That’s what I’m talking about — Asian-Canadian theater in Vancouver

It was a throwaway remark our host in New York made, something to the effect of how growing up in Vancouver, there wasn’t any question about being Asian, the Asian population being as large as it is here; but having relocated to the States, she’s encountered markedly more of the Asian identity crisis or overt Asian-ness.

I wanted to turn that into a discussion because I think I can agree having lived in Vancouver, Toronto, and Halifax – high, medium, and low in Asian content – run with all sorts of different groups, and gobbled so much Asian-American literature laden with the American perspective.

Anyways, an incentive of me moving to Vancouver was the potential to immerse in Chinese culture that I was (re-)educated to feel the innate need to. Honestly, I’m daunted from joining any sort of association in Chinatown, attending Chinese church (particularly since I’m not conversion-track), and joining the arts scene in a volunteer capacity.

It is good enough to me to have all the outward Asian things (food, entertainment, media, malls, people) and a constant source of really special Asian events like markets, festivals, and shows like Vancouver Asian Canadian Theatre productions, like their current production, Flower Drum Song*, the premier of which NPY and I attended last night!

In my nearly five years in Vancouver (and three years of dating NPY), I haven’t managed to watch a VACT show. NPY’s seen their comedy sketches and local show, “Sex in Vancouver”, before meeting me and he wasn’t thrilled. I heard about the group selecting a past Broadway production, a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Flower Drum Song, as this year’s big production and got our tickets immediately… am I glad I did! :D

We went in with our own caveats: NPY’s past experiences, the fact we were catching potentially a glorified dress rehearsal, and knowing the theatre had not before put on a musical; and we walked away very impressed.

Mid-20th century San Francisco Chinatown was well rendered with a simple and entirely mobile set. I always marvel when the lights go down and the actors do double duty and place the next scene’s set exactly as it needs to be.

The actors’ singing seemed faint given we saw Broadway shows recently but we could tell they found their voices by the middle of the first act. It was a great introduction to “show tunes” that I didn’t know I knew: the haunting “A Hundred Million Miracles”, “Chop Suey” that I keep seeing in VACT ads during AZN Lifestyles episodes, widely-remade and parodied “I Enjoy Being a Girl”, hearing strains of “(How Do You Solve a Problem Like) Maria” in the hilarious “The Other Generation” song, and the very familiar-sounding “Love, Look Away”.

I guffawed when NPY selected Lannette New’s headshot in the lobby as the one who appealed to him the most, for I knew she had the sassy and flirty role… and she delivered! We hotly debated if one of the male leads, Isaac Kwok, is fully Chinese or mixed – he reminds me of three guys I know and I think it’s the angular face and dimples that are throwing NPY off. It was great fun to see familar Vancouver actors as Tom Chin and BC Lee have a grand old time playing Asian patriarchs.

Of course, I admired the dancing and the choreography – from aptly evoking 1950s female sassiness in all of Linda Low’s numbers to the really adorably choreographed “Don’t Marry Me” number to the racy “Gliding Through My Memories” number with the hilarious hats. I wanted to get a picture of the hats almost to the extent of whipping out my camera and getting thrown out. :P

I’m wildly impressed that the script and song numbers were translated into Chinese and projected above the stage as “surtitles”. Now that I know the story, I would love to compare the translation to what we watched in English – to learn more Chinese language while also gaining appreciation of the tricky process of translation.

Finally, I read that VACT chose not to deviate so much from the original 1950s Broadway production however dated it may make the characters and story look. I think that was the right choice because the 2002 Broadway revival really butchered the story in the name of making it more current. Stereotypes are often based on some grain of truth that we don’t want to admit in politically correct times; besides, it’s a musical comedy that is well executed toeing the line. I see the actors, theatre, and supporters embracing the controversial production as an empowering move in the whole scheme of things… and just plain fun!

That all being said, I hope the theatre and production have a very successful run this summer! :D

* Not sure what page to link to; they need a glossy “show page”.

On this day..


  1. Glad you enjoyed it! Since Lannette is a friend of mine, I’ll pass along your very kind review.

    TLO and I hope to make it next weekend, as we’re spending this weekend in jet-lag limbo.

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