Review: THE DRAGON KING'S DAUGHTER at Kennedy Center

Everything is just fine instead of WOW!!

By: Dec. 07, 2023
Review: THE DRAGON KING'S DAUGHTER at Kennedy Center

With very few exceptions, musical theatre writers that have attempted to write the book, music, and lyrics for their shows do not succeed. Jason Robert Brown’s The Last Five Years is a rare example of one person successfully doing it all.

The current TYA World Premiere Musical at the Kennedy Center entitled The Dragon King’s Daughter is solely written by Marcus Yi and while all three elements have good things in them, because of the lack of a writing collaborator, everything just turns out fine instead of WOW!!

Yi’s story centers around Kenny Li (Jony Lee Jr.) whose mom works long hours at her job and is looked after by his next-door neighbor Auntie Qin (Sally Imbriano). Kenny is constantly bullied and thrown into dumpsters. One day he finds a tablet opens a portal and ends up inside a video game called Dragon King. Once inside he meets the Dragon King’s Daughter Xing (Michelle Cabinian) who is a rebel to be sure. You would be too if you were the daughter of the Dragon King (Eymard Cabling) Through the help of a mystical pearl the duo embark on three adventures together. Along the way we meet human hating pandas and more. Yi’s story is a good one but when it resorts to dragon poop jokes, you have to ask, why?

His score features some catchy numbers to be sure. “I Could Be Your Sidekick” and “Pieces of a Memory” are two of the standouts. What is missing from the songs is the use of a good sounding backing track. It’s not credited who created the tracks for the show but almost nothing builds to a dramatic finish and the overall sounds used feel like early 90’s MIDI. There are points on the show where the characters take off to fly somewhere but the music accompanying it stays grounded.

Review: THE DRAGON KING'S DAUGHTER at Kennedy Center
The Company of Kennedy Center's World Premeire TYA Musical
The Dragon King’s Daughter.
Photo by Teresa Wood.

The cast is uniformly talented and all of them give strong performances throughout. Lee Jr. and Cabinian have a good chemistry with each other. Sally Imbriano shines in multiple roles as does Quynh-My Luu and Leo Yu-Ning Chang. Cabling makes a very smarmy Dragon King.

As good as Patrick Lord’s projections are I wish that director Chongren Fan would have relied less on them. I would have loved to have seen Cabinian morph into a dragon onstage rather than see it as a projection.

Despite a very talented cast and design team, Marcus Yi’s non-collaborator choices hurt the overall finished product of The Dragon King’s Daughter.

Running Time: 70 minutes with no intermission.

The Dragon King’s Daughter runs through December 17th, 2023, in the Family Theater at Kennedy Center which is located at 2700 F St., NW, Washington, D.C.

Lead photo credit: L-R Jonny Lee Jr and Michelle Cabinian in Kennedy Center's World Premeire TYA Musical The Dragon King’s Daughter. Photo by Teresa Wood.