The Four Immigrants is a marvelous musical book of cartoons with serious overtones at TheatreWorks.


Charlie (Hansel Tan, center left), makes some quick money at Bakkapei Bao’s gambling house in Min Kahng’s The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, July 12-August 6, 2017. Photo credit: Kevin Berne

The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga. Book, Music, & Lyrics by Min Kahng. Based on Manga Yonin Shosei by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama. Translated as The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco 1904-1924 by Frederik L. Schodt. Directed by Leslie Martinson. TheatreWorks at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1395 Middlefield, Palo Alto, CA. 650-463-1960 or  July 12 – August 6, 2017

The Four Immigrants is a marvelous musical book of cartoons with serious overtones at TheatreWorks.  Rating [4:]1/2

For those of us not familiar with the word “manga”, Wikipedia defines it as: “Manga loosely refers to a style of cartoons originating in Japan. They usually are published in installments, and depending on their form, can be up to several hundred pages long. Many different genres are available, so they are popular with people of all ages and backgrounds. Known for their in-depth plots and characters, these well-respected works have been drawn for hundreds of years, although the modern version developed starting in the mid-20th century.”

Local multitalented auteur Min Kahng discovered a modern manga written in by Japanese born Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama in the 1920s. It was originally written as a comic strip and eventually self-published in book form. It relates the true story of four young Japanese men who immigrated to San Francisco in the late 19th century seeking the American Dream.

Those four men, although close friends, are diverse with individualistic ideals if not achievable goals. Henry (James Seol) the artist can be considered the stand-in for Min Kahang as he documents the trials, fun and tribulations of the quartet in his drawings. Ladies’ man Fred (Sean Fenton) just wants to buy a farm and make money selling his crops. Frank, who has a stutter, (Phil Wong) desires to own a shop and become “Frank, the Footwear King.” Charlie (Hansel Tan) who has read and studied about life in the U.S.A. before leaving Japan considers himself to be almost an American.

The cast is all multitalented Asians and four women (Rinabeth Apostol, Kerry K. Carnahan, Catherine Gloria and Lindsay Hirata) play a myriad of roles with the PR pages stating that there are a total of 90 characters making it almost impossible to give individual accolades.There are highlights that stand out. The music is a mash-up of vaudeville and ragtime with each cast member having their turn on center stage. You may not be humming the tunes as you leave the theater but be assured they are impressive, the dancing infectious and the staging a marvel. 

James Seol has by far the most polished singing voice but the enthusiasm of the entire cast earns accolades. Of the women Kerry K Carnahan brings back memories of Ethel Merman while Phil Wong almost steals the show with his sparkling nature and ability to keep in step with the accomplished dancers.

All is not lightness and fun. Along with the humor there are the political and social obstacles such as not allowing Asians and others a path to citizenship, the non-right to own property and other discriminatory laws. Much of these discriminatory laws echo the present day actions of our current leaders.

The time and place of this play is the San Francisco Bay Area from 1904 to 1924. It covers two decades including the 1906 earthquake and fire, the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition and World War I.

Leslie Martinson’s superb direction is enhanced by a creative staff including the fine musical direction by William Liberatore. Running time is two hours and 30 minutes with an intermission and is highly recommended.

CAST: James Seol as Henry, Hansel Tan as Charlie, Sean Fenton as Fred, and Phil Wong as Frank. Rinabeth Apostol as Woman 1 (Elder, Scared Bride, & Others), Kerry K. Carnahan as Woman 2 (Bakkapei Bao, Kimiko, & Others), Catherine Gloria as Woman 3 (Mailman, Anti-Asiatic Leader, & Others) and Lindsay Hirata as Woman 4 (Hana, Fan Tan Dealer, & Others)

ARTISTIC Staff: Directed by Leslie Martinson; Musical Director/ Orchestrator William Liberatore; Choreographer Dottie Lester-White;  Scenic Designer Andrew Boyce; Costume Designer Noah Mann; Lighting Designer Steven B. Mannshardt; Projections Designer Katherine Freer; Sound Designer Jeff Mockus; Dramaturg Oona Hatton; Casting Director Leslie Martinson; New York Casting Director Alan Filderman; Los Angeles Casting Director Julia Flores; tage Manager Marcy Victoria Reed; Assistant Stage Manager Christina Larson*

Kedar K. Adour, MD



Charlie (Hansel Tan, center left), makes some quick money at Bakkapei Bao’s gambling house in Min Kahng’s The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga presented by TheatreWorks Silicon Valley at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto, July 12-August 6, 2017. Photo credit: Kevin Berne