Au Revoir, Gigi!

Today marks the end of Gigi‘s run, and I’m not quite sure how to feel about it. On one hand, I completely understand. It’s a fine show that didn’t quite leave an impression (to be fair, it was sandwiched between An American in Paris, which completely dazzled me, and Hamilton, which is completely worth the hype, during a particularly festive birthday weekend). The songs were catchy enough, the choreography was memorable enough, the set design was gorgeous (sadly not enough for a Tony nomination), but the material was dated despite its reworked book. Its biggest asset was Victoia Clark, who much like Meryl Streep at the Oscars, can do no wrong and will get nominated for any and every role. Of course, Vanessa Hudgens was the big box office draw, making her Broadway debut as the title heroine. Despite my misgivings, it was a great starring vehicle for her that let her show off what a great range she has. For full disclosure, I am a HUGE HSM fan, but was pleasantly surprised by her belt and range. It seems her Hollywood Bowl performance as Mimi was the anomaly, and I would love to see Ms. Hudgens continue to do stage work.

My mom and I saw a Saturday evening show, and just happened to pick up our tickets as the matinee performance was letting out. Needless to say, there were lots of excited young girls clamouring to get to the stage door. It’s wonderful to see young people so engaged in the theater, and perhaps following their favorite star will introduce them to a whole new art form.

Then I saw the show. While I admired the feminist slant the show tried to embody, the material is still dated no matter how you try to modernize it. And it made me sad to think that so many young girls were watching a show that preached courtesan values. Sure, Gigi and Gaston end up together only after their love is professed, and Gigi is no longer paid for her services (great values, right?), but so much of the show is about how limited women are in their choices. Gigi has a great line where she laments her limitations as a woman, while Gaston has every opportunity in front of him just for being a man. And yes, of course they both realize they love each other at the end, but whichever way they end up together, Gigi is set for life only because Gaston will provide for her. With love, she doesn’t even have to work for her money, which phrased like that sounds horrible. But either way, Gaston was going to give her the best life imaginable. Hopefully, the young girls in the audience will think that times have changed and can have a career and love.

As happy as I was seeing so many young’uns at the show, I do wish the subject matter preached better values. I have since watched the movie version, and appreciate the stage show so much more now. Given the material, I think they made Gigi much more feminist and strong, but there’s only so much you can do when you choose to set yourself in the 1900s.

My one other quibble with the show was the character, Mamita Alvarez, played by Ms. Clark. When I first heard the casting, not knowing anything about the show, I was a little miffed why a white woman was playing an Alvarez, especially given Ms. Hudgens’ ethnic background and casting. Mamita’s sister, Aunt Alicia, is also portrayed by a white woman, but where does the name Alvarez come from? It’s a shame for the name Alvarez to be thrown around without any real significance, but I’ll gladly take half-hearted attempts at diversity and Vanessa Hudgens as a Broadway leading lady any day.


The King and I, Or Asians on Stage

I’ve just come back from seeing “The King and I” at Lincoln Center, and I have to admit that I thought my blog post after the show would revolve around the Kelli O’Hara-Kristin Chenoweth Tony debate. Let’s begin by stating that Tony Winner (finally!) Kelli O’Hara was not in this performance, and Betsy Morgan was. It was definitely disappointing to miss Kelli’s award-winning performance, and it took awhile for my brain to stop wondering what Kelli would do every second, but I got over it. I’ll save the Tony debate for another post.

It should be noted that I am Chinese-American and spent my four years at college very involved with student of color organizations, and I am constantly picking at diversity in the media with a fine tooth comb. As thrilled as I was about the King and I returning to Broadway, these sorts of revivals always leave me a little apprehensive. While I LOVE seeing fellow Asians on the stage (and let’s face it, that only really happens in an Asian-setting show, which is rare), shows like “The King and I,” “South Pacific,” and “Miss Saigon” make me uneasy. For the times they were written, I’m sure they were groundbreaking and provocative. But now, they just make me wonder why we always need the Western world to infiltrate some Asian country as an introduction to the show. And I completely understand that English-language musicals are basically written for American audiences, but it’s still troublesome to think that the only way an Asian can be on stage is only AFTER the western forces, be it military or a lowly, feminist schoolteacher, invade their worlds. (Side-note: I am so excited for “Allegiance” to come to Broadway this season, starring George Takei, Telly Leung, and my absolute favorite, Lea Salonga. A show about Asians IN America with an Asian-American creative team! Cannot wait!)

The irony of being excited over seeing Asians onstage, only to be disappointed that the one white actress I care about being out does not escape me. But I loved the production. I’ve heard rumblings about Ken Watanabe’s performance, and he was the one actor that critics seemed surprised/shocked/upset come Tony nominations, but I absolutely loved what he did in the role. If he was a native-English speaker, then I could understand if some people found his character cartoonish. But I thought him not being a native-English speaker colored the role so beautifully and his body language expressed so much. And for the critics who complained that they couldn’t understand him, most foreign-born people are hard to understand. Just think about what Anna would have gone through back in the 1800s before everyone was taught English in pre-school. And after all, isn’t part of the show all about crossing language and cultural barriers?

Ruthie Ann Miles gave a beautiful, heartbreaking performance that I won’t say too much about because everyone has been praising her and she won a Tony. I will say her last look in the show left me devastated and heartbroken when I thought I was going to make it out of the show unscathed. What a beautiful parting image. Oh, Lady Thiang, how you tugged at my heartstrings.

“How to Get Away with Murder” was one of my favorite new television shows this year, and of course I gravitated towards Conrad Ricamora because he’s Asian and you have to support your people when they finally get on screen. Needless to say, I was extra excited when I found out he was going to be making his Broadway debut with the show, then I got very concerned when his character, Oliver, was announced to be HIV-positive during the season one finale. I remember turning to my mother and saying, “they can’t kill off the only Asian on the show!” But despite having an extremely dysfunctional relationship, I absolutely love Oliver and Connor together, which I don’t know what that says about me. And I was very concerned that Oliver would get killed off or be too sick and never appear in another episode. But now that I saw, or more importantly heard, Conrad as Lun Tha, I selfishly want him to be an exclusive New York theater actor. Also, I realize that Rodgers and Hammerstein have both passed, but I really think they should have given Conrad Ricamora more material in this production.

Sadly, it’s extraordinary for more than one Asian actor to appear on the same stage this day and age. Seeing the enormous cast of Asians, especially the adorable children, was amazing. There are some shows that you don’t like but you go to represent and support in hopes that producers will continue to put Asian on stage. But “The King and I” is a beautiful production that is so deserving of the Best Musical Revival award. In fact, it’s a show I would jump at the chance to see again, especially if Ms. O’Hara makes an appearance. The show is something wonderful indeed.

Just What the World Needed

Well, it looks like I’m finally biting the bullet and starting a blog. Yes world, I’m giving you everything you’ve ever wanted: more of my thoughts! I will now be another entitled, self-possessed, “I have opinions that matter and I know the whole world wants to hear them because I’m awesome/special/unique” millennial. You’re welcome, world!

I currently work at an arts council in the suburbs of New York City. People often hear that and say, “oh that sounds like fun.” Let me tell you: It’s not. For working in the arts (albeit an administrative position) it is not creative at all. In fact, it’s pretty stifling. I also am in a position where my opinion not only doesn’t matter, but my boss doesn’t even believe I am capable of forming opinions on my own. Crazy bosses, amiright?

I went to a liberal arts college, majored in something I thought was interesting, and thought I would figure it all out later. Little did I know, the real world is not a very welcoming place where you get judged immediately based on your major, college, and current address. My attempts at breaking into the theater world have not gone so well thus far. So this is my optimistic attempt at spinning my thoughts and musings into something career-worthy. If people can get noticed for 140 characters and get writing gigs out of it, then it’s worth a shot. Even though I’m fairly certain I will be the only one reading this, but welcome to the thoughts in my head. It’s about to get messy!