Broadway‘s “The Phantom of the Opera” will get its first Asian-AmericanChristine when its new principle cast takes stage on June 13.
Ali Ewoldt, whose mother is from the Philippines, will play the female lead in the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Ewoldt previously starred in Broadway’s “Les Miserables,” and in national tours of “The King And I” and “West Side Story.”
“Phantom,” the longest-running musical on Broadway, will also see its first African-American Raoul: actor Jordan Donica, who will also begin performing on the 13.
Lea Salonga broke the news on Facebook that she would be appearing in the season finale of the CW‘s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. And of course, how could a Tony Award-winner join a musical show without singing? Don’t worry- her musical talents will be utilized.
Salonga wrote, “I guess the news is out!!! I’ll be appearing on the season finale of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend! And singing, too! How fun is that?!”
No word yet on which role Salonga will be playing.
David Bowie, who died this week, was a well-known Japanophile, adopting many elements of Japanese culture into his stage performances.
“He was someone who knew how to express himself both with music and with fashion,” Japanese designer Kansai Yamamoto told the BBC.
“Someone like that may not be so rare these days, but he was one of the pioneers to do both.”
Mr Yamamoto, the creative force behind some of Bowie’s most iconic stage outfits, first got to know Bowie in the 1970s, when the singer was often visiting Japan, and trying to break into the US market.
“I don’t know why he was so attracted to things Japanese, but perhaps it wasn’t so much Japan or Japanese-ness itself. He knew when he looked good in something.
“When you wear something and you look really good… you feel confident and good about yourself. I think my designs and costumes had that effect on him.”
Helene Thian, a fashion historian and lifelong fan who has written extensively about Bowie, agreed. She said Bowie had often been noted as having had “this beautiful androgynous face and body, which suited Kansai Yamamoto’s unisex style”.
Bowie’s Japanese style had already been developing through his interest in Japanese theatre.
In the mid-1960s, he studied dance with Lindsay Kemp, a British performance and mime artist who was heavily influenced by the traditional kabuki style, with its exaggerated gestures, elaborate costumes, striking make-up, and “onnagata” actors – men playing female roles.
Bowie was a natural “shapeshifter“, says Ms Thian, and his training with Kemp and onnagata style helped him as he explored ideas of masculinity, exoticism and alienation.
He even learned from famed onnagataTamasaburo Bando how to apply traditional kabuki make-up – its bold highlighted features on a white background are evident in the lightning bolt across the Ziggy face.
“It wasn’t trying to be literal interpretation” of onnagata, said Ms Thian, “but rather inspired by its gender-bending androgyny. That’s what makes it so powerful, it’s more evocative.”
‘Quick change’ master
Mr Yamamoto said he wasn’t sure why he and Bowie had such an affinity, but that “something resonated between us, something that went beyond nationalities, beyond gender“.
Through his style and performances, he said, Bowie “broke one sexual taboo after another“.
“What he did in terms of bridging the male-female gap continues to this day,” he said, including in the increasing acceptance of gay relationships in Japan.
Among his most famous outfits for Bowie was Space Samurai, a black, red and blue outfit adapting the hakama, a type of loose trousers which samurais wore and which are still worn by martial arts practitioners.
He also sometimes wore a kimono-inspired cape with traditional Japanese characters on it which spell out his name phonetically, but also translate to “fiery vomiting and venting in a menacing manner“.
Ms Thian says Bowie was also “absolutely the first” Western artist to employ the hayagawari – literally “quick change” – technique from kabuki, says Ms Thian, with unseen stagehands ripping off the dramatic cape on stage to reveal another outfit.
‘A very beautiful man’
It wasn’t just his appearance – references to Japan are scattered through Bowie’s music – his 1977 album Heroes even features the track Moss Garden on which he plays a Japanese koto, a kind of zither.
These days, an artist in Bowie’s position might be accused of cultural appropriation – stealing another culture for his own purposes – but Ms Thian says it was never seen that way in Japan.
“Bowie was born to be the ultimate diplomat and artiste,” she says.
“He took his creativity and fused it with his impulses to meld East and West and come up with a healing of the world in this post-war period.”
This was “a homage to Japanese culture and the Japanese loved it“, she said, as Bowie challenged the tendency of Western fashion at the time to lump all Asian styles together as “Orientalism“.
Indeed, Japan embraced Bowie back, and he remains an icon there, with his glam rock style influencing generations of bands and musicians.
Renowned rock guitarist Hotei Tomayasu, best known outside Japan for composing the theme for Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Billfilms, told the BBC: “[Bowie] is the one who truly changed my life. My eternal hero and inspiration.”
Bowie is also known in Japan for his role as Maj Jack Celliers in the 1983 iconic film Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, directed by the renowned Nagisa Oshima.
The film, set during World War Two in a Japanese camp for prisoners, pits Bowie’s character and another soldier against two Japanese officers, one of whom is played by the famous musician Ryuichi Sakamoto.
On Twitter, Sakamoto’s ex-wife Akiko Yano recalled how Bowie carried their young daughter – Miu – on his shoulders when the family visited the Roppongi neighborhood in Tokyo with Bowie in the 1980s.
Miu Sakamoto tweeted this picture of herself as a little girl shaking hands with the singer, saying she vaguely recalled meeting “a very beautiful man“.
“(He is) no more. A world in which David is not living still feels totally unreal.“
NY Daily News: (by Andy Mai, Greg B. Smith, Joe Smith, Joe Dziemianowicz, Josepht Stepansky)
A Tony award-winning playwright was slashed in the neck in an apparently random attack near his Brooklyn home, police said Wednesday.
David Henry Hwang, who brought home the trophy for his 1988 play “M. Butterfly,” was walking on S. Oxford Ave. near Lafayette Ave. in Fort Greene when an unknown attacker slashed his neck, police said.
The 57-year-old writer told police he felt pain and then noticed he was bleeding before walking to a hospital. He was treated and released.
“Thanks to the excellent work of the doctors at Brooklyn Hospital and Mount Sinai, I’m now home and expected to make a full recovery,” Hwanh told the Daily News.
The attacker was at large.
A woman who answered the door at Hwang’s home Wednesday night said the prolific scribe is “doing fine.”
Hwang could be seen behind her wearing a bandage that stretched around his neck.
Currently a professor at Columbia University, Hwang’s works have predominantly explored themes related to his Asian-American heritage.
His 2011 work “Chinglish” was written in both English and Mandarin, with accompanying subtitles.
The Broadway aficionado’s most famous piece, “M. Butterfly,” for which he was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, told the true story of French diplomat who had an affair with a woman who sang in the Beijing Opera.
The protagonist later discovers the singer is actually a Chinese spy — and a man.
There are at least 10 reasons you ought to go see the new production of Banana Boysthat opened at the Factory Theatre Studio Theatre on Thursday night. Since the venue is small (100 seats) and the run short (until Nov. 22), I suggest you plan to see it right away. Here’s why:
Leon Aureus’s adaptation of the game-changing Terry Woo novel about the lives of five Asian Canadians still has all the punch it ever did. Maybe even more so, as people today assimilate externally while their internal workings remain truer to their origins than ever. The end of each act may still seem a bit repetitious, but the overall effect is powerful.
I’ve been pretty tough on Nina Lee Aquino in recent years, but her direction of Banana Boys shows her at her best. She’s totally connected to the material, gets great performances out of her cast and stages it in a really imaginative way. It looks very 2015, which is just the right idea.
He plays Sheldon Kwan, the guy who’s says he’s willing to give up everything for the right girl but proves better at dumping them than keeping them. Warm-hearted, but kind of soft-headed, Gamotin has all the right feelings but all the wrong moves. A really touching job.
Gin has one of the toughest jobs, playing the author surrogate who grudgingly goes into medicine to keep his parents happy when he’d rather be an author. He looks like the preppiest of all the guys, but there’s some truly dark stuff bubbling underneath. He’s a multi-level performer.
The character of Dave Lowe is the hardest to take in the play: sexist, racist, horribly violent and always in your face. Here’s the surprise, Koomsatira makes us understand and empathize with him without softening any of the hard edges. Frightening but magnetic.
It’s Rick Wong’s funeral that frames the play. No spoiler here, you see his body as soon as you enter the theatre. Wong is the most seemingly successful one but driven by unspeakable demons. Liu lets us see the man’s power as well as his pain. A great juggling act.
Luke Yeung is one of those Peter Pan boys who never commit and never grow up. Nozuka is perfect in the role, as charmingly playful as a puppy, but just as mischievous as well. Nozuka delivers all that with style but lifts the curtain to let us see the emptiness inside as well. He’s a fine young actor.
This is part of the “Naked Season” at Factory, where physical trappings aren’t supposed to matter a lot. It may not work on some shows, but it’s perfect here. The uncredited costumes are perfect (especially Nozuka’s Power Rangers T-shirt), the simple set is versatile and Jennifer Lennon’s lighting is flashy or subtle as needed.
This is a very funny show and very touching as well, but you’re going to walk away remembering the anger. Every one of the cast has at least one major eruption of long-hidden rage, all related to issues of racism that have been ignored or repressed. It’s a powerful and frightening message.
I attended the final preview, which was packed, enthusiastic and heavily weighted toward the under-30 crowd. Those qualities are so seldom visible in Toronto theatres that you have to cheer when you see it happening. If you feel like you don’t belong at most plays in the city, try this one out.
By Leon Aureus. Directed by Nina Lee Aquino. Until Nov. 22 at the Factory Theatre Studio, 125 Bathurst St. factorytheatre.ca or 416-504-9971
When a flyer advertising The New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players‘ December production of W. S. Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan‘sThe Mikado — featuring four Caucasian actors portraying Japanese characters in the classic Gilbert and Sullivan opera — was sent out to theatergoers, members of the Asian community took offense.
Playwright and blogger Leah Nanako Winkler was among the first to speak up, posting (from memory, not directly quoting) her conversation with NYGASP artistic director Albert Bergeret, in which he explained that out of the approximately 40 members of the company, only two actors are of Asian descent.
Erin Quill, a former Christmas Eve in Broadway’s Avenue Q who bills herself as “The Fairy Princess” on her Fairy Princess Diaries blog, also responded to the planned production, stating that when she saw the NYGASP’s last production of The Mikado, it was not “historically accurate” in its presentation and that Gilbert “wanted the representation of Japanese people to be respectful and elegant.”
Instead, Quill said that artistic director Bergeret added a character called The Axe Coolie (“coolie” is a term used to refer to Chinese workers at one time in America, yet the show is set in Japan), a small female child who ran around the stage dressed as a male Asian shouting “High Ya.”
She told Playbill.com that while some actors in that production were “just in a costume and doing their track, others were taking special delight and making a large effort to use stereotypical behavior. There was pulling of the eyes, there was shuffling of feet, there were exaggerated gestures in many regards, but when one cast member both pulled his eyes and gnashed his teeth — it was clear that this production had nothing to do with Gilbert and Sullivan any longer, it was an excuse to indulge in caricature that was degrading and hurtful.”
She concluded that the company “played The Mikado for cheap laughs at the expense of Japanese Heritage.”
Since both posts began circulating the Internet, New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players pulled the season brochure post on their page and issued statements explaining that they have taken in the “constructive criticism” and are meeting on how to proceed with the production.
David Wannen, the executive director of NYGASP, explained to Playbill.com via phone that the actress on the cover of the brochure (who has asked to remain nameless) is of Asian descent and that the Caucasian actors inside the brochure are not “manipulating” their facial features to appear Asian (therefore, they are technically not painted in Yellowface, a form of theatrical makeup used to represent an East Asian person).
According to the company’s casting policy, “Qualified singers of all ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities are encouraged to audition in all appropriate categories. There are no ethnically specific roles in Gilbert & Sullivan.”
While the company has held various auditions over the last five years, they said it would be “hard” to get a “demographic percentage of how many actors of Asian descent audition, and of those how many are cast.” Regardless of race or culture, the company casts “based on merit alone, and how that merit fits into the needs of a repertory company.”
In a statement issued to Playbill.com, NYGASP explained, “The original plans for the production have been worked on by an independent committee of the board who scanned The Mikado for offensive material and practice. It was determined that the practice of Yellowface makeup — using make up to appear Asian — was the most offensive practice brought to light by the Asian-American community. As part of a policy that is generally outlined by the statement on the website, we agreed to instruct the cast to avoid this practice specifically. Makeup that was appropriate for the stage without the manipulation of features or complexion. We also agreed to go ahead with the wigs and costumes of our traditional production. Obviously, from the reaction to images on our promotional material, this distinction was not able to be seen and was not satisfying to this community.
“We are listening to the response we have received. The Executive Committee of the Board is meeting to discuss a strategy and policy going forward. We have taken this issue extremely seriously since the outcry last summer (2014) and remain committed to doing so.”
On the company’s Tumblr page, they addressed the community’s concerns, stating, “We have attempted to keep the satire in our production of The Mikado as true to the original intent as possible; that is, using the fictional Japanese town of Titipu as the setting for satirizing the very real people of Victorian England.”
They added that, in terms of casting for the company’s repertory nature, “There is no separate casting for parts in specific plays. NYGASP cast members are G&S specialists who must be able to play Japanese villagers in The Mikado one day, British sailors in H.M.S. Pinafore the next day and Venetians in The Gondoliers the day after that. The music, the libretti, the stage direction, the singers’ interpretations, the sets, the costumes and the staging must all combine to create the belief that each actor indeed becomes multiple different characters across the spectrum of Gilbert and Sullivan’s imaginative works.
“NYGASP exists to nurture the living legacy of Gilbert and Sullivan – not to preserve the past unthinkingly, but to show how much G&S can still teach us about the foibles of human nature that are both geographically universal and timeless. We believe passionately that these enduringly entertaining works of 19th Century England – of which The Mikado is the best known – continue to speak to every generation that watches and listens with an open heart.”
By email, Quill added, “No Asian American disputes that The Mikado is a staple of the G&S canon, nor that the music is lovely. The Mikado, in mocking British mores of the time, says many things about being an individual, about standing up against petty tyrannies, that love will find a way no matter what age you are, and that ultimately if you speak your truth to power, reason will prevail. (Yes, there are large amounts of ‘poo’ references in the names of characters and the town itself. At the time, it was funny, now it is a bit of a ‘groaner.’)
“However, the execution of any production that allows exaggerated makeup, inaccurate costuming, and mockery of Asian people is not, in this day and age with Hamilton, Allegiance and School of Rock, acceptable. When you view the current Lincoln Center Theater performances of The King and I, and see how beautifully APIs [Asian-Pacific Islanders] can inhabit a show that is, yes, a standard of the MT [musical theatre] canon, then you can see the authenticity of a pan Asian representation and what it brings to a production.
“We, the Asian Americans, do not want to ‘take away’ your precious Mikado – we want you to do better. We want you to stop constantly mocking us and telling us by your actions and deeds that Yellowface remains part of your theatrical lexicon. We want you to make any production of it, smarter, less full of stereotypes – more full of the respect G&S were trying for.”
Wannen said, “I really believe that the issue is a larger issue, obviously, than who is Asian and who isn’t. We’re dealing with this on a global level and listening to this outcry.”
The American Ballet Theatre has been releasing quite a handful of exciting news lately. You’ve probably already heard about Misty Copeland becoming the first African American principal dancer with the company, but Copeland isn’t the only one making history in American Ballet Theatre, which is now in its 75th year.
Stella Abrera has just become the very first Filipino American to rise to principal ranking, the highest position in any ballet company. Abreba will be performing the title role in the American Ballet Theatre’s production of Cinderella. Sound like a real-life fairytale? Abreba seems to think so too.
“It is a dream come true,” she said of her new position and role. “Every young dancer who joins a large company has dreams of becoming a principal. Once you’ve spent a few years in a company, you realize how much it takes to get to that level.”
Abreba has been studying dance since the age of 5 and joined the American Ballet Theatre at the age of 17 in 1996. Despite her many years with the company, she admits that becoming principal dancer can be an overwhelming and sometimes unrealistic goal. Instead she focused on the joy she felt while dancing and strived to give her very best during every performance.
“I feel extremely lucky and blessed that I’ve been granted this recognition,” she said. “I always had a hope, but it was never my ultimate goal at this point in my career. My ultimate goal was to present the best art that I could every time . … I’m completely over the moon.”
It seems Abreba succeeded in impressing audiences during her many, many performances. According to the American Ballet Theatre’s press release, Abreba has an incredible amount of experience under her belt:
Her repertoire with ABT includes Calliope in Apollo, Gamzatti in La Bayadère, the Ballerina in The Bright Stream, the Fairy Godmother in Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella, Gulnare in Le Corsaire, Mercedes and the Driad Queen in Don Quixote, Helena in The Dream, Giselle, Myrta and the peasant pas de deux in Giselle, Manon in Lady of the Camellias, Lescaut’s Mistress in Manon, His Friend’s Wife in The Moor’s Pavane, Clara, the Princess in Alexei Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, Emilia in Othello, the Older Sister in Pillar of Fire, Lady Capulet in Romeo and Juliet, the Lilac Fairy and Princess Florine in The Sleeping Beauty, the pas de trois in Swan Lake, leading roles in Airs, Bach Partita, Baker’s Dozen, Ballet Imperial, Birthday Offering, The Brahms-Haydn Variations, C. to C. (Close to Chuck), Fancy Free, In the Upper Room, The Leaves Are Fading, Petite Mort, Sinfonietta, Les Sylphides, Symphonic Variations, Symphonie Concertante, Symphony #9, Symphony in C, Thirteen Diversions, Within You Without You: A Tribute to George Harrison, Without Words. Abrera created the Spanish Dance in Ratmansky’s The Nutcracker, the Fairy Violente (Temperament) in Ratmansky’s The Sleeping Beauty and leading roles in Pretty Good Year and Seven Sonatas. Abrera received the Gold Medal at the Royal Academy of Dancing’s Adeline Genée Awards in London in 1995. She has performed as a guest artist across the United States and Europe, as well as with The Australian Ballet, The Royal New Zealand Ballet and Ballet Philippines.
Despite her inspiring achievements, her parents, who have always been her biggest supporters despite the fact that she is the very first dancer in the family, admits that she will always be their little girl who is simply doing what she has always loved.
“We really don’t realize how famous she is,” her parents laughed. “We just think of her as just our daughter.”