MORE NATIONAL REVIEWS FOR "HEADING EAST"
Terry Wardrope, The British Press
Before I reach the section devoted to re-issues, here are two examples of the nowadays prolific genre described as “concept recordings” that I would like to touch on. Concept recordings, or as I like to call them “wannabee musicals” are nothing new - they have been around since the 1950’s when someone got the bright idea of taking their musical into a recording studio and producing an LP of the songs hoping to get producers and the money men interested enough in the piece to commission a stage version.
Nowadays, this genre is a growth industry with what seems like dozens of CD’s hitting the shelves every year! Highly laudable you may think but the unfortunate fact is that the majority of these recordings are of no merit whatsoever, show a singular lack of songwriting talent and appear to be nothing more than “vanity” productions for their creators. However, now and again something comes along that at least gives some hope for the future and I’m pleased to report that HEADING EAST (DINK RECORDS DINK 1999 £14.99) is one such offering! Like such musicals as FLOWER DRUM SONG, MISS SAIGON and PACIFIC OVERTURES which have all featured a strong Asian slant HEADING EAST takes this one step further by attempting to tell, in story and song the history of the Asian American experience from the 1840’s to the present day.
Written by and featuring a talented cast of Asian-Americans the musical weaves together the experiences of the Chinese, Japanese, Korean Filipino and Vietnamese immigrants who came and settled in the United States over the years beginning in the days of the California goldrush. Throughout the play other historical landmarks (the San Francisco earthquake and World War II are others) help tell the story of the many problems and difficulties these people faced in trying to integrate into the American mainstream. If I have made this sound a gloomy and ponderous piece of history this is not the case. There is a great deal of humour as well as thought provoking moments throughout.
Composers Leon Ko (music) and Robert Lee (lyrics & book) have written a professional and varied score with delightful and tuneful songs. The cast, many with much Broadway and regional theatre experience include Paolo Montalban (who played Prince Charming in the recent TV remake of Cinderella), Jason Ma, Ken Leung, Cindy Cheung and Mia Katigbak are a talented bunch of performers who make the most of the material given.
The songs themselves cover a multitude of styles and have been given some outstanding arrangements by composer Ko. “Try And See Me As I Was” is a well constructed opener that sticks in the memory. “Gold”, set in the San Francisco of 1849 with it’s catchy rhythm is a fine ensemble piece as is the rousing “Good ‘Ol Uncle Sam”. Also memorable are the blues flavoured ballad which closes Act 1, “All We Can Do Is Remember”, here given a wonderful rendition by Cindy Cheung , “Family Tradition” and “Shame”, the latter effectively covering the trauma’s of the HUAC hearings in the early 1950’s.
Of course, those mentioned are only the tip of the iceberg, this recording is full of delightful numbers. There is also a fair sprinkling of dialogue through the recording which helps set the scene, although in places it does intrude somewhat and could have been judiciously trimmed without detracting from the piece as a whole. It’s the only criticism I have and it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of listening to a fine score. This is certainly one “concept” that fully deserves to succeed and I hope to hear more about this work in days to come. I recommend it highly!
Masquerade, London, England
The Orient has always fascinated musical writers and some of the top guns such as Rodgers and Hammerstein (The King and I, Flower Drum Song), Stephen Sondheim (Pacific Overtures) and Boublil and Schonberg (Miss Saigon) have turned their hand in that direction. Heading East however is the genuine article, an Oriental musical written by Orientals, Robert Lee and Leon Ko. That said the writers can rightly be called Asian Americans and it that very blend of Oriental and Occidental that makes Heading East such a treat.
It tells the story of 150 years of Chinese immigration to America through a constant central character, Siu Yee, and contrasts the differing attitudes of Chinese and other immigrants from Asia to the New World. While some encompass and embrace all things American, other stick doggedly to their old ways and traditions. The music also travels a long and winding road gathering and using diverse influences along the way.
The early Chinese feel of the opening numbers quickly gives way to the music of the American west with lute becoming banjo. Many of the songs in the first act are particularly interesting, extended works that are self contained minor vignettes; the story of the gold rush is cleverly told in the effusive "Gold" while the tale of the many Asians who suddenly became native Americans in the aftermath of the destruction of the San Francisco Immigration office is amusingly told in "Good Ol' Uncle Sam". Much simpler but just as memorable is the lovely duet "A Long, Long Way Back Home" where the differences between life on either side of the Pacific is clearly illustrated. The real first act highlight, however, is the wonderful "Thanksgiving/ Family Traditions", incorporating a series of thanksgiving dinners during which a family grows never apart due to cultural differences.
Somewhere around the middle of this long recording (it clocks in at 74 minutes) things begin to drag a little largely due to an over profusion of segments of dialogue and the inclusion of the dream sequence song "Shame"; I'm sure it would be effective on stage but doesn't cut it on an audio recording. But just when you begin to wonder if the writers have used up all their good songs early on, back they come with a trilogy of crackers. It kicks off with the touching duet "Much Like You", where the estranged couple Siu Yee and Lee Fung pay testament to the attributes each has passed on to their son ("It took time to understand, each moment I was proud of, had something of your touch, and something of your flair, time to understand, he is so much better, for the life we share").
That's followed by a real gem, "Only Home", an elegant and tender testament to the pull of home, performed by Siu Yee's mother, who rejects the opportunity to trade a ramshackle shack in China for a luxury home in America. It is so beautifully crafted ("I am fool to say, I'd ever want to stay, watch it come apart, that a crumbling door, or spot upon the floor, could be something close to my heart, what's a stove, or pot, or rusty cot, or a chair that you think is made of stone, only home, my son, only home, my son, no nothing like a paradise should be, only home, my son, only home, my son, and nothing but a home to me") that you can understand why the woman turns her back on the four bedrooms and the Jacuzzi for the familiar and the memories. The proceedings are brought to a conclusion by "This Is How A World Is Made" which, despite tinges of a Coca-Cola adverts, is an impressive anthem and a worthy conclusion to a score festooned with little gems.
The talent that has graced the stages of Miss Saigon around the world will have dispelled any idea that there isn't a wealth of top class Asian talent around and Heading East has gathered together many of them by assembling a fine cast. Paolo Montalban is excellent in the arduous role of Siu Yee, Fay Ann Lee (Lee Pung) sings quite beautifully while Ching Valdez Aran deserves a name check for the tasteful and moving "Only Home". As most of the names will mean little to the average reader it is rather pointless to recount all concerned but no one lets the side down.
It is always nice to come across something that bit special. Heading East, released by Dink Records on Dink 1999, is just that.
Leon Ko and Robert Lee's HEADING EAST (Dink Records 1999; 73:46) is a fascinating, exhilaratingly ingenious work. Celebrating the Asian-American experience while attempting to erase prejudices within Oriental cultures by illustrating how much they have in common, Heading East traverses 150 years of history within its framework of a grandfather attempting to make his grandson aware of how much progress has been made -- and how much more needs to be. If this sounds like a somber treatise on race relations, it is anything but.
Ko's music ranges from Oriental sounds through traditional showtunes, bluegrass and contemporary rhythms, providing an appealing variety of genres for Lee's shrewd lyrics. Those characters first and foremost as human beings, in numbers such as "A Long, Long Way Back Home," "Yankee Boy," "Thanksgiving/Family Traditions," and "Stay Out of San Francisco!".
This concept album is extremely entertaining, even if it runs out of steam a bit before it ends, it has much to admire and seems worthy of a production.
The cast is headed by Paolo Montalban, from the recent The King and I revival and TV adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella, who sings with panache. Others in the talented cast include Jason Ma, Christine Toy Johnson, Fay Ann Lee, Ralph Pena, Cindy Cheung, Ching Valdes/Aran, and Ming Lee. This recording is highly recommended.
Dink Records Releases Heading East With Paolo Montalban June 1 31-MAY-99
Although Asian have been the subject of several musicals (South Pacific, Pacific Overtures, Flower Drum Song), very few have been actually written by Asian Americans. June 1, Dink Records will release the CD of Heading East, a new musical by Asian Americans Robert Lee (book and lyrics) and Leon Ko(music).
East traces 150 years of Asian American history in the United States, beginning with Siu Yee, a young Chinese man who emigrates to California during the Gold Rush and then creates a hundred year existence in San Francisco. Told in flashback by Yeh-Yeh, an ancient grandfather who was once Siu Yee, to Timothy, his dissatisfied 19 year old grandson who embodies Siu Yee for the telling, East focuses on the Chinese experience, while bringing in Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese characters.
Paolo Montalban, who sings the parts of Timothy and Siu Yee, is best known for portraying Prince Charming on ABC/Disney's TV production of Roger and Hammerstein's Cinderella with Brandy. Joining Montalban on disc are Cindy Cheung (Jasmine), Mia Katigbak (Mrs. Lai), Ken Leung (Leonard), Christine Toy Johnson (Michiko), Leon Ko (Immigration Official/Chairman Mao), Ming Lee (Yeh-Yeh), Fay Ann Lee (Lee Fung), lyricist Robert Lee (Storekeeper/Native Son), Jason Ma (Ma), Mimosa (Ma's Wife), Jorge Ortoll (Rallygoer), Nicky Paraiso (Native Son), Ralph Pena (Dr. Lai) and Ching Valdes/Aran (Mother).
Songs on the CD include:
"Try To See Me As I Was"--Yeh-Yeh, Timonty/Siu Yee, Mother "There's A Ship"--Fortune Teller, Siu Yee "Gold"--Siu Yee, Storekeeper, Ma, Yeh-Yeh, Salesman, Mother, Miner, Spectators "A Long, Long Way Back Home"--Lee Fung, Siu Yee "This Is How He Says 'I Love You'"--Michiko "Good Ol' Uncle Sam"--Native Sons, Yeh-Yeh, Siu Yee, Lee Fung, Immigration Official, Ma's Wife "Yankee Boy"--Siu Yee "Thanksgiving/Family Traditions"--Siu Yee, Ma, Ma's Wife, Lee Fung, Michiko "Stay Out Of San Francisco"--Charlie, Ma's Wife, Ma, Jasmine "All We Can Do Is Remember"--Jasmine "Shame"--Prosecutor, Siu Yee, Pak, Carlos, Jasmine, Michiko, Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, House Committe On Unamerican Activities "Much Like You"--Lee Fung, Siu Yee "Only Home"--Mother, Siu Yee "All We Can Do Is Remember"--Michiko "This Is How The World Is Made"--Company
Heading East will available in stores and on the web at http://www.dinkrecords.com. Dink Records' previous releases include the "Stages" series of gay-themed show tune albums.
-- By Christine Ehren
Heading East Concept Album Due June 1 By Michael Farkash
Allegro Music Corp. is planning release of a concept CD for Heading East, a new musical telling the story of the Asian-American experience. The "premiere cast recording" has book & lyrics by Robert Lee, music by Leon Ko. Playwright David Henry Hwang (M. Butterfly, Golden Child) wrote liner notes for the album, scheduled for a June 1 release.
Heading East is described by the record company as “a funny, off-kilter and ultimately moving romp through Asian-American history focusing on the often strained relationships among the various Asian ethnicities throughout each wave of immigration to America, rather than the more often explored conflict between Asian and whites. It’s a show that uses the Asian- Pacific experience in the U.S. to deal with universal themes of racism, assimilation and what it means to be an American.”
Following are samples of Hwang's liner notes: “The term ‘Asian American’ did not come into existence until the 1960s. Previously, Americans of ‘Oriental’ descent identified primarily with their respective countries of origin; China and Japan, for instance, have long endured a rocky history, and their American descendants felt no particular kinship. ... In the light of the black power movements of the 1960s, however, the notion that Asians in America shared common interests, perspectives, and even a culture, began to gain currency. Still, as we enter the new millennium, fundamental questions remain: is this new identity an artificial and arbitrary designation, merely interest-group politics masquerading as culture?
"Heading East tackles this question with beauty, humor, and a defiantly Pan-Asian point of view. In its embrace of history, it displays an ambition few American musicals are willing to claim. ... Within the framework of an assimilated Chinese American boy complaining about his F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat) roommate, Heading East draws a compelling line from the Chinese American pioneers of the 1840s Gold Rush through today’s computer-literate youth.”
Art Collins and Joey Mendoza of CM Productions Inc. present Heading East. The soundtrack is distributed by Allegro Music Corp. Release is set for June 1 nationwide. Produced by Joey Mendoza, the album was recorded in March and April in New York.
Featured are performers Cindy Cheung, Christine Toy Johnson, Mia Katigbak, Fay Ann Lee, Ming Lee, Ken Leung, Jason Ma, Mimosa, Jorge Ortoll, Nicky Paraiso, Ralph Peñ, Ching Valdes-Aran and Paolo Montalban. For more information, contact Dink Records, 161 West 54th St., Suite 1101, New York, NY 10019, or call (212) 581-7406.
By Michael Farkash
A VISION OF THE FUTURE
“Heading East boldly exemplifies an exciting new chapter in the development of musical theatre. The American musical works which have addressed Asian/Pacific subjects --- notably, South Pacific, The King & I, The Flower Drum Song, Pacific Overtures, and Miss Saigon --- have all been the work of non-Asian authors.... Heading East encompases our unique point of view, in much the same way that African American works, such as Bring In Da Noise/Bring In Da Funk, have infused the traditional Broadway musical with new depths and insights.”
-- David Henry Hwang
New York, New York - June 1 is another red-letter day for Asian American and the American Musical Theater.
Over the past quarter of a century, Asians and Asian-Americans have made enormous strides in the arts, from the concert hall to the silver screen, from art galleries, recording studios and fashion runways to the stages of Broadway and the West End. Yet, one artistic endeavor continues to elude the community: the creation of a major mainstream musical theatre work, written and performed entirely by Asian-Pacifics, speaking of their world and experiences, and to their attitudes and concerns. The importance of this cannot be underestimated, for as long as we are not able to tell our own stories in our own way, opportunities for Asian-Pacific performers, directors, designers, musicians and audiences will be dictated by the tastes of the Euro-centric world. Finally, however, a new concept recording of a major mainstream musical work entitled Heading East, with lyrics and libretto by Robert Lee and music by Leon Ko will be released on the first of June.
Heading East is a funny, off-kilter and ultimately moving romp through Asian-American history which focuses on the often strained relationships among the various Asian ethnicities throughout each wave of immigration to America, rather than the more often explored conflict between Asians and whites. It's a show that uses the Asian-Pacific experience in the United States to deal with universal themes of racism, assimilation and what it means to be an American. wsithin the framework of an assimilated Chinese American boy complaining about his F.O.B. (Fresh Off the Boat) roommate, Heading East draws a compelling line from the Chinese American Pioneers of the 1840s Gold Rush through today’s computer-literate youth -- weaving together Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese experiences, differences as well as commonalities.
This important work, written by the world's only Asian-American musical theatre writing teams, features performances and cameos (in song or dialogue) by premiere Asian-Pacific theatre artists and professionals - reflecting the recent flowering of Asian acting in the American theater. The stunning array of talent include award-winning performers with impressive resumes from Broadway to the regional theatres. Heading East stars an entirely Asian American ensemble including Filipino American actors Paolo Montalban, Ching Valdes/Aran, Ralph Peña, Nicky Paraiso, Mia Katigbak and Jorge Ortoll.
Heading East will herald DINK Records’ new relationship with Allegro International (www.allegro-music.com) the largest independent record distribution company in the United States.
The album, recorded in New York City on March 1999, fills record stores in North America (www.headingeast.com). This premiere cast recording is produced by Joey Mendoza of DINK Records, an independent label which has already broken new ground with its first three releases, the critically acclaimed Stage series.
US ORDERS: Call 1-800-707-8683 OR check out website at www.headingeast.com OR send check/money order or Credit Card info to: DINK RECORDS, 161 West 54th Street, Suite 1101, New York, NY 10019. Each CD $17.95 (plus $2.95 s/h). Additionals add $.50 s/h per CD)
Check out website at www.headingeast.com OR send check/money order (in US dollars) or Credit Card info to: DINK RECORDS, 161 West 54th Street, Suite 1101, New York, NY 10019. Each CD $17.95 (plus $5 s/h). Additionals add $2 s/h per CD)
SHORT SYNOPSIS OF HEADING EAST
When Timothy, a 19-year old Chinese-American college student, returns home complaining about his Chinese roommate ("Really Chinese. From China"), his near-catatonic grandfather Yeh-Yeh breaks his silence, leading the startled boy through the colorful events of his incredibly long and eventful life, from his arrival from China during the California Gold Rush to the present day, showing Timothy how he dealt with the constant encroachments of “foreigners" in HIS life (Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos and the like) as he pursued his all-consuming goal of becoming "an American."
With his grandfather's coaching, Timothy portrays Yeh-Yeh as a younger man-Tong Siu Yee - as he lives through 150 years of Asian-American history, meeting along the way a host of offbeat characters, including an opinionated "progressive" Japanese picture bride, a put-upon Chinese wife whose insufferably bad poetry makes for exceptional fortune cookie fare, and a boastful Taiwanese doctor with a house so big he once fit 100 guests in the dining room - as well as such historical figures as famed Filipino-American author Carlos Bulosan and Kim Hyung-Soon, inventor of the nectarine.
In the end, both Siu Yee and Timothy understand that if we as Americans-Asian- and otherwise - are to survive, we must learn to look past our differences and help each other any way we can.