Saturday Open Thread | American Musicals: Rodgers & Hammerstein Week

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Flower Drum Song was the eighth musical by the team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It was based on the 1957 novel, The Flower Drum Song, by Chinese-American author C. Y. Lee. The piece opened in 1958 on Broadway and was afterwards presented in the West End and on tour. It was subsequently made into a 1961 musical film.

After their extraordinary early successes, beginning with Oklahoma! in 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein had written two musicals in the 1950s that did not do well and sought a new hit to revive their fortunes. Lee’s novel focuses on a father, Wang Chi-yang, a wealthy refugee from China, who clings to traditional values in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Rodgers and Hammerstein shifted the focus of the musical to his son, Wang Ta, who is torn between his Chinese roots and assimilation into American culture. The team hired Gene Kelly to make his debut as a stage director with the musical and scoured the country for a suitable Asian – or at least, plausibly Asian-looking – cast. The musical, much more light-hearted than Lee’s novel, was profitable on Broadway and was followed by a national tour.

After the release of the 1961 film version, the musical was rarely produced, as it presented casting issues and fears that Asian-Americans would take offense at how they are portrayed. When it was put on the stage, lines and songs that might be offensive were often cut. The piece did not return to Broadway until 2002, when a version with a plot by playwright David Henry Hwang (but retaining most of the original songs) was presented after a successful Los Angeles run. Hwang’s story retains the Chinatown setting and the inter-generational and immigrant themes, and emphasizes the romantic relationships. It received mostly poor reviews in New York and closed after six months but had a short tour and has since been produced regionally.


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C.Y. Lee fled war-torn China in the 1940s and came to the United States, where he attended Yale University’s playwriting program, graduating in 1947 with an M.F.A. degree. By the 1950s, he was barely making a living writing short stories and working as a Chinese teacher, translator and journalist for San Francisco Chinatown newspapers.[1] He had hoped to break into playwriting, but instead wrote a novel about Chinatown, The Flower Drum Song (originally titled Grant Avenue). Lee initially had no success selling his novel, but his agent submitted it to the publishing house of Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. The firm sent the manuscript to an elderly reader for evaluation. The reader was found dead in bed, the manuscript beside him with the words “Read this” scrawled on it. The publishing house did so, and bought Lee’s novel, which became a bestseller in 1957.[2][3]

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Lee’s novel centers on Wang Chi-yang, a 63-year-old man who fled China to avoid the communists. The wealthy refugee lives in a house in Chinatown with his two sons. His sister-in-law, Madam Tang, who takes citizenship classes, is a regular visitor and urges Wang to adopt Western ways. While his sons and sister-in-law are integrating into American culture, Wang stubbornly resists assimilation and speaks only two words of English, “Yes” and “No”. Wang also has a severe cough, which he does not wish to have cured, feeling that it gives him authority in his household. Wang’s elder son, Wang Ta, woos Linda Tung, but on learning that she has many men in her life, drops her; he later learns she is a nightclub dancer. Linda’s friend, seamstress Helen Chao, who has been unable to find a man despite the shortage of eligible women in Chinatown, gets Ta drunk and seduces him. On awakening in her bed, he agrees to an affair, but eventually abandons her, and she commits suicide.

Impatient at Ta’s inability to find a wife, Wang arranges for a picture bride for his son. However, before the picture bride arrives, Ta meets a young woman, May Li, who with her father has recently come to San Francisco. The two support themselves by singing depressing flower drum songs on the street. Ta invites the two into the Wang household, with his father’s approval, and he and May Li fall in love. He vows to marry her after she is falsely accused by the household servants of stealing a clock, though his father forbids it. Wang struggles to understand the conflicts that have torn his household apart; his hostility toward assimilation is isolating him from his family. In the end, taking his son’s advice, Wang decides not to go to the herbalist to seek a remedy for his cough, but walks to a Chinese-run Western clinic, symbolizing that he is beginning to accept American culture.[4]

Genesis of the musical[edit]

Rodgers and Hammerstein, despite extraordinary early successes, such as Oklahoma!, Carousel and South Pacific, had suffered back-to-back Broadway flops in the mid-1950s with Me and Juliet and Pipe Dream.[5] While Oklahoma! had broken new ground in 1943, any new project in the late 1950s would have to compete with modern musicals and techniques, like the brutal realism in West Side Story,[6] and with other Broadway musical hits such as The Music Man, My Fair Lady and The Pajama Game.[7] Rodgers and Hammerstein had made it their rule to begin work on their next musical as soon as the last opened on Broadway, but by the start of 1957, six months after Pipe Dream closed, the pair had no new stage musical in prospect. They had, however, been working since 1956 on the popular television version of Cinderella, which was broadcast on CBS on March 31, 1957.[8] Rodgers was still recovering from an operation for cancer in a tooth socket, and he was drinking heavily[9] and suffering from depression.[10] In June 1957, Rodgers checked himself into Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic, and he remained there for twelve weeks. According to his daughters, Mary and Linda, this did not put a stop to his drinking.[11]

Hammerstein, meanwhile, was in Los Angeles at the filming of South Pacific. While at the commissary, he met longtime friend, Joe Fields, who mentioned that he was negotiating for the rights to The Flower Drum Song. Intrigued by the title, Hammerstein asked for a copy of the novel, and decided that it had potential as a musical – the lyricist described it as “sort of a Chinese Life with Father”. Hammerstein consulted with Rodgers, and they agreed to make it their next work, to be written and produced in association with Fields.[12] Hammerstein began work in mid-1958. In July, however, he fell ill and was hospitalized for a month. This forced him to hurry his writing, as the production team had hoped to have the show in rehearsal by the start of September; this was postponed by two weeks. In interviews, however, Hammerstein pointed out that he had, when necessary, written songs for previous shows while in rehearsals for them.[13]

The musical retained Lee’s “central theme – a theme coursing through much 20th-century American literature: the conflict between Old World immigrants and their New World offspring”.[14] Hammerstein and Fields shifted the focus of the story, however, from the elder Wang, who is central to Lee’s novel, to his son Ta. They also removed the darker elements of Lee’s work, including Helen Chao’s suicide after her desperate fling with Ta, added the festive nightclub subplot and emphasized the romantic elements of the story.[15] According to David Lewis in his book about the musical, “Mr. Hammerstein and his colleagues were evidently in no mood to write a musical drama or even to invest their comedic approach with dramatic counterpoint of the sort that Jud Fry had given Oklahoma! … [They] took the safest commercial route by following the eldest son’s search for love – the most popular theme at the time with Broadway audiences.”[15] Lewis notes that Chao’s role, though diminished in the musical, nevertheless gives it some of its darkest moments, and she serves much the same purpose as Jud Fry: to be, in Hammerstein’s words, “the bass fiddle that gives body to the orchestration of the story”.[16] Though the new story was less artistically adventurous than the earlier Rodgers and Hammerstein hits, it was innovative, even daring in its treatment of Asian-Americans, “an ethnic group that had long been harshly caricatured and marginalized in our mainstream pop culture.”[14]

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45 Responses to Saturday Open Thread | American Musicals: Rodgers & Hammerstein Week

  1. Ametia says:

    In the second security incident at the White House in as many days, a driver failed to stop at the entrance to the complex at 15th and E Streets, according to Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary.

    The man was taken into custody, the Secret Service said. He initially did not stop when the Secret Service ordered him to do so, Leary said.

    On Friday night, a man who jumped the fence at the White House made it through the North Portico doors into the building before he was captured.

  2. rikyrah says:

    Wendell Pierce telling the absolute TRUTH!!!

  3. rikyrah says:

    Saturday, September 20, 2014
    Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda For Grimes
    Posted by Zandar
    Over at TNR, Alec MacGillis argues that Alison Lundergan Grimes would be winning if she had mentioned the success of Kynect in the state, and yes, she does apparently take into account the same NY Times article that I pointed out was evidence that here in Kentucky, people will never give Obama credit for anything.

    No doubt, there are many GOP-inclined voters like Ms. Evans among the several hundred thousand Kentuckians who have obtained coverage under Obamacare. Their existence, and quotes like this, only confirm one of the most popular conceptions of red state politics in the minds of blue state liberals: the “What’s the Matter with Kansas” notion that lower- and middle-class white voters in these states are voting Republican even though their economic interests are far better represented by Democrats. How else to explain that a state like Kentucky could be benefitting so much from the law and yet be leaning Republican?

    But this likely takeaway from the piece—like the “What’s the Matter with Kansas” thesis more broadly—may oversimplify things. For starters, my strong hunch from my own reporting in the region over the past couple years—including several trips to Kentucky for a new book on McConnell—is that the Democrats’ biggest problem in Appalachia and the Upland South is not that the people who are benefitting from Obamacare or would stand to benefit from it if their states fully implemented the law are voting against their own interests, for Republicans. It is that many of those people are not voting at all.

    Well, I agree with her on that part at least. I certainly don’t expect turnout here in Kentucky to be more than 40%.

  4. roast beef w/ gravy, rice, cabbage, corn on the cob, cornbread & dr pepper

  5. rikyrah says:

    Sun and Wind Alter Global Landscape, Leaving Utilities Behind

    SEPT. 13, 2014

    HELIGOLAND, Germany — Of all the developed nations, few have pushed harder than Germany to find a solution to global warming. And towering symbols of that drive are appearing in the middle of the North Sea.

    They are wind turbines, standing as far as 60 miles from the mainland, stretching as high as 60-story buildings and costing up to $30 million apiece. On some of these giant machines, a single blade roughly equals the wingspan of the largest airliner in the sky, the Airbus A380. By year’s end, scores of new turbines will be sending low-emission electricity to German cities hundreds of miles to the south.

    It will be another milestone in Germany’s costly attempt to remake its electricity system, an ambitious project that has already produced striking results: Germans will soon be getting 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Many smaller countries are beating that, but Germany is by far the largest industrial power to reach that level in the modern era. It is more than twice the percentage in the United States.

    Germany’s relentless push into renewable energy has implications far beyond its shores. By creating huge demand for wind turbines and especially for solar panels, it has helped lure big Chinese manufacturers into the market, and that combination is driving down costs faster than almost anyone thought possible just a few years ago.

    Electric utility executives all over the world are watching nervously as technologies they once dismissed as irrelevant begin to threaten their long-established business plans. Fights are erupting across the United States over the future rules for renewable power. Many poor countries, once intent on building coal-fired power plants to bring electricity to their people, are discussing whether they might leapfrog the fossil age and build clean grids from the outset.

    A reckoning is at hand, and nowhere is that clearer than in Germany. Even as the country sets records nearly every month for renewable power production, the changes have devastated its utility companies, whose profits from power generation have collapsed.

    A similar pattern may well play out in other countries that are pursuing ambitious plans for renewable energy. Some American states, impatient with legislative gridlock in Washington, have set aggressive goals of their own, aiming for 20 or 30 percent renewable energy as soon as 2020.

  6. rikyrah says:

    what is this phuckery?


    ‘Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia’ plans to confront Scott Walker recall petition signers at polls
    By Steven Elbow | The Capital Times

    A self-described militia group claims to be checking names on the 2012 Scott Walker recall petition and plans to confront those found to have outstanding warrants or tax defaults at the polls on Nov. 4.

    “We prefer our people be armed,” reads a Facebook post by Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia, screen captured on a blog at “Some will be heading to some of Milwaukee, Racine, and Beloit’s worst areas. We will be armed with a list of people to look for at each location.”

    The exchange posted on Politicususa continues:

    Patrick Murray: “Just so you are aware, I will not report Republicans. Only Democrats.”

    Wisconsin Poll Watcher Militia: “We will be targeting heavy democrat districts, so it is doubtful this will even be an issue.”

    Another entry from the group’s Facebook page, which has 31 likes as of Friday afternoon, reads: “Please private message us names of people you know are active voters and wanted on warrants. We can get our agents to watch their polling location, identify the individual, and then follow them to their residence. A call the police and they will be picked up for processing.”

    Another: “Attention all members: Militia training will be at HQ on September 20, 2014 at 0930. We will hand out updated watch lists, duty assignments, and discuss rules and regulations. Expect it to take around 2-3 hours. After our discussion we will be headed to the range for anyone who wants to participate.”

    To compile the list of names, the group is using the website Put Wisconsin First, which has divided petition signers into categories. For instance, the “Tax Delinquents for Recall” category lists 571 petition signers who are in tax arrears. One category lists 444 sex offenders and another lists Democratic political donors.

    Read more:

  7. rikyrah says:

    Good Afternoon, Everyone

  8. Ametia says: will livestream the memorial service for iconic actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee on Saturday, Sept. 20, at the Riverside Church in New York City. Dee died on June 11 at the age of 91.

    “Ruby Dee was an exceptional leading woman, on-screen and off, and we will remember her life and legacy of inner beauty that radiated strength, courage and grace – which will continue to inspire us all,” said Debra Lee, Chairman and CEO of BET Networks.

    Singers Alicia Keys and Audra McDonald will perform during the service, the Associated Press reports. Former Mayor David Dinkins and Sonia Sanchez are scheduled to speak and Harry Belafonte will deliver the eulogy at the ceremony.

    Tune in on Saturday at 11A/10C on to watch the memorial service.

    Happening now video here:

  9. Ametia says:

    A man who jumped the fence at the White House late Friday made it through the North Portico doors into the building before he was captured, Secret Service spokesman Brian Leary told CNN.


  10. Hi ladies, I was on jury duty the begining of the week. Just want to wish ya’l a good weekend.

  11. Ametia says:

    The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak
    By Ishmael Beah September 19 at 8:04 PM

    Ishmael Beah is the author of “Radiance of Tomorrow: A Novel” and “A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier.” He is on Twitter: @IshmaelBeah.
    It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?


    THIS: Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Ni­ger­ian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”

    This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.

    • Liza says:

      The PBS Newshour and Democracy Now have faithfully followed the Ebola story and I think they have both avoided fearmongering.

      Mainstream “news” media avoids investigative reporting which they do very poorly, so the only angle they have on a story like the Ebola outbreak is fear of a terrible disease which is spreading in Africa and kills half its victims. And I think it’s true that msm generally portrays Africans as less than human when they report on them at all.

      The real story here is the relationship between extreme poverty, lack of healthcare systems in these poor countries, and the resulting inability of these countries to deal with these outbreaks in any manner other than to quarantine the victims, literally hunting them down to try to keep the disease from spreading. Within this framework there would obviously be the human stories, what happens to the people who are living in these dire conditions.

      I would never think that msm here in the US could report such a complex situation, explore the human toll, or interview people working in the trenches or those who have in-depth knowledge and can speak about what the world needs to do for these countries right now and into the future. We just don’t do that kind of investigative news reporting here in the USA, certainly not our corporate media. By the time the masses know anything it’s too late to act (think 2003 US invasion of Iraq) and that’s how they like it.

  12. Ametia says:

    Good Morning, Everyone! I’ll certainly be looking for those”MIRACLES” today.

    Rikyrah, thank you so much for bringing us Rogers & Hammerstein this week.

    As a young girl, I fell in love with “Flower Drum Song.” An all-Asians cast in the early 1960s, was a miracle in itself.

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