Chinese musical receives reading

“Flower Drum Song” came one step closer to getting its first Broadway revival. Under the auspices of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, the 1958 musical about Chinese emigrants and Asian-Americans living in 1950s San Francisco received a reading Tuesday at 890 Broadway.

“The reading was for potential producers and was by invitation only,” said Bert Fink, a spokesman for R&H. “We’re taking a proactive stance. This is not a reading for producers to raise money from investors. It is a reading to gain interest from producers.”

The audience of 120 heard the classic Richard Rodgers-Oscar Hammerstein II score (“I Enjoy Being a Girl,” “Chop Suey”) but with a radically rewritten book by playwright David Henry Hwang (“Golden Child”), who excised such lines as an emigrant father saying of his daughter, “She is strong as a cow and just as amiable.”

Ethnic updating

The revised “Flower Drum Song” follows the current “Annie Get Your Gun” Broadway production and the incoming “Finian’s Rainbow” in receiving substantial overhauls of their ethnically dated books. Peter Stone (“1776,” “Titanic”) did honors on the musicals by Irving Berlin and Burton Lane, respectively.

“The book is pretty much new,” Hwang said of his work on the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, which had been the object of Asian-American protests in the late 1960s and early 1970s. “The stereotypes aren’t really the issue. My approach has been to write a new work which has a relationship to the old. It seemed to be a great opportunity to investigate a Chinese-American subject.”

Hwang approached the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization with the idea of revamping “Flower Drum Song” for a major Broadway revival. In collaboration with Linda Woolverton and Robert Falls, the playwright is also author of the book for the new Elton John-Tim Rice musical “Aida.”

Hammerstein team

Of Hammerstein’s 11 musical collaborations with Rodgers, “Flower Drum Song” is the only one for which the lyricist shared a book credit, with Joseph Fields from a novel by C.Y. Lee. Hammerstein took no such credit on the book for “The Sound of Music,” which was written by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse. Robert Longbottom (“Side Show,” the revised “Scarlet Pimpernel”) directed Tuesday afternoon’s reading, with Rona Figueroa, Sala Iwamatsu, Timothy Ford Murphy and Luoyong Wang in lead roles. The audience at the performance included producers Barry Weissler, Margo Lion, Thomas Viertel, Liz McCann, the Dodgers’ Michael David and reps from major theater owners.

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