TheatreWorks Launches 48th Season with World Premiere of THE FOUR IMMIGRANTS
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley kicks off its 48th season with the World Premiere of The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga. Drawn from one of the first ever graphic novels, set to an infectious ragtime and vaudeville score by local composer/lyricist Min Kahng, the comic musical follows four Japanese immigrants in a world of possibility and prejudice: turn-of-the-twentieth-century San Francisco. From a tumultuous earthquake to an exhilarating World's Fair, the quartet pursues the American Dream, despite limited options in the land of opportunity. Directed by TheatreWorks Associate Artistic Director Leslie Martinson, and developed at TheatreWorks' 2016 New Works Festival, the World Premiere of The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga will be presented July 12-August 6, 2017 (press opening: July 15) at Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto. For tickets ($40-$100) and more information the public may visit TheatreWorks.org or call (650) 463-1960.
Min Kahng is an award-winning Bay Area playwright and composer whose produced works include Where the Mountain Meets the Moon: A Musical Adaptation, The Song of the Nightingale, Tales of Olympus: A Greek Myth Musical, and Story Explorers. Kahng adapted this musical from Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama's The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924, a work that chronicled the Issei, the first generation of Japanese immigrants to arrive in America between 1885 and 1924. After extensively researching the history of cartoons, Japanese-American history, and theatre and musical styles of the era, Kahng began writing the musical in 2014 at TheatreWorks' Writers' Retreat, where he worked closely with the translator of the graphic novel, Frederik L. Schodt. The work was presented at the 2016 New Works Festival where it proved to be an audience favorite. The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga was selected to receive an Edgerton Foundation New Play Award. Kahng's previous work, The Song of the Nightingale, an adaptation of the Hans Christian Andersen story The Nightingale, was praised as an "enchanting, must-see musical" by The Mercury News. He has been featured in American Theatre Magazine as one of the "9 Musical Theatre Writers You Should Know." Kahng is a recipient of the Theatre Bay Area Titan Award for Playwrights and is a resident playwright with Playwrights Foundation. He is a member of the Dramatists Guild, Theatre Communications Group, Theatre Bay Area, and Theatre for Young Audiences USA.
Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama's original 1931 comic book, The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924 tells the true adventures of four young Japanese men in America, and it is arguably one of the first true comic books, or graphic novels, published in the United States. Kiyama began the work in 1927 when he exhibited a series of hand-drawn colored pages titled Manga Hokubei Iminshi ("A Manga North American Immigrant History") which depicted the lives of Kiyama and three friends in San Francisco between 1904 and 1924. While visiting Japan in 1931, Kiyama had his work printed in black and white. That year he brought it back to San Francisco, where he self-published it as Manga Yonin Shosei, or "The Four Students Manga." Frederik L. Schodt discovered Kiyama's work in a library in Berkeley around 1980. After much research, he completed a translation of the book in 1997, and it was published by Stone Bridge Press in Berkeley, retitled The Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924.
TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has assembled an outstanding cast for this production. Kiyama's Four Immigrants will be played by James Seol, Hansel Tan, Sean Fenton, and Phil Wong. Playing Henry is James Seol, who returns to TheatreWorks where he was seen in last summer's reading of The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga, as well as in the mainstage production of tokyo fish story. A graduate of the Juilliard School, Seol's work on and Off-Broadway includes productions such as Around the World in 80 Days, A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, Stuck Elevator, Ten, and others. He has appeared at regional theatres including The Woolly Mammoth, Hartford Stage, Paper Mill Playhouse, Shakespeare Santa Cruz, and in The Orphan of Zhao at A.C.T in San Francisco.
Hansel Tan makes his TheatreWorks debut as Charlie. Tan has performed Off-Broadway, regionally, and internationally. He is a previous member of The Flea Theater's repertory group of actors "The Bats" and worked at The Public Theatre and Ma-Yin in New York. He continues to work extensively with new composers and playwrights at the BMI Engels-Lehman Workshop and the NYU Graduate Musical Theater Writer's Program, and has appeared on a number of television shows including CBS' "Madam Secretary." Tan is also a recipient of the Singapore National Arts Council Overseas Bursary Award for Music and Theater, and the WesleYan Lipsky Choral Prize.
Sean Fenton reprises the role of Fred, following his performance at last summer's New Works Festival. The Four Immigrants will mark the third Min Kahng work that Fenton has been a part of. Fenton has performed, directed, and musically directed for companies throughout California. He received a Theatre Bay Area award in 2014 for his performance in the Bay Area Children's Theatre world premiere of Min Kahng's Where the Mountain Meets the Moon and has also worked with Broadway By the Bay, Bus Barn Stage Company, and others. Also returning to The Four Immigrants is Phil Wong as Frank. Wong is a Bay Area actor who was last seen at TheatreWorks in this year's Oskar school tours. He has worked in many regional theatres including The Lamplighters, Boxcar Theatre, and at the San Francisco Shakespeare Festival in Taming of the Shrew.
Reprising her role as Elder in The Four Immigrants is Rinabeth Apostol. Apostol made her first appearance at TheatreWorks in the 2004 production of RED and recently appeared in Marin Theatre Company's Peerless. She has also been seen at Magic Theatre, A.C.T, San Jose Stage Company, and SF Playhouse. Apostol is a company member of Ferocious Lotus and PlayGround, and is an Emerging Artist with the Kevin Spacey Foundation, as well as a Multicultural Artist Leadership Initiative Fellow.
Kerry Keiko Carnahan is making her debut at TheatreWorks as Kimiko. Carnahan has performed at The Mark Taper Forum, and Playwright's Arena, among others, as well as on ABC's "General Hospital." Returning as the Anti-Asiatic Leaguer, Catherine Gloria is making her mainstage debut at TheatreWorks. Gloria has performed with Berkeley Playhouse, Palo Alto Players, 42nd Street Moon, and Broadway By the Bay. Lindsay Hirata reprises the role of Hana from last season's New Works Festival, making her TheatreWorks mainstage debut in The Four Immigrants. In 2013, Hirata, alongside co-star Sean Fenton, worked with Min Kahng in The Song of the Nightingale. Hirata has also made regional appearances at Center Rep, Ray of Light, and American Musical Theatre of San Jose.
Director Leslie Martinson is TheatreWorks' Associate Artistic Director and has served as a director and administrator at TheatreWorks since 1984. She has helmed many productions at TheatreWorks, most recently including Calligraphy, Proof, Water by the Spoonful, Warrior Class, the Regional Premiere of Time Stands Still, the 2012 West Coast Premiere of The Pitmen Painters, and the company's acclaimed 2010 production of Superior Donuts. Other TheatreWorks directing credits include The Grapes of Wrath (co-directed with Artistic Director Robert Kelley), the Bay Area Premiere of Putting It Together, and the West Coast Premieres of The Boys Next Door, Brilliant Traces, If We Are Women, Theophilus North, and The Voice of the Prairie. A graduate of Occidental College, Martinson was a Watson Fellow, a member of Lincoln Center Directors' Lab, a member of the La MaMa International Directing Symposium, and has served on Theatre Bay Area's Theatre Services Committee since 2002. In 2009, she was awarded an Individual Artist Fellowship in Stage Direction from the Arts Council of Silicon Valley for artistic achievement and community impact.
The world premiere of The Four Immigrants will segue into TheatreWorks' 16th Annual New Works Festival, attracting theatre lovers from across the country. An extraordinary opportunity to experience new plays and musicals in their early stages of development, the Festival has launched many new works onto TheatreWorks' mainstage, as well as nationally. TheatreWorks' acclaimed Confederates and the musicals Triangle, Fly By Night, and Emma all came to life in the Festival, as did Broadway's Tony Award-winning Memphis, Off-Broadway's hit Striking 12 and the current Ernest Shackleton Loves Me, the Off-Broadway play Equivocation (winner of the 2009 Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award), and The North Pool (winner of the Will Glickman Award for Best New Play to Premiere in the Bay Area in 2011). For two weeks, from August 9-20, audiences will applaud, debate, and help shape new shows for America's future, while sharing fine wines with their authors in the starlit courtyard of the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.
Edgerton Foundation New Play Awards give exceptional plays in development an extended rehearsal period for the entire creative team, including the playwrights. The program launched nationally in 2007 and over the last ten years, the Edgerton Foundation has supported an extended rehearsal process for 297 world premiere productions. This assistance has allowed many plays to schedule subsequent productions, 24 making it to Broadway - with All the Way winning two Tony Awards in 2014, and Hamilton winning 11 Tony Awards in 2016. Nine Edgerton Foundation supported plays have been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, with Next to Normal winning in 2010, Water by the Spoonful in 2012, The Flick winning in 2014, and Hamilton winning in 2016.
With some 100,000 patrons per year, TheatreWorks Silicon Valley has captured a national reputation for artistic innovation and integrity, often presenting Bay Area theatregoers with their first look at acclaimed musicals, comedies, and dramas, directed by award-winning local and guest directors, and performed by professional actors cast locally and from across the country.
Photo credit: Kevin Berne and illustration fromThe Four Immigrants Manga: A Japanese Experience in San Francisco 1904-1924 by Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, Translated by Frederik L. Schodt, published by Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA