Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles confirmed April 14 that it will produce the revisal of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, rewritten by David Henry Hwang, in its 2000-2001 season.
Variety reported plans for the production before the Ahmanson in Los Angeles officially announced its coming season. The five-show season will include a remount of the recent Broadway revival of Death of a Salesman, with Brian Dennehy and tours of Swing!, Contact and a new staging of Romeo and Juliet directed by Peter Hall.
Previews for the San Francisco-set Flower Drum Song, "adapted" by David Henry Hwang and drawing on the 1958 Broadway musical, with book by Hammerstein and Joseph Fields, begin April 29, 2001. Official opening is May 13, with performances continuing to June 24.
Director-choreographer Robert Longbottom, who has been shepherding the developing revision in New York City readings and workshops, will stage the show. He previously directed Broadway's Side Show and The Scarlet Pimpernel.
The musical begat a number of remembered songs ("Love, Look Away," "I Enjoy Being a Girl" and "Sunday") and told the story of newly-arrived Chinese commingling with Americanized Chinese-Americans in San Francisco's Chinatown. The show is based in the novel, "The Flower Drum Song," by C.Y. Lee. "Flower Drum Song clearly has a dynamite score," R&H spokesman Bert Fink previously told Playbill On-Line, 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 (Golden Child, M. Butterfly).
Hwang approached R&H's James Hammerstein, Mary Rodgers and Theodore S. Chapin several years ago about the idea.
Hwang reportedly 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 Flower Drum Son, 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In 1998, Hwang told Playbill On-Line there are "a lot of wonderful things about the musical and some things that are outdated.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."
The production will be produced by Center Theatre Group and co-produced by Benjamin Mordecai and Tony Petito. Although it was not announced, the show is expected to have a life at Los Angeles if response is positive.
Hammerstein and Fields still get book credit, with Tony Award-winner Hwang getting an "adapted by" billing.
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.
The score also 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."
Most of the Rodgers and Hammerstein score is expected to be intact, if rearranged or reassigned to new characters, as it was in the May and October 1999 presentations.
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.
In 1999, R&H's Fink would not speak to changes made in the script, wishing to be as sensitive as possible to Hwang and Longbottom's exploratory process.
In fall 1999, The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization invited producers to an Oct. 5 industry-only reading of the developing, revised script of Flower Drum Song.
The family-owned company that protects and promotes the works of Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II and others, backed that reading. Longbottom directed, using a script revised since a May 27, 1999, presentation. That earlier reading, which had the backing of Jujamcyn Theaters (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 in what direction they should continue.
The October 1999 reading was a pledge of faith from the folks at R&H, who invited money people to gauge interest.
According to the April 7 Variety story, a September 2000 workshop is expected prior to any full production at the Ahmanson.
The October 1999 reading cast included 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.
On May 18, 1999, Sony Legacy re-released the digitally remastered Columbia Broadway Masterworks cast album of Flower Drum Song on CD.
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