Hi! Drama, Leslie Dileo review, 9/22/17

ROMANCE OF THE WESTERN CHAMBER by Leslie Dileo (9/22/17), Hi! Drama

Book and lyrics by Howard Rubenstein (based on the Chinese classic by Wang Shifu which is based on “The Story of Yingying” by Yuan Shen); music by Max Lee (based on Chinese folk melodies); directed by Shela Xoregos.

Choreography: Mandarin Wu; Dance Captain: Musa Hitomi; Music Director: Erich Rausch; Costumes: Jessica-Raye Court; Lighting: Joyce Liao; Hair and Make-up: Emilia E. Martin; Orchestra Ensemble: Erich Rausch, Dorothy Stone, Poppy Tingyu Li; Stage Manager Mary-Cate Magnum; Asst Stage Manager/Props Supervisor: Alexis Gernon.

Cast – Dancing Woman/Ensemble: Musa Hitomi; Dancing Man/Ensemble: Takashi Hosoi; Chief Monk: Tony Romero; Ying-Ying Tsui: Jessica Wu; Hong-niang: Mari Uchida; A-rei Chang: Charles Pang; Lady Tsui: Joy Abalon Tamayo; Flying Tiger: Mark Andrew Garner General Du: Jee-Heng Liao; Ming, a Chef/Lord Cheng-heng: Albert Hsueh; Handmaiden/Woman of Ch’ang-an: Ying Zhang

ROMANCE OF THE WESTERN CHAMBER is an absolutely charming production of this classic Chinese love story; elegant, beautiful, funny and engaging, the show is a wonderful example of passion and collaboration among artistic veterans and newcomers.

The story takes place in the Chinese Imperial capital during the ninth century T’ang dynasty: Ying Ying (Jessica Wu) is a sheltered young beauty engaged to be married to Lord Cheng-heng (Albert Hsueh) by her late father. Handsome but poor student A-rei Chang (Charles Pang) falls instantly in love with Ying-ying, and she with him, and their courtship flourishes thanks to poetic messages exchanged with the help of Ying-ying’s maid Hong-niang (Mari Uchida) who acts as go-between under the eye of Ying-ying’s mother Lady Tsui (Joy Abalon Tamayo) and in the room of the monastery run by its Chief Monk (Tony Romero).

There are obstacles to Ying-ying and Chang’s love beyond Lady Tsui’s objection and the mores of the time; one such challenge is the bandit Flying Tiger (Mark Andrew Garner) who desires to capture Ying-ying for himself. Throughout the couple’s trials, Hong-niang supports and encourages them in a cheeky, sassy manner that keeps both of them on their toes. Mari Uchida’s performance is one of the show’s sharpest and most amusing—whether she is advising Chang on how to court Ying-ying or interacting with Lord Cheng-heng, her expression, voice and curtsy rife with disdain.

Jessica Wu’s Ying-ying is delightfully expressive—wide-eyed and eager one minute, then coy the next. Charles Pang’s A-rei Chang is very appealing—handsome and enthusiastic, and fluid in his growth from poor but noble student to man of the world. Tony Romero as the Chief Monk is commanding in a soothing kind of way, with a rich, deep speaking voice. Joy Abalon Tamayo is appropriately dignified and elegant as Lady Tsui, and Albert Hsueh performs his roles as a Chef and then as Lord Cheng-heng with amusing gusto. Jee-Heng Liao as General Du is featured in one of the shows highlights: a styled swordfight between General Du and the bandit Flyer Tiger. Gracefully choreographed and performed, this scene reflects the care that went into all the scenes—and particularly those involving dance or movement to music. Another highlight is the dance representing A-rei Chang’s temptations by women of the city after he leaves to pursue his civil services exams.

The book and lyrics by American physician and scholar Howard Rubenstein and the directing by Shela Xoregos are flawless, and the music (Max Lee), choreography (Mandarin Wu) and music direction (Eric Rausch) are sophisticated but not showy—particularly the lovers’ dance with Musa Hitomi and Takashi Hosoi which represents the eternal love between A-Rei Chang and Ying-ying. The set design (Sal Perotta) is rich but not garish—with understated colors and backdrops that perfectly support the sense of time and place in a monastery courtyard, a garden and a simple room. The ensemble cast is small but superb including Ying Zhang as a handmaiden and woman of the city, and the singing is particularly beautiful from Joy Abalon Tamayo (Lady Tsui); Mari Uchido (Hong-niang); and Jessica Wu (Ying-ying).

ROMANCE OF THE WESTERN CHAMBER is clearly a labor of love on every level; and it shows with quality writing, music, direction, costumes, choreography and stylized acting that perfectly captures a romantic tale that is universal. Don’t miss it!

Remaining Performances:
Friday, Sept 22: 8pm
Saturday, Sep 23: 2pm and 8pm
Sunday, Sept 24: 3pm
Friday, Sept 29, 8pm
Saturday, Sept 30: 2pm and 8pm
Sunday, Oct 1, 3pm

TADA! Theater
15 West 28th Street, 2nd Floor
Between B’way and Fifth Ave
New York, 10001