The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization is inviting producers to an Oct. 5 industry-only reading of the developing, revised script of Flower Drum Song, which draws on the 1958 R&H musical about romance among Chinese immigrants and Chinese-Americans in San Francisco.
Bert Fink, spokesman for the family-owned company that protects and promotes the works of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and others, confirmed that the organization is backing this latest reading of the script by David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly), directed by Robert Longbottom (The Scarlet Pimpernel, Side Show).
This new reading is expected to use a script revised since a May 27 reading. That earlier reading, which had the backing of Jujamcyn Theatres (a past supporter of Hwang) and R&H, was intended to show the rights holders and Hwang and Longbottom how the new conception played, and what direction they should continue in.
The new reading is a pledge of faith from R&H, which is now inviting money people to gauge interest.
While most of the Rodgers and Hammerstein score is expected to be intact, if rearranged or reassigned to new characters, elements of the story were reconsidered and altered for the May reading, according to insiders. Elements of Chinese opera were incorporated into the script (immigrant Mei Li is now an apprentice in an opera company) and the older-generation parent figures have been reconceived.
Fink would not speak to changes made in the script, wishing to be as sensitive as possible to Hwang and Longbottom's exploratory process.
"This is the next step in what could be a very long or very short process [toward a production]," Fink told Playbill On-Line.
The reading cast includes Miss Saigon's Rona Figueroa (Mei-Li), Sala Iwamatsu (Linda), Timothy Ford Murphy (Ta), Luoyong Wang (Wang), Kati Kuroda (Madame Liang), Randy Reyes (Harvard), Ming Lee (Chin) and Tess Lina (Narrator), with Emy Baysic, Charlene Carabeo, Ann Harada, Teresa Mui-Carpio, Chloe Stewart, Melanie Mariko Tojio, Kim Varhola, Benjamin Bryant, Rich Ceraulo, John Haggerty, Thomas C. Kuoo, George Teroy and Todd Zamarripa.
The original libretto was co-written by Hammerstein and Joseph Fields, based on C.Y. Lee's novel (called "The Flower Drum Song") about the commingling of Americanized Chinese and recent immigrants in 1950s Chinatown, in San Francisco. The score includes R&H standards "Sunday," "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and "Love, Look Away."
"Flower Drum Song clearly has a dynamite score," said Fink, but because it is "ethnic specific" and should be cast that way, it is not often produced.
The powers that be at the R&H Organization welcomed the chance to reapproach the material from the perspective of Hwang, the country's leading Asian-American playwright.
Hwang approached R&H's James Hammerstein, Mary Rodgers and Theodore S. Chapin several years ago about the idea.
Hwang went back to the original C.Y. Lee novel for material and inspiration and has consulted Lee. Fink said Hwang, whose M. Butterfly earned a Best Play Tony Award in 1988, has always been fascinated by the musical comedy, written by caucasian showmen whose love for racial themes and Asian people is evident in South Pacific and The King and I.
In 1998, Hwang told Playbill On-Line there are "a lot of wonderful things about the musical and some things that are outdated. I'm just happy to have the opportunity."
"We want them to have the freedom and room to explore" the material, Fink said.
Flower Drum Song tells the story of nightclub owner Sammy Fong, set to marry Mei Li (fresh from China), but in love with Linda Low, a dancer in his club. It opened at Broadway's St. James Theatre Dec. 1, 1958, and ran 600 performances under the direction of Gene Kelly. The cast included Miyoshi Umeki and Pat Suzuki. A film version was produced in 1961.
Hwang's Golden Child was nominated for a Tony Award as Best Play in 1998.
On May 18, 1999, Sony Legacy re-released the digitally-remastered Columbia Broadway Masterworks cast album of Flower Drum Song on CD.
The score includes "A Hundred Million Miracles," "The Other Generation," "Grant Avenue," "Don't Marry Me," "Like a God," "Chop Suey," "You Are Beautiful" and "I Am Going to Like It Here."