Long Live King Charles III

I’m not usually one for British imports. It probably has to do with the fact that I don’t quite understand the lure of a monarchy, and there’s invariably no people of color. But after hearing all the talk of how King Charles III is the best new play of the year, I figured I had to go see it.

Not knowing what to expect, I was blown away by the concept. Despite being highly publicized for being told in verse, the dialogue seemed to flow right off the tongue. There was one monologue where the rhymes felt a little forced, but other than that moment, it was hard to tell that it was there. The play had an overarching Shakespearean feel to it, which I thought gave it great weight and drama. The beginning of Act II was intensely gripping and brought the audience right back in it. The immersive and thrilling pantomime brought a visceral element, signifying a change of pace. The lighting and the techno-beats were superb and the drama train was full-speed ahead after that. (There was also one black actor. Wahoo!)

As a cellist, I love any play that utilizes music. The cello and oboe was a great touch that added pomp and circumstance. The music tonally gave the show extra gravitas and added a feeling of grandeur and ceremony to the play. To offset the heaviness of the show, I loved the use of Lourde’s “Royals,” which was a great, playful touch. The play was funny, sharp, gripping, dark, witty, melodramatic, dramatic, haunting, engaging, and a must-see. I know the show is closing this week, but long live the King!

Folded: The Gin Game

Yesterday, national treasures Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones ended their run in The Gin Game at the Golden Theater. Boy, are they golden! Much has been made of their ages (91 and 84, respectively), but they both prove age is nothing but a number. Both give such strong, sharp, nuanced performances that it’s hard to believe they are ages that many consider to be past their prime. They are still powerhouses with such intense stage presence. In fact, they are so good, it’s almost unfathomable to cast them as seniors forced to live in nursing home.

Bravo to the director, Leonard Foglia, for non-traditional casting, and for finally putting black actors in a play during the 2015-2016 Broadway season. I know it’s a revival, but I can’t imagine any other performers in the roles, let alone white actors. Both Ms. Tyson and Mr. Jones give performances to remember. May we all be as powerful and strong in our later years in life.

I Pledge Allegiance to Allegiance

Disclaimer: I am ashamed to say that this has been sitting in my draft folder since October. I loved the show and sad that it’s closing!

As a young Asian American who was obsessed with watching the Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert, I gravitated towards Lea Salonga as Eponine. Now that I have grown up, I have learned that everyone loves Eponine for the universally relatable unrequited love storyline, but Lea Salonga has remained my favorite. Add in roles like Princess Jasmine and Mulan, and you got yourself a favorite singing voice.

Much like Idina Menzel in If/Then, I figured Salonga wouldn’t return to Broadway in a bad show. Then I started listening to cynical theater writers who didn’t give Allegiance a chance, with a new creative team and a seemingly non-musical friendly subject matter. I didn’t know what to expect when the show started, but I shouldn’t have worried.

For the third time this year, I had to sit back down after the standing ovation to get a handle of my emotions. I hadn’t expected the show to be as emotional as it was, but it was a truly beautiful story. While a few of the songs in Act I seemed a little too cheery and a little unnecessary, you need to  have those happy, upbeat, all American numbers to keep things light and to get people on board before it all gets dark. I guess for white audiences, you need to drive home all the “Americanisms” that people of color have adapted. And while I understand completely that Asians can be as American as apple pie, the creative team really drove that point home. The emotional swell really picks up in Act II. “Itetsuita” is a hauntingly beautiful number, where the lighting and sound design was perfectly executed, and still gives me chills (now three months later).

Despite being marketing as “George Takei’s show,” Takei was not as big of a role, but he did make the most of his time on stage. He milks his comedic moments at every turn, and brought a deep gravitas to Older Sammy during the finale. And Telly Leung, oft-mentioned as underserved Warbler Wes in Glee, was a great Young Sam. He was a great central figure in the story and I’m so glad he finally has a starring role under his belt! Katie Rose Clarke and Michael K. Lee are also fantastic! While I don’t expect them to make waves during award season, their performances are certainly ones to remember!

I was very taken with the set design of the internment camps. The framed structures imply not just the humble dwellings the Japanese Americans were forced to live in, but the metaphorical hoops the internees had to jump through just to be seen as Americans. The sparseness is a visual reminder of the hopelessness and desperation the camps provided.

While I understand people’s hesitance to see a show with a sad subject matter, seeing Allegiance is important for a few reasons. First of all, the fact that Asian Americans are being portrayed on the stage, in a new musical no less, is a huge deal! Instead of shows like Miss Saigon, South Pacific, or The King and I, where the Western world comes into the East during troubled times, the show features Asians that live in America, because guess what? We live in America! It’s also important to support Asians on stage while shows are being made. It’s disappointing that the show is closing in February, but everyone should go see it while they still have the chance!

As a side note, this is the third show I’ve seen with Aaron Albano in the ensemble. In Allegiance, he also is the understudy for Sammy. As much as I love Leung, I am intrigued with what Albano would do as the lead. Asian actors have so few opportunities for the lead, and this is a show with great actors.

It’s always disappointing when shows you love close, but it’s a shame when great, original, new musicals with a fantastic cast don’t have the staying power for Broadway audiences. With The King and I still playing, it was great to say that two shows with Asian actors front and center were on Broadway at the same time. I’m sure it’s the highest number of Asian Americans ever to be on Broadway at the same time, and that is something to be proud of. As they say, “Gaman!”

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, Everyone! May 2016 be the year where Danny Burstein follows in Kelli O’Hara’s footsteps and makes his 6th Tony Nomination the one where he is victorious! May the year also be the year where the entire Best Actress in a Musical category be made up of exclusively women of color.

Since I started, here are my early 2016 Tony Predictions for these two categories:

Best Actor in a Musical

  • Alex Brightman, School of Rock
  • Danny Burstein, Fiddler on the Roof
  • Austin P. McKenzie, Spring Awakening
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
  • Leslie Odom, Jr., Hamilton

It’s funny that these shows opened in the fall. I’m still pulling for Telly Leung from Allegiance, but also wouldn’t be surprised if whoever is deemed the lead actor from Shuffle Along shuffles into the mix.

Best Actress in a Musical

  • Cynthia Ervio, The Color Purple
  • Audra McDonald, Shuffle Along
  • Lea Salonga, Allegiance
  • Phillipa Soo, Hamilton
  • Ana Villafane, On Your Feet!

I suspect this category won’t hold up, but how great would it be if they were all people of color? I wouldn’t be surprised to see a nod for Jessie Mueller for Waitress and it’s too early to tell what someone from American Psycho, Bright Star, or Tuck Everlasting could do to this race.

Regardless, I’m excited for all the show goodness that 2016 will bring!

Nonprofit Theater Round Up: Fall 2015

Now that I’m an adult, I’ve been seeing more plays lately, and nonprofit theater offers a great selection of interesting, thought-provoking shows. Grabbing big stars with short, limited engagement runs, both Roundabout Theatre Company and Manhattan Theatre Club have started their seasons with good shows and amazing performances.

Old Times, starring Clive Owen, Kelly Reilly, and Eve Best, was an intriguing production with an excellent set. Expect Christine Jones to be nominated for set design come the spring. The record-shaped floor imperceptibly spins throughout the show, which was such a neat and unexpected trick. I hadn’t even noticed the stage was moving until halfway during the show, when I wondered how the sofa ended up all the way over there. The show started with bright flashes of photographs that would later come to life during the course of the show. During the talkback with director Douglas Hodge, he mentioned that he would love to have the show start again from the beginning as soon as the show ended and just continue in an endless loop. I love that idea! The show is confusing and so short that I think it’s a feasible idea. Even after multiple viewings, I’m sure I would still have questions, which is the beauty of this show.

Next, I saw Fool for Love, which interested me most because I’ve never gotten to see Nina Arianda in person, and I feel like she is a rising powerhouse in this new generation of Broadway stars. Another head scratcher of a show (are clear plotlines banned from non-profit theaters?) with great performances, I loved Arianda and Sam Rockwell together, though then felt guilty about it. I was unexpectedly rocked from the combustion that is May and Eddie’s relationship.

Thérèse Raquin was a great show that I absolutely loved. It was like a twisted, dark Romeo & Juliet that I found mesmerizing. I know Keira Knightley is the draw (who deftly moved between her moments of quiet introspection, repressed and stifled housewife to an fiery and passionate woman) but I couldn’t take my eyes off of Matt Ryan. Tony darling Judith Light and Gabriel Ebert (my favorite in Casa Valentina, though sorely missed in Act II) were both phenomenal as expected. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear those four names announced during award season. Once again, Roundabout provided a fantastic set with a built-in river that provided great action. The little attic apartment of Laurent terrified me, but was an amazing use of space, though if I were Ryan, I would be scared for my life every show. You can’t have another Brett Michaels at the Tonys moment of your hands!

I love that nonprofit theater is able to tackle darker, more obscure pieces of theater that are deemed less commercial. I’ve gotten a chance to get to know some great pieces of literature, though I’m afraid many of these incredible performances will be forgotten by the spring. A hotbed for Hollywood stars, what nonprofit theater has failed to do is attract diversity. To reach a more diverse audience, you need to start with more diverse talent. While I have thoroughly enjoyed the shows I saw in the fall, I’m hoping that the spring will bring more colorful faces to the stage.