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