Off-Broadway: 10 reasons to see “Kung Fu”

February 21, 2014 · 13 comments

in Inspiration, Making art

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Hurry — don’t  miss “Kung Fu,” a new play about the late, great superstar Bruce Lee. This colorful Off-Broadway production has actors and sets that are constantly in motion. In two hours and 15 minutes of dancing, martial arts and Chinese opera, we cover the 1940s to 1971 as we travel across Seattle, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and India.

Bruce was born in the U.S., then raised in Hong Kong, where he turned bad boy. As a young buck, he came back to the states with big dreams. Bruce smashed through Hollywood stereotypes of Asians and completely changed the pop culture view of Asian men as being less than real men.

The play covers Bruce’s life up to 1971, just before he becomes the superstar of iconic films like “Fist of Fury” (1972) and “Enter the Dragon” (1973).  Fans like me have never gotten over his death in 1973. He was only 32, a damn shame. When I was growing up in Chinatown during the ’70s, Bruce was my hero. He was so hot!

For years, the writer David Henry Hwang has talked about bringing “Kung Fu” to the stage. What’s he finally sharing with us is very special. Here’s my top 10 reasons for seeing “Kung Fu” at the Pershing Square Signature Center.

#1: Bruce Lee is a national treasure.  As a visionary-in-the-making, Bruce was wiseass, funny and physically elegant. While you’re at the show, check out the theater’s memorial wall. The theater is also selling movie tickets for the documentary “I Am Bruce Lee” (March 24) and “Enter the Dragon” (March 31).

#2. The show is a fresh take on martial arts, dance and choreography. Bruce’s unique body movements are a mashup of science, boxing, karate and more. Here’s a lovely New York Times analysis analysis of how the play was choreographed: “Fighting (and Dancing) Like Bruce Lee.”

#3. “So You Think You Can Dance” contestants are trendy. Cole Horibe of Hawaii stars as Bruce. This show is his Off-Broadway debut.

Cole was second runner up in Season 9 and joins other alumns now working in town. (Read about the trend in The Daily News: “‘So You Think You Can Dance’ catapults actors to Broadway and Off-Broadway stages.”)

#4. The cast is racially diverse.The actors are yellow, brown, black, white, male, female, young, old(er). Great demographics.  Everybody gets paid in this production. We are the world.

#5. Off-Broadway ticket prices are unbeatable. Up until March 16, “Kung Fu” tickets were only $25 apiece. Going into the end of March, there are $75 tickets left — still a deal in a market where Broadway tickets can break the bank at $200 and up. (If you want the scoop on Off-Broadway versus Broadway ticket pricing, here’s a good article: “It May Be a Nonprofit Theater, but the Tickets Look For-Profit.”)

#6.The Signature center on West 42nd Street is absolutely gorgeous. In 2012, the $66 million complex designed by famed architect Frank Gehry opened near 10th Avenue. It actually houses three small theaters plus a book store. And don’t miss the very cool cafe. Anyone can hang out. You don’t need to be a ticketholder. Along with the menu, the cafe serves up free live music and wifi.

#7. The neighborhood has good eats. The sweet, grungy little Hell’s Kitchen restaurants have been joined by the new Gotham West Market. This upscale food court near 11th Avenue has eight vendors that use key words like “Brooklyn” and “artisanal.” So far, reviews are positive.

#8. If you’re Asian and dating a non-Asian, “Kung Fu” will instantly enrich your relationship. Without giving away the plot, let’s just say the show succeeds in entertaining us while delivering big themes like family, identity and racism.

#9: David Henry Hwang keeps growing. David spent the past year as the Signature’s playwright-in-residence. It’s another notch in his incredible resume. Over the decades, I’ve seen almost all his plays. It’s been fascinating to watch him evolve.

#10: This show is fabulously New York. “Kung Fu” runs through March 30.  If you can’t get to the show, you can still share virtually in the experience. This link on the Signature website takes you to interviews with David, the cast, production photos, rehearsal videos and trailers. Be part of the celebration!  xo

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

betty ming liu February 21, 2014 at 10:49 am

I really enjoyed writing up this post! It was a challenge to add all the links and photos. My only regret is that something funky happened with the pix — most of the Pin buttons don’t work. But you can drag whatever photos you like to your desktop and send them on to Pinterest from there.

And if you want to chat about Bruce, heroes, the performing arts, writing, ethnicity or anything else, feel free to drop a comment below. xo

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Cassandra Aoki February 21, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Since Hawaii is largely Asian populated, I wish they would consider bringing it here but I’m afraid that they worry about mainland non-Asian tourists not wanting to see it. We have so many Asian tourists from Asia, that I believe that worry shouldn’t keep it from coming here. Plus, there are many Asian Americans and other ethnicities who also consider him a hero and would probably be happy to see it here while on vacation. If we could get Miss Saigon…surely, surely, we can get this play to come to Honolulu!

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Tobias Grace February 22, 2014 at 7:41 am

I had such a crush on Bruce Lee. He was a beautiful man in every way. I knew he wasn’t gay but still…I could dream!!!

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Stephen Gerald February 22, 2014 at 9:35 am

Bruce Lee was so much admired in the African American community as you well know. Not only was he a symbol of political resistance—Bruce never did anything he didn’t want to do—he was a master of a choreographic, martial arts ‘machismo’ style, and a practitioner of a code of ethics—he respected women and tradition. Above all, Bruce was the epitome of a sex symbol. Once his shirt came off on the silver screen, all kinds of fantasies swirled freely in the darkened movie theatres. Young men started to “pump it up” without feeling the need to “bulk it up.” Skinny guys learned to be flexible and “ripped.” Tattoo parlors went into overdrive inking dark skin in kanji. Ahh… Bruce: a hero for the working class, common man!

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Paris February 22, 2014 at 9:58 am

Yes, Bruce did transcend racial boundaries. He was a hero in the black community as well, igniting a huge interest in martial arts. I had a crush on Bruce myself. A poster of him from Fists of Fury hung in my room when I was in college.

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Doug February 22, 2014 at 10:09 am

I really want to go! The little I know about Bruce’s story intrigues me, and a good friend of mine (that I worked with in “In The Heights”) is in the show. Do you think it has the potential to make the move to Broadway?

On a related note, I saw the Broadway show “Rocky” the other night. Do NOT waste your money on it. A disaster.

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Erica Euse February 22, 2014 at 12:59 pm

I am so glad you posted this. I had no idea about the play, definitely going to get tickets for my boyfriend’s birthday! We just watched Enter the Dragon last night.

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betty ming liu February 22, 2014 at 5:21 pm

Aha — Bruce was definitely crush-worthy! Toby, Paris, glad to hear your true confessions too. The play truly does justice to Bruce.

Stephen, Paris, the whole connection to the black community was/is great. That’s why I was so glad to see that this production is multi-racial. Bruce was important to all of us!

Cassandra, Doug, I don’t know where this show is going next but wouldn’t be surprised it it travels. David’s plays get produced all over the place. Hawaii sounds good to me. And Doug, thanks for that warning about “Rocky. :)

Erica, hurry up if you’re gonna get tickets. I just checked and it looks like there are tickets left for the end of March. “Kung Fu” has been in previews and opens Monday. Depending on the reviews, the tickets could be gone in a flash. :)

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Paris February 22, 2014 at 7:25 pm

I hope you’re right about the show traveling, Betty, as I am no longer a NY resident!
BTW, have you seen the Bruce Lee action figure on mwctoys.com?
An excellent job! Looks so much like him it’s uncanny!

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betty ming liu February 22, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I just saw the action figure — what a riot! Btw, the show really surprised me with Bruce’s Chinese accent. He sounds different in his movies but that’s because he was dubbed. I hope to see this show again some day too. I really hope it gets produced in other places.

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Paris February 23, 2014 at 11:40 pm

If you’d like to see a really great clip of Bruce in his authenticity, speaking candidly (so passionate and intense!) YouTube video titled: Top 5 Greatest Bruce Lee Quotes Ever Recorded In Audio 70th Birthday Special.

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Jean April 21, 2014 at 1:12 am

Too bad the play hasn’t reached Canada –yet.

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betty ming liu April 21, 2014 at 3:50 pm

It might, Jean! David’s plays seem to travel around a lot. Thanks for dropping up. :)

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