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BWW Blog: Why Soft Power is Number One on My Spotify Wrapped

Soft Power is a fever dream musical that flips typical Eurocentric musical standards on its' head.

BWW Blog: Why Soft Power is Number One on My Spotify Wrapped

When I first sat down at The Public Theater over a year ago to watch Soft Power, I didn't know what to expect- I just knew that one of my favorite playwrights David Henry Hwang had created a musical with Jeanine Tesori and an almost entirely Asian cast, which I'm all for. I didn't know that Soft Power would become one of my favorite musicals.

Soft Power is a fever dream musical that flips typical Eurocentric musical standards on its' head. Like when the dashing male lead, Xu?" Xíng, is teaching Hillary Clinton how to pronounce Chinese words like his name, which is the opposite execution of the King and I when the westerner teaches the "savages" how to act and speak. The Asian male lead (played by Conrad Ricamora) is also Hillary Clinton(played by Alyse Alan Louis)'s love interest , and it's rare to see this in the arts. Later, Xu?" Xíng teaches American politicians what it might be like if they adopted differing political viewpoints from their own western ideals. Everyone in the cast is Asian except the actress who plays Hillary Clinton, and similar to Hamilton fashion, the Asian ensemble members play white characters (like Mike Pence for example). It shows us what's possible in the musical realm, and it makes us question American ideals and beliefs. As an Asian myself, it was emotional to watch all of this unfold within all the funny, joyous, infuriating, and sad moments.

This musical felt like a power move, and perhaps that's why I love it so much, it makes me feel powerful. But there's something else too. A lot of the songs just struck a nerve with me. As someone who's mixed race/Hapa, whether I like it or not, I am always questioning my identity, battling my own ideas along with other people's ideas; and in a similar way, David Henry Hwang's character (played by Francis Jue) in the musical is struggling with his own identity of being Chinese or American. In one of the songs, DHH says "I'm a fake", and the lead vehemently disagrees, assuring him that he is Chinese. Shortly after, DHH's character sings, "Xíng, you helped me see, I don't have to play a role. I'm not two halves, I'm whole," exclaiming to the world that his two identities of being Chinese and American are not in fact separate, but can exist at the same time. Every time I hear these lyrics, I sing along, telling myself that the two halves of myself are in fact a whole, and I don't have to be what's expected of me and I don't have to choose sides. In a way, this musical asks us how we can take away that idea of Asian Americans upholding certain characteristics and being seen as either "foreign" or assimilated "Americans"; it asks us how we can accept Asians Americans as being just that-Asian Americans, who don't have to adhere to any one idea of what it means to be either... It's getting all jumbled up in my mind right now... But having a cultural identity isn't dichotomous. It's multiple moving parts making up who a person is.

BWW Blog: Why Soft Power is Number One on My Spotify Wrapped So when I first got home from London back in March, Soft Power's cast album was released shortly after, and I found myself listening to it every day, laughing and tearing up as I sang along with it. This is why Soft Power is number one on my Spotify wrapped, and when Soft Power goes back to Broadway, I wonder what it might mean to have an Asian actress play Hillary Clinton (and I'm not just saying this because I want to play that role...So bad... But "Democracy" is a GREAT power ballad). Either way, I'll be supporting this musical that helped me be a little more at home with myself and my own identities for a very long time. If you haven't listened to this musical yet, please do, and as always, don't stop supporting BIPOC voices in the arts.



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