Rodgers & Hart's obscure Chee-Chee, an Asian-set musical tale of a son who doesn't want to go into his father's business — the business of being a eunuch — gets a concert revival by Musicals Tonight! Nov. 12-24 in Manhattan.
The score by Rodgers and Hart, from 1928, includes not one song that would become a hit (as so many songs from lesser-known R&H show did), though "Singing a Love Song," "Moon of My Delight" and "I Must Love You" are known to fans of the Ben Bagley series of recordings of obscure show tunes. Chee-Chee had a tryout in Philadelphia and played only a month in New York City. The libretto was by Herbert Fields, based on Charles Petit's novel, "The Son of the Grand Eunuch."
Along with She's My Baby and Present Arms, Chee-Chee was one of three shows by Rodgers and Hart that opened on Broadway in 1928 (and they were working on Spring is Here, which began its tryout in February 1929).
The original cast of the bizarrely-plotted show included Helen Ford (who starred), Stark Patterson, Betty Starbuck, George Hassell, William Williams, George Huston and Philip Loeb.
The 2003 cast is much more in tune with modern casting and uses a multi-ethnic, Asian-specific troupe, including Kati Kuroda as the strong-willed Chinese eunuch father who wants his son (played by Steven Eng) to follow in his footsteps (the father became the king's grand eunuch after fathering a son and daughter). The son is very much in love with his wife (Diane Phelan) and wants his life to remain — how shall we say? — intact. The king's son (Doug Wynn), meanwhile, is in love with the eunuch's daughter (Hazel Ann Raymundo), a would-be concubine. The fleeing son and daughter-in-law are confronted by The Chief of the Tartars (Jerry Rago) and the Konghouse leader (Colin Stokes). In order to avoid their wrath, the wife offers herself to them. "Even the seemingly ineffectual Grand Prior (Alan Ariano) and the inoffensive Bonze (Yasu Suzuki) are attracted to our fleeing heroine," according to the complicated and drily comic announcement from Musicals Tonight! producer Mel Miller, a latter-day Ben Bagley who delights in the delicious arcana of shows he revisits on a shoestring budget. The cast also includes Rose Bae, Naomi Kayashi, Kiyoko McCrae, Susan Saladino, Miguel Angel, Jason Lowenthal and Jason Robinson.
In preparing for this concert, Miller found that the orchestra charts existed, but there was no piano-vocal score (Musicals Tonight! is a piano-and-voice operation). With the help of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, a piano-vocal score was created by James Stenborg for Musicals Tonight! and for future use.
Thomas Mills directs, James Stenborg musical directs. Performances are at the 14th Street YMHA, 344 W. 14th Street, in Manhattan. Tickets are $19. For reservations and information, call (212) 362-5620.
Musical numbers in Chee-Chee include "I'll Never Share You," "Dear, Oh Dear," "Await Your Love," "I Wake at Morning," "Her Hair is Black as Licorice," "I Grovel to the Earth," "Just a Little Thing," "You Are Both Agreed," "Owl Song," "I Bow a Glad Good Day," "Better Be Good to Me," "The Tartar Song," "Khonghouse Song," "Sleep, Weary Head," "Thank you in Advance," "I Grovel to Your Cloth" and "Oh, Gala Day, Red Letter Day."