The company of Broadway's Flower Drum Song goes into the recording studio Oct. 21 to preserve on a cast album the Rodgers and Hammerstein score of the 1958 musical that has now been reconceived with a new libretto, freshly ordered, arranged or cut songs and more.
Lea Salonga and Jose Llana, embraced for their clarion voices in the staging that opened Oct. 17 play Mei-Li and Ta, respectively, in the show about a refugee from China coming to the melting pot of San Francisco's Chinatown in 1960.
The show has been reconceived by playwright David Henry Hwang and director-choreographer Robert Longbottom to underscore the assimilation themes and tensions of the story. The reconception inlcudes the insertion of a song cut from the original staging: "My Best Love," which will be heard on the disc from DRG Records (though this is not the recording premiere).
The new disc is produced by Hugh Fordin, and co produced by music adapter/supervisor David Chase and Ted Chapin on the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. David Henry Hwang penned the liner notes for the disc.
The cast album is expected to be released Jan. 7, 2003. Flower Drum Song, now at the Virginia Theatre, originally opened at Broadway's St. James Theatre on Dec. 1, 1958. Directed by Gene Kelly and choreographed by Carol Haney, the cast featured Larry Blyden as Sammy Fong, Pat Suzuki as Linda Low, Miyoshi Umeki as Mei-Li, Juanita Hall as Madam Lian, Arabella Hong as Helen Chao and Ed Kenney as Wang Ta. It ran 600 performances. The classic score — it has more of a cult following than wide popularity — features such tunes as "Sunday," "A Hundred Million Miracles," "I Enjoy Being a Girl," Like a God," "I Am Going to Like It Here," "You Are Beautiful," "Fan Tan Fannie," "Chop Suey," "Grant Avenue" and "Love, Look Away," "Gliding Through My Memoree," "Don't Marry Me" and "The Other Generation." All but the now cut "Other Generation" will be heard on the disc. "Sunday," "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and "Love, Look Away" got airplay when vocalists such as Peggy Lee and others recorded them.
Decca recently released the film version's soundtrack on CD, and Sony had previously re-released the original cast album on disc.
The new Flower Drum Song's music adaptation and supervision are by conductor David Chase. New orchestrations are by Don Sebesky.
Salonga, the Tony-winning star of Miss Saigon, plays Mei-Li, a Chinese immigrant who arrives in San Francisco. In a recent interview for Playbill On-Line, Salonga spoke about her character: "Her name is Mei-Li, and she is an illegal Chinese immigrant, having been shipped in a crate from China, and she finds herself in San Francisco, finds herself sort of adopted by this family in a Chinese opera theatre/night club. She falls in love with Ta, and basically everybody takes her under their wing, but a lot of things happen that burst her bubble and her ideal picture about what America is. She does have to struggle a little bit and comes to who she is at the end of the show, and she comes to that place on her own terms."
Ta, Mei-Li's love interest in the musical, is being portrayed by Jose Llana, who starred in the Broadway companies of Rent, Street Corner Symphony and The King and I.
The cast includes Randall Duk Kim (Master Wang), Jodi Long (Madame Liang), Sandra Allen (Linda Low), Alvin Ing (Chin), Allen Liu (Harvard), Hoon Lee (Chao) and Ma-Anne Dionisio (Little Girl). The ensemble comprises Susan Ancheta, Raul Aranas, Rich Ceraulo, Eric Chan, Marcus Choi, Emily Hsu, Telly Leung, J. Elaine Marcos, Daniel May, Marc Oka, Lainie Sakakura, Yuka Takara, Robert Tatad, Kim Varhola and Ericka Yang.
The new staging's creative team also includes Robin Wagner (sets), Gregg Barnes (costumes), Natasha Katz (lighting), ACME Sound Partners (sound), Don Sebesky (orchestrations), Seymour Red Press (musical coordinator), David Brian Brown (hair), Perry Cline (production stage manager), Tom Kosis (associate director), Darlene Wilson (associate choreographer) and Jamie H. J. Guan (Chinese Opera consultant).
Hwang told Playbill On-Line: "Flower Drum Song has been a landmark event for Asian-Americans in each of its incarnations. The novel by C. Y. Lee was the first novel by a Chinese-American to be published by a major publishing house and the first to become a best-seller. The Broadway musical was the first to feature and star Asian Americans, and the 1961 movie was also the first Hollywood movie to do so, and it was not repeated until 1993 when The Joy Luck Club was released, so we consider this to be a very precious legacy. We're all thrilled to be entrusted with this legacy, and we hope we do well by it."
The Virginia Theatre is at 245 West 52nd Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. Beginning Oct. 22, performances are Tuesdays through Saturdays at 8 PM, with matinees Wednesdays and Saturdays at 2 PM and Sundays at 3 PM. Tickets, priced between $65 and $95, are available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200.
This revised version of Flower Drum Song premiered at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum to much acclaim.