The new Flower Drum Song has the rich score and full heart of the original arrayed on a brand new, highly streamlined structure that today’s Broadway expects. And, it has the talents of Lea Salonga and Jose Llana in the central roles of young lovers. Henry David Hwang wrote an entirely new script that uses Rodgers and Hammerstein’s songs to tell a somewhat different story than the 1958 original. It still is the story of the Chinese immigrants in San Francisco’s China Town around 1960, but it is less a story of generational conflict and more an examination of cultural adjustment with a concentration on how the value of heritage can survive assimilation. True to the spirit of its source, Hwang’s script has both young lovers delivering a line in different scenes that "to create something new you must first love what is old." Hwang must have loved the original Flower Drum Song in order to create this new one.
Storyline: A young woman emigrates from China, where her father has been killed by the Communist regime, to San Francisco where her father’s old friend operates a failing Chinese Opera theater kept afloat only by the relative success of his son’s one-night a week use of the theater to present nightclub acts. The young woman falls for the son but he only has eyes for a nightclub singer.
Salonga makes an eagerly awaited return to Broadway where she created the role of Kim in Miss Saigon. She doesn’t disappoint. Her ability to carry a scene and communicate a great deal in a small gesture is well used as her story is the central one of the new script. Her big second act number – "Love, Look Away" – fills the hall with her soaring voice. But the very next number rises to match it when Llana unleashes an overpoweringly impressive "Like a God."
Long before these second act highlights, however, the show takes on the feel of a substantial hit as the first act gets up to speed. Sandra Allen first sparks that feeling when, in the role of the nightclub singer, she struts her stuff in "I Enjoy Being a Girl." Salonga and Llana take it up a notch with "You Are Beautiful" and two big production numbers "Grant Avenue" and "Fan Tan Fannie" carry it right on through until Randall Duk Kim sells the acts’ finale. With each number, there is a murmur of recognition from an audience already familiar with the score from the original.
Director/Choreographer Robert Longbottom’s work hits just the right notes most of the time. He has a few lapses, like the awkward choreography that mars the first few minutes of the opening number. But then he moves right on to create some striking dance moves using simple bamboo sticks. Later he makes the snapping sound of opening silk fans the oriental equivalent of tap dancing. Robin Wagner’s Chinese Gate of a set puts David Chase’s fabulously jazzy band right up on stage for the nightclub sequences and Natasha Katz creates some striking images with her lighting, many of which are better when viewed from the mezzanine than downstairs in the orchestra section.
Music by Richard Rodgers. Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Book by David Henry Hwang. Directed and choreographed by Robert Longbottom. Music adaptation and supervision by David Chase. Orchestrations Don Sebesky. Design: Robin Wagner (set) Gregg Barnes (costumes) Natasha Katz (lights) Acme Sound Partners (sound). Cast: Lea Salonga, Jose Llana, Sandra Allen, Randall Duk Kim, Jodi Long, Alvin Ing, Allen Liu, Hoon Lee, Mark Oka.
245 West 52nd Street
Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Book by David Henry Hwang
Running time 2 hours 40 minutes
Price range $65 - $95
Potomac Stages Broadway
Flower Drum Song