Soft Power a smash hit at the Curran Theatre.

Conrad Ricamora as Xue Xing leaves for Los Angeles saying goodbye to his young daughterin Soft Power playing at The Curran in San Francisco

SOFT POWER: A Play with a Musical; Book and Lyrics by David Henry Hwang. Music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori.  Directed by Leigh Silverman. The Curran, 445 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA. 415-358-1220 or www.sfcurran.com.   

June 20–July 8, 2018

Soft Power a smash hit at the Curran Theatre. Rating: ★★★★★

When two Tony Award winning personalities collaborate to produce a musical comedy the expectations are high for a successful outcome. So it is with playwright Davis Henry Hwang (DHH) and composer Jeanine Tesori’s Soft Power that will pack the house during its short three week run. The opening night audience gave it a spontaneous standing ovation.

DHH has elected to bill it as a “Play with a musical” starting with a cross-cultural short play that blossoms into a full blown musical with a 22 member orchestra in the pit. DHH (played by Francis Jue) has written himself into the play beginning with his negotiations with  Xue Xing (Conrad Ricamora) a producer from Dragon Media of Los Angeles that has a very successful Chinese TV show that lauds marriages where fidelity is de rigor. DHH is pushing for a version of “Sex in the City” to be set in Shanghai and love (democracy) triumphs over fidelity (authoritarianism). The cross-cultural differences are established early. “Soft power” is reference to the cultural influence on the world stage as opposed to war.

The time is 2016 just before the Presidential elections and Hillary Clinton (Alyse Alan Louis) is having a fundraiser in Los Angeles.  Xue, who admires Clinton, and his political savvy American girlfriend Zoe (Alyse Alan Louis again) are escorted to a production of The King and I. Xue meets Hillary and a bond develops. Xue to Hillary: “”If this were China, you’d already be Secretary General.”

The time and place is a hodgepodge beginning in 2016 and eventually jumps to the 22nd Century with scenes in Shanghai, Los Angeles and Washington DC, Do not be confused it all makes sense in the musical stage world.

The shift to the future era is explained when DHH is stabbed in the neck during a racist attack (this is an actual fact) and while in the hospital has a fantasy dream of his musical being hugely successful having a revival even after 200 years. In that musical Xue is the hero. He flies to Los Angeles where he is set upon by gun wielding hooligans and is rescued by one of them. He is taken to a classic “Eating Palace” to meet DHH who has written himself into the dream script. There will never be McDonalds like this even if you live to the 22nd Century.  You will be cheering when Hillary makes her appearance of a gigantic Big Mac or is it a Quarter Pounder?

On the trip to D.C. ( the White House is made of beer cans) you will get to see the Veep and the “Good Guy(s) with a Gun” in an over the top satirical number. Never fear Xue comes to the rescue proposing a new “Silk Road” where commerce will flow in both directions. President Trump takes beating without ever being mentioned either in song or dialog.

A marvelous number comes just before the finale when the superb Alyse Alan  Louis creates a Hilary for the ages having a tantrum eating pizza and green ice cream while singing the hit “Democracy.” She is brilliant both as Zoe and Hillary and sadly the MacDonald’s number and “Democracy” will be etched in your brain overshadowing her complete control of the stage.

Conrad Ricamora’s beautiful voice and stage presence earns almost equal accolades with Alyse Alan Louis. You will feel his befuddlement when our voting system and the Electoral College explained to him. Maybe an authoritarian government is preferable?

Francis Jue has impeccable comic timing and is a more than a sounding board for Louis and Ricamora.

All the parts that create a hit show are on stage. Gorgeous music, witty lyrics, fantastic set(s) (David Zinn), colorful costumes (Anita Yavich), superlative dancing (Sam Pinkleton) and a top notch cast. This is a fully rounded evening that is a “must see” with running time of two hours and 20 minutes including the intermission.

CAST: Francis Jue as DHH; Alyse Alan Louis as Zoe/ Hilary; Conrad Ricamora as Xue Xing; Joe Hoche as Tony Manero/Chief Justice;  Kendyl  Ito as Jing; Austin Ku as Bobby Bob; Raymond J. Lee as Randy Ray/Veep; Maria-Christina Oliveras as Campaign Manager.

ENSEMBLE: Billy Bustamante, John Hoche, Kendyl Ito, Autin Ku, Raymond J. Lee,  Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Paul HeeSang Miller, Kristen Faith Oei, Maria-Christina Oliveras and Geena Quintos.

CREATIVE TEAM: Director: Leigh Silverman; Book and lyrics: David Henry Hwang; Music and additional lyrics: Jeanine Tesori; Set designer:  David Zinn; Costume designer: Anita Yavich; Lighting designer: Mark Barton; Sound designer: Kai Harada; Music director: David O.; Choreographer: Sam Pinkleton.

Kedar K. Adour, MD

Courtesy of www.theatreworldim2.com.