Review Roundup: What Did The Critics Think Of SOFT POWER in San Francisco?

Review Roundup: What Did The Critics Think Of SOFT POWER in San Francisco?The world premiere of "Soft Power" by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music and additional lyrics) opened this past weekend in San Francisco!

This play with a musical, produced by Center Theatre Group, directed by Leigh Silverman and choreographed by Sam Pinkleton, is currently on stage at the San Francisco Curran 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 have to say!

Lily Janiak, San Francisco Chronicle: But when the orchestra, under the direction of David O, finally swells in, the show takes off. And bless the producers of "Soft Power" for investing in an actual orchestra, complete with six violins, instead of the synth-heavy, four-person bands that so many shows try to pass off as orchestras these days. "Soft Power" is infinitely more textured and grand and potent for the fullness of sound that only a slew of strings and winds and brass can create. It also complements Ricamora particularly well; his singing offers a reminder that the human voice is an instrument, one out of which he massages, as might a violinist, a sumptuous vibrato.

Leslie Katz, San Francisco Examiner: Some of the numbers are riotous: Xue steps off a plane into Hollywood, where everyone is blonde and shoots a gun; Hillary does a show-stopping, shape-shifting, get-out-the-vote dance on top of a giant burger at a McDonald's; a judge explains America's wacky (and unjust) electoral system; and after the unbelievable election, Hillary gorges on pizza and ice cream, while Xue visits the White House (the pillars are big Budweiser cans; the amusing scenery is by David Zinn), where the vice president (a funny Raymond J. Lee) and the ensemble wield machine guns.

Sam Hurwitt, Mercury News: With lyrics by Hwang and music and additional lyrics by Tesori, the musical numbers are a delightful pastiche of classic Broadway, from Rodgers and Hammerstein to Sondheim and beyond, deftly played by the orchestra under the direction of David O. With a tantalizing tip-of-your-tongue tang of familiarity, the songs seem as if they must have been as much of a blast to create as they are to behold.

Ilana Walder-Beisanz, Stark Insider: Jeanine Tesori's score, luxuriously orchestrated for a twenty-two-piece orchestra, dabbles in a variety of musical genres. The numbers are tuneful with moments of great harmonic beauty, without being particularly memorable. The talented cast produced clear choral blends and edgy pop-rock belts equally well. Appropriately, Hillary Clinton (Alyse Alan Louis) had to work the hardest, with a madcap multi-style dance marathon in the first act (where she tried to woo voters) and a show-stopping rock song in the second (where she defended democracy). Conrad Ricamora sang Xue Xing's bland ballads with great sweetness. Francis Jue made David Henry Hwang a self-deprecating, smart, relatable character, shaky singing voice notwithstanding. Jon Hoche had a brief but fabulous star turn as the Chief Justice, explaining the American electoral system with a song and dance.

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