Flower Drum Song
Music by Richard Rodgers Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II

Dates and Venue 28 May – 14 June 2009 | Waterfront Theatre, Granville Island

Director Rick Tae Musical Director Christopher King Choreographer Raphael Wong Set Design Janice Chiu Lighting Darren Hales Costume Design Joyce Chung & Jeannine Sheares-Moon Stage Manager Joanna Lui

Performed in English with Mandarin surtitles

Reviewer John Jane

I was relieved, perhaps even jubilant to find that the Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre (VACT) was mounting the original version of Flower Drum Song by Oscar Hammerstein II and Joseph Fields, preferring it to the darker re-scripted book by David Henry Hwang. True, the genuine article does show its age, but nonetheless, it still retains much of its naïve charm as it exaggerates the difficulties of growing up in the western world, while being raised by traditional Chinese parents. The result is that the audience doesn’t just get to laugh but also ponder their own family dynamic.

Director Rick Tae has pulled together a most vivid production, as enjoyable as any presentation of this musical comedy I have seen. Helped by a hard-working cast of emerging talent, Tae successfully integrates Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wonderful score with rueful humour that is both heart-warming and funny.

The show kicks off with a lively street scene In the bustling Chinatown section of San Francisco. Mei Li has just arrived from China with her father to fulfill their part of an arranged marriage with nightclub owner Sammy Fong. Sammy considers himself to be too sophisticated for the demure newcomer; he prefers instead the sassy Linda Low. He senses that Mei Li would be a better match for Wang Ta and if he can work some kind of a deal with Ta’s traditional father, he’ll be “off the hook.”

From the outstanding cast of performers, individual performances range from competent to superb. Standout performances come from the charismatic Jimmy Yi, who looks like a young Jackie Chan, and gorgeous Lannette New. Yi just about steals every scene he is in as the wheelin’-n-dealin’ entrepreneur and Ms New reveals flawless comic timing as well as some accomplished dance moves in her role of the coquettish Linda Low. Her voice was a little under-powered, but she still managed to do justice to the show’s best known song, “I Enjoy Being a Girl.”

The other two leading performers, Isaac Kwok and Rosie Simon as Wang Ta and Mei Li have the most to do and work hard to get the good-humoured audience on their side. They largely succeed - especially Ms Simon who gives an audacious performance as the winsome ‘picture-bride’ (a fore-runner of a ‘mail-order bride’ negotiated by the parents). Her duet with Jimmy Yi of “Don’t Marry Me” is a comic highlight.

Among the supporting cast, Linda Leong Sum is a delightful Madame Liang showing a natural flair for physical comedy. Veteran actor and former City Counciller B.C. Lee cheerfully accepts that his character of the traditional father figure who refuses to assimilate is the target of much of the show’s irreverent humour and plays it to the hilt.

Jeannine Sheares-Moon and Joyce Chung’s western clothing seem to be fashionably accurate for what I recall of the fifties, while their Chinese costumes are beautifully characteristic of time and place and generally add quality to the production. On the downside, the international themed headwear precariously balanced on the heads of chorus members appear to be awkward and over-elaborate.

Overlooking the action onstage is the polished five piece band; always visible to the audience on a temporarily constructed balcony that doubled as the Golden Gate bridge.

The production boasts an entire Asian cast and crew, but the opening night audience was made up all sections of the Vancouver theatre-going community. Which proves that good musical theatre, well performed can be universally enjoyed by all cultures and age groups.

© 2009 John Jane