Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In on Jeanine Tesori and David Henry Hwang's SOFT POWER

By: May. 17, 2018
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Review Roundup: Critics Weigh In on Jeanine Tesori and David Henry Hwang's SOFT POWER

The world premiere of "Soft Power" by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori opened last night at the Ahmanson Theatre.

This play with a musical, produced by Center Theatre Group, directed by Leigh Silverman and choreographed by Sam Pinkleton, is currently in previews and continues through June 10, 2018. Following its run at the Ahmanson, "Soft Power" will play San Francisco's Curran from June 20 through July 8, 2018.

The cast includes, in alphabetical order, Billy Bustamante, Kara Guy, Jon Hoche, Kendyl Ito, Francis Jue, Austin Ku, Raymond J. Lee, Alyse Alan Louis, Jaygee Macapugay, Daniel May, Paul HeeSang Miller, Kristen Faith Oei, Maria-Christina Oliveras, Geena Quintos, Conrad Ricamora, Trevor Salter and Emily Stillings.

The creative team includes scenic design by David Zinn, costume design by Anita Yavich, lighting design by Mark Barton, sound design by Kai Harada, orchestrations by Danny Troob, dance arrangements by John Clancy, music supervision by Chris Fenwick, music direction by David O, hair and wig design by Tom Watson, make-up design by Angelina Avallone and casting by Heidi Griffiths, CSA and Kate Murray, CSA. The dramaturg is Oskar Eustis. The production stage manager is David Lurie-Perret.

A contemporary comedy explodes into a musical fantasia in the first collaboration between two of America's great theatre artists: Tony Award winners David Henry Hwang("M. Butterfly") and Jeanine Tesori ("Fun Home"). "Soft Power" rewinds our recent political history and plays it back, a century later, through the Chinese lens of a future, beloved East-meets-West musical. In the musical, a Chinese executive who is visiting America finds himself falling in love with a good-hearted U.S. leader - Hillary Clinton - as the power balance between their two countries shifts following the 2016 election.

Let's see what the critics had to say!

Jordan Riefe, The Hollywood Reporter: Soft Power might be the most creatively and intellectually ambitious musical of the year. Unfortunately, like the dream it portrays, much of the production lacks coherence. The focus on theme over story leaves it feeling a bit like a showcase for clever songs and heavy-handed observations on identity. As a protagonist, Xing seldom drives the action, instead witnessing and reacting to events. His relationship with Clinton allows for occasional hilarious political insights but fails to ignite any passion.

Charles McNulty, The Los Angeles Times: If you're confused by this synopsis, I'm slightly dizzy from writing it. The radical originality is both the show's blessing and burden. The delivery system the characters were talking about at the beginning of "Soft Power" is, to put it mildly, overloaded... The musical numbers, swirling with gorgeous golden age pastiche music by Tesori and witty lyrics by Hwang (with some help from Tesori), are delivered with polish and pizzazz. The cast, colorfully costumed by Anita Yavich, is set in motion on David Zinn's set by the over-the-top flamboyance of Sam Pinkleton's choreography.

Maureen Lee Lenker, Entertainment Weekly: As an idea, Soft Power is a heady concept unlike any musical in recent memory. Its execution is something messier and more human, with genuine flashes of brilliance... In the end, Soft Power's individual strokes of genius are greater than the sum of its parts as it grapples with issues perhaps too big to ever be consolidated into a 2.5-hour musical. It's sort of like the America it presents to audiences: a beautiful, provocative, profound, messy creation with no real solutions, whose reality is perhaps not as satisfying as its concept. But it doesn't mean it won't break your heart and put it back together again while trying. B+

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