David Henry Hwang's heavily revised version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song starring Tony Award winner Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) as a new immigrant to America, opens its premiere production at Los Angeles' Mark Taper Forum Oct. 14. The classic, but rarely revived musical about the Asian experience in America began Oct. 2 for a run through Dec. 2. Robert Longbottom (Side Show, The Scarlet Pimpernel) directs and choreographs.
Jose Llana, last seen at L.A.'s Ahmanson Theatre as the villainous Guillaume in Martin Guerre, romances Salonga in the revised Flower Drum Song. Llana most recently appeared on Broadway as Angel in Rent. Other credits include The King and I (Lun Tha, recent revival cast), The Ballad of Little Jo, Saturn Returns and New York Shakespeare Festival's On the Town in Central Park.
Salonga made her mark as Kim, the Vietnamese prostitute who falls in love with an American solider during the Vietnam War, winning herself an Olivier and Tony Award for Best Actress. She reprised the role on Broadway twice, including the final months of the ten-year run. Other credits include Les Miserables, My Fair Lady, Into the Woods and They're Playing Our Song.
Salonga recently lent her voice to another musical about the Asian immigrant experience in America, Welly Wang-Brian Yorkey-Woody Pak's Making Tracks. She and Hwang (Golden Child, M. Butterfly) worked on a benefit performance of the new musical in May.
Los Angeles' Ahmanson Theatre had had to pull their planned production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song in December 2000 when funds couldn't be raised to mount the show on the cavernous Center Group main stage. The Mark Taper Forum, the Group's smaller venue, stepped in to save the Hwang revision, adding it to their 2001-02 season. Flower Drum Song is the story of Asians living in San Francisco's world-famous Chinatown, as some of the new Americans attempt to assimilate amid prejudice from the anglo and Chinese worlds. Linda Low, the nightclub singer, is committed to the club's owner Sammy Fong, but her eyes wander to handsome Wang Ta, when Fong won't marry her. Meanwhile, Communist Chinese picture bride Mei Li (Salonga) travels to the United States in a crate, avoiding immigration's quota on Chinese immigrants and hoping to find a husband before she's deported. Instead, she finds true love. In Hwang's version, the story is set in a Chinese opera company, where a cultural battle rages between that traditional art and a successful Western nightclub run by the opera owner's son.
Flower Drum Song features the tunes "A Hundred Million Miracles," "I Enjoy Being a Girl," "I Am Going to Like It Here," "Chop Suey," "Grand Avenue" and "Love, Look Away." Two songs from the original production, "The Other Generation" and "Sunday" have been cut, while "The Next Time It Happens" from Pipe Dream was added. A film version of Flower Drum Song was made in 1961, featuring Nancy Kwan ("The World of Suzy Wong"), James Shigeta and Jack Soo ("Barney Miller").
Also in the cast are Sandra Allen, Charlene Carabeo, Rich Ceraulo, Eric Chan, Marcus Choi, Michael Dow, Vivien Eng, Alvin Ing, Thomas C. Kouo, Keri Lee, Allen Liu, Jodi Long, Tzi Ma, Blythe Matsui, Marc Oka, Robert Pendilla, Chloe Stewart, Kim Varhola and Christine Yasunaga.
Tickets can be purchased by calling (213) 628-2772. The Mark Taper Forum is located at 135 N. Grand Ave. and on the web at http://www.taperahmanson.com.