BWW Review: New Musical GOLD MOUNTAIN is Intriguing
The 150th anniversary celebration of the transcontinental railroad brings New York City to Utah with a staged concert presentation of the intriguing new musical GOLD MOUNTAIN, starring Broadway favorite Ali Ewoldt.
GOLD MOUNTAIN (book, music, and lyrics by Jason Ma) is a new musical in development that tells the story of Chinese railroad workers on the transcontinental railroad. Lit Ning has recently arrived from China with his father, and hoping to save enough money to bring the rest of his family to America, he accepts the dangerous but better paying job of "fuse runner." When he meets Yook Mei, who has been subjected to a life of prostitution to support her own family, his life gains more meaning, and they dream of a life together, despite the obstacles in their way.
The score is well-crafted, with witty lyrics and complex Sondheimian melodies. The story is important and compelling, especially when it centers on the young lovers. It stumbles slightly in its final stretch with an overly long Chinese opera sequence and an ambiguous ending, but the rest of the show leading to it is solidly enjoyable and often moving.
The emotional center of this production is the luminous Ali Ewoldt as Yook Mei. Having recently ended a more than two-year run as Christine in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA on Broadway, she is a world-class talent, and it is truly special to experience her exquisite soprano and remarkable acting close up. Her performance of her character's beautiful introductory song "Practical" is heart shattering.
The rest of the Equity cast is also strong, especially lead Jonny Lee, Jr. as Lit Ning. It is refreshing to see an almost entirely Asian-American cast, and they are pouring their hearts and souls into their performances.
The small instrumental ensemble is the cream of the crop of Utah musicians, and it creates a stunning musical tapestry that includes traditional Chinese instruments such as the erhu and dizi. In addition, subtle elements of the Chinese language and culture are satisfyingly interwoven throughout the book and lyrics.
Alan Muraoka's direction of the staged concert presentation is clear and draws the audience into the story. It will be exciting to see the next steps for this worthy new musical, with a full production hopefully in the future.
GOLD MOUNTAIN's performances at the Eccles Black Box Theater are sold out, but it will continue its run at Peery's Egyptian Theater in Ogden on May 10 and 11. For tickets, call SmithTix at (800) 888-8499 or visit www.smithtix.com. For more information, visit www.goldmountainthemusical.com.