesy of VACT

Okay… forget that the characters and the setting are Asians in San Francisco's Chinatown.  This could be a plot similar to Shakespeare's As You Like It, or Gershwin's Girl Crazy, or Lerner and Lowe's Brigadoon, or Rogers and Hammerstein's South Pacific.  Love, trying to find the right person, and the ensuing moral dilemmas are universal themes in every language and culture. 

Flower Drum Song originally debuted in 1958 on Broadway with dance great Gene Kelly choreographing the moves.  This Rogers and & Hammerstein musical has everything.  Dancing, singing, corny jokes, love stories… and controversy!  It's a classic tale of old traditions versus assimilation into the New World. Addressing social issues within the Broadway musical format is the legacy of Rogers and Hammerstein.  They aptly addressed racism, sexism and classism with their hits Oklahoma, Carousel, The King and I, South Pacific and The Sound of Music. In particular, The Sound of Music addressed how some Austrians objected to Nazi Germany taking over their country prior to WW2.  The King & I addressed how the kingdom of Siam dealt with and resisted the growing colonialism of Asia by European nations.

Set in 1950's era San Francisco, this VACT production addresses the nostalgia of the era.  Director Rick Tae has found the balance for the show in a post-modern politically correct environment, by willingly playing up the campiness of the 50's beatnik era language.

It is the older brother Ta (Isaac Kwok), the first born son, that is caught in the middle.  He wants to please his father, but he also wants to forge his own identity.  Kwok is a recent graduate from Capilano University's Musical Theatre program and does a good job in the lead role, singing and acting his way between the show's generation and love match issues.  His strong voice and good looks should could easily find him cast in leads for Brigadoon and other shows. 

Lannette New has a tough job, living up to the role of Linda Low played so excellently by Nancy Kwan in the 1961 movie.  The Low character is flamboyant role of a night club performer – sexy and independent – not your typical Chinese daughter-in-law material. New reigns in the energy with sweetness and presence.

With Vancouver's huge Chinese population, you would think ethnic Chinese actors would get tired of the perennial stereotypecasting playing Chinese waiters, kung fu baddies, chinadolls and gangsters.  But where do people get the chance to expand their horizons and resume lists?

For the past 10 years, Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre has been producing plays to showcase Asian Canadian talent, and feature works by North American Asian playwrights such as David Henry Hwang.  Asian comedy nights have become annual features that grew into sketch comedy contests.  The Sex in Vancouver series was adapted from the Sex in Seattle series originated by Kathy Hsieh and Serin
Ngai's

Producer and president, Joyce Lam also had a vision to put on Rogers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song as a full production in Vancouver.  Incredibly, it had never happened before.  Two years ago she saw Jimmy Yi, in the staged reading by APPLAUSE! Musical Society, and in that moment, she knew she had her casting for Sammy Fong.

Amazingly, the original 1958 production got six Tony Award nominations, and spun off some
national tours and the popular 1961 musical film version. It also marked the
first time in musical history that a mostly Asian cast appeared on the
Broadway stage.

But the work and film fell out of favour in the late 1960's due to criticism of the gender and racial stereotyping of the era, in the wake of the rising civil rights movement.

In
2002, playwright David Henry Hwang reworked the original music and
storyline for a Broadway revival that received multiple Tony nominations, a Grammy nomination for the
soundtrack.

More later

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