David Henry Hwang's updated version of Flower Drum Song inaugurated its national tour on September 2, 2003 at the Music Hall at Fair Park as the closing production of the Dallas Summer Musicals. In a pre-show conversation with Hwang, who attended the first Sunday matinee, he said, "I saw the potential for this show that had been on the shelf for 45 years. I approached Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, and said I wanted to make a musical I hoped would reflect the values of the original creators but be more relevant to a modern audience. It took them a few months, and then they decided to do it."

Hwang was unassuming in his loose fitting grey slacks and matching leisure jacket, white v-neck tee shirt, white socks, closed-toe black sandals, and dark tousled hair set off by hirsute facial adornment. He was clearly enjoying himself with members of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce and guests at a pre-show reception. He was accompanied by his attractive, petite blonde wife, Katherine.

This new version of Flower Drum song previewed in Los Angeles before moving to New York. Unfortunately it did not enjoy the same success as the original, which opened in 1958 and ran for a year-and-a-half and played 600 performances. This updated incarnation, revised by the author of M. Butterfly and Golden Child, opened in October 2002 and ran only five months and 172 performances.

More people are familiar with the 1961 film with screenplay by Joseph Fields adapted from his original play of the same name and based on the novel by C.Y. Lee and a cast including Nancy Kwan as Linda Low, James Shigeta as Wang Ta, Miyoshi Umeki as Mei-Li, and Juanita Hall (the original Bloody Mary in South Pacific) as Madame 'Auntie' Lang.

Flower Drum Song weaves the tale of the Chinese Mei-Li (Yuka Takara) and her father, Wang (James Saito) who enter the United States illegally and settle in San Francisco; so she can marry her fiance, Chao (Bobby Pestka). Instead she meets and falls in love with the Americanized Ta (Allen Liu) and with the lifestyle in America, in spite of her father's disapproval.
This is a story about young love, old ways, fear of change, racial intolerance, generational conflict, and adapting to a new and totally foreign culture. It is about all those things and more. While it would be difficult to single out any one performer (they are all superb) Yuka Takara's beautiful singing voice and total presence in the role of Mei-Li is a joy to experience. James Saito makes a strong and convincing Wang. Emily Hsu proves captivating and appropriately sultry as nightclub singer, Linda Low.

With lavish costumes and the unforgettable music of Rodgers and Hammerstein, this Flower Drum Song just might be a bigger hit on the road than it was on Broadway.


Key Subjects: 
Flower Drum Song, David Henry Hwang, Dallas, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein III
Rita Faye Smith
September 2003
David Henry Hwang Revisits Flower Drum Song