Ming-Na Wen; Jeff Yang, his son Hudson and his fellow “Fresh Off the Boat” cast members, Forrest Wheeler, Evan Chen and Lucille Soong; “Silicon Valley’s” Tzi Ma; and Parvesh Cheema were among guests at the opening.
With a tip of the hat to “The King and I,” “Soft Power,” with music by Jeanine Tesori, is a bit of a fantasy that shifts the balance of global power from the U.S. to China after Hillary Clinton loses the 2016 presidential election to Donald Trump. He is never mentioned by name in the tuner.
At the Vespaio after-party Hwang said the omission was deliberate, inspired by Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical “The King and I,” which never mentioned the king’s name either. Instead, Clinton is a prominent character in the decade-spanning story, which features “How to Get Away With Murder” star Conrad Ricamora in a key role.
“I wanted to portray an incident in the past where there was an encounter between a Chinese national and an American leader, but then 50 years later it had become mythologized into a Chinese musical,” Hwang said.
The show heads to San Francisco after its Los Angeles opening and there are hopes of bringing it to New York. “I think we are hopefully able to put our New York plans in place very soon,” he said.
“We, through an intermediary informed her [Hillary Clinton], just out of respect because we didn’t want her to find out about it from reading about it in the paper. We are hopeful that she will come see it in New York.”
Center Theater Group artistic director Michael Ritchie commissioned Hwang for the piece four years ago, but said he had “absolutely no idea which way he was going with this; it didn’t even have a title.”
“I just said to him, ‘I want you to write a play for our 50th anniversary season,'” Ritchie said. “He turned it into a musical over the past four years, but it was so good we decided to keep going.”