DIAMOND HEAD THEATRE
Kathryn Lee is the third member of a triangle in David Henry's rewrite of "Flower Drum Song."
‘Flower Drum’ a hit second time around
Diamond Head Theatre's production of David Henry Hwang's rewrite of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song" is great musical theater.
Convincing performances by the three multitalented leads bring the central characters to life and draw us into their lives. Wil Kahele is superb in the largest secondary role, and director/choreographer Greg Zane does an excellent job in developing both the story and the glorious musical numbers.
'FLOWER DRUM SONG'
» On stage: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 4 p.m. Sundays, through April 6; 8 p.m. April 12 and 4 p.m. April 13
» Place: Diamond Head Theatre, 520 Makapuu Ave.
» Tickets: $12 to $42
» Call: 733-0274 or visit www.diamondheadtheatre.com.
To give Hwang credit where it's due, his controversial rewrite of the 1958 Broadway hit is as emotionally engaging as the original. It is also such a departure from the original that his version should be called "FDS -- The Remix."
Spoiler alert! Four important characters have been eliminated: seamstress Helen Chao, hip nightclub owner Sammy Fong, nightclub comic/emcee Frankie Wing and Wang Ta's thoroughly Americanized younger brother, Wang San. Mei Li's father dies in the first scene. Madame Liang (Wang Ta's aunt in the original version) is no longer a family member. She's a loudmouthed talent agent.
There is also a new political subtext. In the '50s, when it was customary to refer to Red China, there was no mention of Mei Li's experiences in China, or was it Hong Kong? Hwang starts the story in the People's Republic in the aftermath of Mao's disastrous Great Leap Forward. Mei Li's father is executed for defacing a copy of Mao's "Little Red Book," and she comes to America as a political refugee rather than as a picture bride.
Wang Ta, much hipper in Hwang's version, is an unwilling performer in his father's Chinese opera company, keeping the theater open by producing a Chinese-American nightclub show on the off night. The star of the show is thoroughly assimilated singer/dancer Linda Low. In the original version, Linda pretends to be interested in shy Wang Ta because she wants to make Sammy jealous; this time around, she wants nothing to do with Ta because she only dates Caucasians.
DIAMOND HEAD THEATRE
An updated "Flower Drum Song" may be a bit controversial over the original Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, but is just as appealing.
Kathryn Mariko Lee (Linda Low) sizzles -- visually and vocally -- in Zane's expansive eye-catching versions of "Fan Tan Fannie" and "I Enjoy Being a Girl." Both numbers run long and nobody's complaining! Lee plays Linda as a harder and more calculating woman than Nancy Kwan did in the iconic film version but never loses our sympathy.
Autumn Ogawa makes an incredible return to the local stage in the expanded role of Mei Li. Ogawa makes the role her own from the opening scene and goes from success to success with each subsequent appearance. Hwang's rewrite gives "Love Look Away" to Mei Li; Ogawa makes it a show stopper.
Brad Mezurashi (Wang Ta) also proves well cast as we watch him portray a young man attempting to define himself amid cultural and generational conflicts.
Wil Kahele deftly balances comedy and drama in the expanded role of Wang's father, a traditionalist who discovers that he enjoys being a Western-style entertainer even as his son is belatedly embracing tradition. Kahele's talent as a dramatic actor is well known, but he steals a scene or two with his comic skills here.
Cathy Foy-Mahi (Madame Liang) plays it well over the top as the abrasive talent agent but mellows out after intermission.
Kenji Higashihama and Cole Horibe stand out as the two characters Hwang added to the show. Horibe has a good dramatic scene as an unhappy immigrant who asks Mei Li to leave America with him. Higashihama got lots of laughs last Saturday playing a stereotypical gay costume designer.