Chinese Hell, Robert Lee and Leon Ko's new musical about the Asian- American experience in America, has a patron in San Francisco's American Conservatory Theatre. The company has commissioned and will develop the show with a $25,000 grant from AT&T's FirstStage program.
Examining the Asian American experience in song has become popular of late on the West Coast, with a major revival of Flower Drum Song and the new tuners Making Tracks and Lee and Ko'sHeading East, currently touring California. Chinese Hell looks at a Chinese family made up of immigrants and their children, raised entirely in America. One of the latter, a young gay man, finds himself in the Chinese underworld and must choose between redemption and personal fulfillment.
Ko and Lee have collaborated three times: on Lisa With an S — A Musical Travesty, Journey to the West and Heading East, a commission for California's sesquicentennial. Los Angeles' East West Players produced that show in 1998 before it went on to be performed at the National Alliance of Musical Theater's Festival of New Works in 1999 and recorded on DINK Records.
Ko also composed three other musicals, 80-Yard Run, Apocrypha and Snooze, as well as numerous pop songs for Hong Kong singers and the theme music for a new Chinese TV series. Librettist and lyricist Lee also wrote lyrics to the musical The Sweet By and By, workshopped at NYU's CAP 21 and Tennessee Repertory Theatre.
Other theatres receiving AT& T grants for new musicals and new plays include The Children's Theatre Company of Minneapolis, Classic Stage Company, The Coterie Theatre, Geva Theatre, the Magic Theatre, Perserverance Theatre and the Joseph Papp Public Theatre/New York Shakespeare Festival. New play recipients received $10,000. American Conservatory Theatre is located at 415 Geary Street. American Conservatory Theatre is on the web at www.act-sfbay.org.
— By Christine Ehren