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.