Stellar cast adds to the charms of ‘Flower Drum Song’ revival in La Jolla
By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
An entertaining, intimate “Flower Drum Song: A Musical Revival in Concert” is playing through June 12 in a small theater adjacent to La Jolla Playhouse. The production, by San Diego Asian American Repertory Theatre, is a 2010 version that blends elements of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1958 Broadway hit “Flower Drum Song,” a 1961 movie by the same name, and a 2002 revival that updated the original musical. Though the word “concert” is in the title, this is a fully staged show packed with well-performed musical numbers, great dances, and too many funny moments to count.
This version focuses on Mei Li, a Chinese refugee who is fleeing communism in the 1950s. She arrives in San Francisco advised by her recently deceased father to go to an old acquaintance, Wang Chi Yang, who runs a fading, old-fashioned Chinese opera house that his son, Wang Ta, wants to revitalize by turning it into a nightclub.
The modern young Chinese-American man faces the challenge of convincing his adamantly traditional father to accept Western ways to make the family business a success. Meanwhile, Wang Ta is conflicted by his attraction for nightclub dancer Linda Low, a modern Chinese-American woman who only dates Caucasian men, and his growing attraction to Mei Li, who represents the past Wang Ta is trying to abandon.
As Mei Li, Mindy Ella Chu shows great talent as a singer that is immediately evident during the opening song, “A Hundred Million Miracles.” She also convincingly plays the timid Mei Li with a comedic timing that is a successful counterpoint to her rival, the exuberant Linda Low (Tiffany Loui).
Loui is a talented dancer and actress who the audience could easily dislike if rooting for a Mei Li/Wang Ta romance. However, Loui makes Low lovable in her own right, showing her lighter side with physical comedy involving her frustration over dancing with long sleeves attached to a traditional Chinese outfit. She also shines in the number “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”
As for Wang Ta (David Armstrong) and Wang Chi Yang (Albert Park), the two play off each other well as they stubbornly try to keep their convictions. Park is especially hilarious with the vagabond sailor bit, and Armstrong convincingly delivers some of the funniest lines in the two-hour show.
If you go
What: “Flower Drum Song”
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays to June 12
Where: Theodore and Adele Shank Theatre, blackbox space with 79 seats, adjacent to La Jolla Playhouse, UCSD campus
Parking: $2 Thursdays, Fridays
Contact: (619) 940-5891 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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