STAGE MEMORIES: SHANGHAI-BROADWAY PEKING OPERA

Or: Huang Doudou (“Yellow Bean”) rediscovers his metier.

The players:

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This little-heralded dance-drama (wuju) is a backstage musical presenting jingju (Peking Opera) from the inside and as seen through a kind of broadway musical production in the making.

But presenting and trahsforming one subcategory in particular: the wuxi 武戏. (“Military plays”. heroic in nature, full of loyal generals, glorious emperors, wise ministers, all of whom struggle against traitorous opposing forces – Farewell My Concubine and Hua Mulan, to name 2 we have studied). This was thought of as a lower art form than wenxi (civil plays) because so much of the action was imitation combat, acrobatics and the like. It is played mainy by wusheng 武生, which is the class of apprenctices, who must fist train as acrobat-athletes for the combat scenes (a means of testing their stamina).

But forms of Opera both hard as hell to “modernize” or render as hybrid Western/modern. Meaning rescore and rechoreograph such that a Broadway or Soho audience could “get it”, be glued to their seats by (just) watching or listening, without having to endure garbled tutelage from the producer. And without having to recruit audiences by “star”-studding, something that ended with Mei Lanfang’s tours.

The musical is also (or even mainly) about the revival of the career of Huang Doudou, quondam star of the Shanghai Ballet, who has staggered from hit to non-hit as a star player in the world of wushu – tumbling, gynmnastics. appurtenances of the Wuxi. (His Hua Mulan was a flop). The drama of this very short piece rests in whether or not his troupe can rescue the form from its relegation as bottom-level pure show, disappearance on hand. And even more on whether, as tghe junior of the “three musketeers” among the apprentices, and loser in love, he can somehow find the way back to or even create dr nobo something even better.

***
Well, while we weren’t looking.

November, 2011, 2 Beijing performances only, the rest in Taiyuan (?), the Shanxi Provincial “Opera” Company, not even recorded for CCTV (that I know of)

A 1-hr plus Broadway style adaptation of the “show” that actually works.
The “libretto” by Lilian Lee, who 18 years earlier had made it to the silver screen with the same subject, in Bawang bieji (Farewell my Concubine, see my earlier posts and the “sword dance”), but managed to keep audiences coming only by studiously AVOIDING anything but the shortest take of genuine or even derivative performance. In fact, hardly any “opera” at all, just backstage stuff and back-back-stage political hackery about the Cultural Revolution.

The trick (isn’t it obvious from Maurice Bejart’s In the Mood for Love (2008), a take on Shanghai stage art in the 30s via Zhou Xuan) that scoring it as a musical, with dance featured, was the solution?

Well it is. Or rather was: no invite came from abroad. Not exotic or esoteric enough?

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