The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization has confirmed that the rights holders of the seldom-produced musical, Flower Drum Song, will hear the first draft of David Henry Hwang's revision of the 1958 R&H tuner May 27 in a private New York City reading directed by Robert Longbottom.
Jujamcyn Theaters and the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization put up the money to allow playwright Hwang, who has been a fan of the show for years, to explore the material in this initial reading, during which actors will present the new script and the songs. Director Robert Longbottom staged Broadway's Side Show.
The original libretto was co-written by Hammerstein and Joseph Fields, based on C.Y. Lee's novel of 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 R&H spokesman Bert 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, the private partnership that maintains and promotes properties written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and others, welcomed the chance to reapproach the material from the perspective of Hwang (M. Butterfly), the country's leading Asian-American playwright. Hwang approached R&H's James Hammerstein, Mary Rodgers and Theodore S. Chapin several years ago. After the small, closed, private reading at the Juilliard School May 27, the partners at R&H will decide "what to do next," Fink said.
Jamie Hammerstein died of a heart attack earlier this year.
"This is the first time the rights holders will experience the [new] script in any form," Fink said, adding that this was the "very, very beginning of the process," reminding that the gestation period for musicals can be many years.
The Jujamcyn seed money does not guarantee a Jujamcyn production, Fink said, stressing the embryonic nature of the project.
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In 1998, Hwang told Playbill On-Line there are "a lot of wonderful things about the musical and some things that are outdated.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, Sony Legacy re-released the digitally-remastered Columbia Broadway Masterworks cast album of Flower Drum Song on CD.