Coming full circle with ‘Flower Drum Song’
December 27, 2008
When I was a child growing up in San Francisco’s Chinatown, I attended Chinese school at St. Mary’s on Stockton Street. Even though I spoke Chinese at home (Toishanese dialect), we had to go to Chinese school to learn the more “sophisticated” Cantonese dialect.
One day, while attending class in 1959, we got word that they were filming Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” at St. Mary’s Square a few blocks away. I wanted so badly to cut class and go watch. Actually, I wanted to go so I could get “discovered” and maybe even get a part in the movie.
Oh well, I didn’t cut class, and my opportunity for stardom went out the door. They were filming was one of the opening scenes in which Mei Lei and her father arrive in San Francisco from China and they wander into the park in Chinatown. In order to make some money, they stage a singing of a flower drum song which became the popular “A Hundred Million Miracles.”
I loved the movie. I knew every single song and sang them throughout my growing up years. “Flower Drum Song” introduced me to the beautiful sounds of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. To this day, they are my favorite collaborators and musicals are my favorite genre.
“Flower Drum Song” was the first movie musical with an all-Asian cast. The actors in the movie looked just like me. Maybe that’s why it resonated so well with the Chinese community; there was a real connection there, even to this day.
The story was cute and fun, and it definitely filled an artistic void. Today, people’s awareness has evolved; at least mine has. After watching the movie now, I end up wanting more. In comes David Henry Hwang, an award-winning Asian-American playwright.
Hwang saw the opportunity of taking this classic story beyond the generation gap into a world where cultural conflicts and differences are transformed.
He rewrote the story in 2002; it was nominated for a Tony award on Broadway. He kept the same beautiful songs and kept intact the spirit of the original 1957 story by C.Y. Lee. Hwang’s version incorporates modern-day sensibilities with depth, poignancy and charm.
This is the version that CATS will be producing at the Nevada Theatre from Jan. 22-Feb. 14. Our 20-member multicultural cast hails from Roseville, Rocklin and Elk Grove, as well as the foothills.
It’s been a joy to watch rehearsals by our revered team of directors Michael Baranowski (director), Ken Hardin (music director, who will conduct the live orchestra) and George Jayne (choreographer).
It’s been many years since the Nevada Theatre played host to a live orchestra. I’m in for a real treat, and so are you.
Jeannie Wong Wood is executive director of Community Asian Theatre of the Sierra (CATS).
Editor’s note: Something else to put on your new calendar: On Feb. 13, CATS will have a fundraiser showing of the 1961 movie, starring Nancy Kwan, 8 p.m., at the Nevada Theatre. This is a great opportunity to compare the movie and the play.