Sunday, June 01, 2008

Broadway awaits Bruce Lee musical....

History just might repeat itself.

Two decades ago, Cameron Mackintosh and company searched the world over for a girl who would play Kim in Miss Saigon, only to end up finding in the Philippines not just the Kim in the person of Lea Salonga but the other actors in the musical which turned out to be a megahit not just at the Royale Drury Lane in London’s West End where it opened in 1989 but in other parts of the world.

Don’t look now but a Filipino martial artist who sings just might bag the role in the Bruce Lee musical to be mounted in 2010.

"Who knows?," said Funfare’s Big Apple correspondent Edmund Silvestre (news editor of the New York-based The Filipino Reporter) who filed the following exclusive:

Asian actors in Broadway, Filipinos especially, are exhilarated over the recent announcement by Elephant Eye Theatrical of the staging of Bruce Lee: Journey to the West, a new musical slated for New York sometime during the 2010-11season.

It’s not often that Broadway produces musicals or plays that utilize many Asian talents. Most of the time, you’ll be lucky to find one or two Asians in the cast.

Musicals like Miss Saigon, South Pacific or Flower Drum Song that employ mostly Asian performers come once in a blue moon. That’s why the coming of the Bruce Lee musical will give Asian talents another chance to shine on stage.

And like in Miss Saigon and Flower Drum Song, Filipino actors "known for their generic Asian features and amazing singing and acting prowess" could also dominate the Bruce Lee cast. The likes of Paolo Montalban or Jose Llana may not land the title role but they can definitely grab a major role, ditto with the likes of Pinay Broadway stars Joan Almedilla, Rona Figueroa, Leila Florentino or maybe even Broadway royalty Lea Salonga.

There’s no casting yet for the role of Bruce Lee who died in 1973 at the age of 32, but it’s certain that the show will be directed by Bartlett Sher who is winning acclaim this season for his direction of the Lincoln Center Theatre revival of South Pacific.

Bruce Lee: Journey to the West will be based on the book by David Henry Hwang, author of M. Butterfly, and a score by David Yazbeck who wrote the music and lyrics for The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The choreography will be by Dou Dou Huang, artistic director of the Shanghai Song and Dance Ensemble.

Besides martial arts, the musical will feature Chinese opera, pop music and more as it traces Lee’s journey to film stardom.

It is interesting to note that the search for Miss Saigon prompted producers to travel across the world to find their Kim, a Vietnamese young mother, only to find her in Manila in the person of Lea Salonga and her understudy, Monique Wilson, so it’s not impossible that this could happen again — you know, Filipino talents in Chinese roles. I’m sure a lot of Filipino and Asian actors in New York will audition. Of course, aside from having those abs and muscles and "Ramon Zamora" looks, the candidate must also know how to sing while doing the flying kick or fighting with his chako.

Bruce is generally considered to be the most famous martial artist of the last century. His physical dexterity and mastery of martial arts propelled him to cinematic fame. He starred in only five feature films but his impact on society is regarded as having sparked interest in Chinese martial arts in the US.

Bruce is the father of Jun Fan Gung Fu, a martial art he developed. Jun Fan Gung Fu means "Bruce Lee’s Way of the Intercepting Fist." Jun Fan Gung Fu heavily borrows from a myriad of martial arts styles and is meant to be a dynamic form allowing room for the student to adapt to their particular fighting style. This form of martial art is still being taught today.

While Bruce’s death is shrouded in controversy and conspiracy theories, his legacy is beyond dispute. Millions of fans have enjoyed his films, life and teachings. Bruce introduced the world to a new genre of action films and sparked widespread interest in martial arts among hundreds of thousands of young people.

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