Theater/Arts
"Monkey King" to be staged as Broadway musical
Last Updated: 2013-11-09 03:45 | Xinhua
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The new Broadway-style musical "Monkey King" will premiere in Beijing later this month, giving the widely-known Chinese superhero an international face with a global cast of performers.

The musical, called "Da Meng Shen Hou" in Chinese, is a hilarious and touching adaptation of China's best-loved story, "The Monkey King," or "Journey to the West," featuring a Chinese superhero created by an author more than 500 years ago.

Written by one of Broadway's top musical writing teams, James Racheff and Louis St. Louis, the musical's score is filled with soaring melodies, vibrant hip-hop tunes, outrageous comedy numbers and beautiful, poignant ballads, including the signature song "Home," according to its production team.

Tony Stimac, the musical's producer and director, said the musical version of the "Monkey King" is truly a unique cultural innovation, and that combining this Chinese classic with the best musical storytelling techniques in the world is an historic achievement.

One of the unexpected delights of this new musical, to be staged on Nov. 18, is its lead, Apollo Levine, an African-American actor, singer and dancer, who plays the Monkey King.

The casting is unusual, as the role has often been played by Chinese actors, Stimac said, but to increase the universality of the story, the Monkey King, who was born from a rock, "could be played by anyone."

After the Beijing premiere, the musical will be taken to Broadway and other theaters in the West, according to Stimac, who said that "the more universal, the more the show will be accepted in countries around the world."

"We hope to make the story fun and interesting to the younger audiences of today," he said.

"The Monkey King is an irreverent, mischievous character that constantly challenges the status quo. Young people around the world are always challenging the establishment. As they grow, they learn the world has certain rules they have to adapt to, just as the Monkey King learns from the Buddha how to be a complete being."

The production team intends to make the Monkey King into a role similar in popularity to Superman, Spider-Man and Batman.

This century will be the "China Century" and China will export its culture to the world, but to achieve this, China must do it "in a way the world can understand and appreciate," Stimac said.

The Monkey King is presented in a Broadway musical style, which offers incredible opportunities for creativity and could launch the China Century of culture, he said.

In his view, musicals have become the international language for countries to tell their stories: "Riverdance" shows Irish culture, "42nd Street" American culture, "Cats" and "Phantom of the Opera" show English culture, "Les Miserables" French culture, and the "Lion King" shows African culture; Countries all over the world are telling their stories in the musical style.

"Music and dance cross borders easily and so it has become the accepted style worldwide," he said.

Now Broadway is celebrating a timeless Chinese character in song and dance.

The "Monkey King" immediately grabs the audience with the powerful hip-hop opening, "Hands in the Air, It's Time to Celebrate," as the Monkeys discover their new home in the fruit and flower mountain.

As the Monkey King embarks on his journey to learn the secrets of the universe from the Sage and acquire his magical weapon from the Dragon King, there are surprises galore, and the legendary characters become all too human. For example, the Dragon King sings a wildly funny song called "Don't Touch My Stuff."

As Americans copied and changed European musical theater styles, then made their own brands, "now China is copying foreign musical styles, like the Chinese versions of 'Mamma Mia' and 'Cats,' and next it will change those styles, and soon after China will create its own style of musicals," Stimac said.

He added that the "Monkey King" is taking the first step by creating a fusion of East and West and integrating elements of scenery, costumes, lights, sound, special effects, pyrotechnics, projections, acrobatics and Kung Fu.

Stimac said he wants to "build a show that will run for decades, not weeks."

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