Second Generation's (2g) history is filled with monumental milestones. Very soon, 2g will add yet another by stunning audiences around the world with a musical adaptation of Ang Lee's hit film The Wedding Banquet-where love, cultures, and traditions are tested, rules broken, and family values bolstered. This story tells of gay Taiwanese American Wai Tung's perfect plan to get his marriage-minded mother off his back: a marriage of convenience with green card-hungry Chinese immigrant Wei Wei. The plan goes to spoils when his ultra-conservative parents show up at his doorstep to throw him a celebration. This touching and funny, farcical, and tender musical will debut this summer in Taiwan, followed by Singapore, and finally open in the U.S. in Seattle this fall.
The idea first came in 1998 while 2g's Artistic Director Welly Yang was en route to Taiwan. An accompanying friend, a gay Caucasian man in a long-term partnership with an Asian man, suggested musicalizing the piece. He had faced many of the same cultural and personal issues in his relationship as those portrayed in The Wedding Banquet. The transatlantic flight gave Welly ample time to discuss the suggestion. By the time Welly cleared customs, it was clear that The Wedding Banquet: The Musical was a mighty good idea. The story had great conflict between cultures and generations, lots of love, sex, high drama, and of course, hilarious humor.
As one might imagine, turning a film into a musical is no small feat. All the same, 2g pushed ahead and embarked on this "fulfilling" and "worthy" four year journey. This project, Welly hopes, will help re-define the idea of love and family as one that crosses linguistic, racial, and sexual boundaries.
Where do you begin with something of this scale? Well, here's your "Dummies Guide to Musical Production" - in 7-steps:
Step 1 took 2g about 6 months, back in 1999. Having just recently met Ang Lee at the time, Welly approached him for the rights. With some negotiations and a little convincing, 2g won the rights against a Singapore-based company to proceed with the project. Welly immediately gathered his trusted collaborators from creating Making Tracks, composer Woody Pak in LA and lyricist Brian Yorkey in Seattle to get started. This creative team had worked wonders before, they were eager to do it again for The Wedding Banquet.
- Acquire underlying rights (if it's an adaptation)
- Write the musical -story structure, dialogue, lyrics, songs
- Get funding from producers, sponsors, presenters
- Bring together creative design team (director, choreographer, designers)
- Audition and hire actors
Together the team hash out the ethnic, cultural, bilingual, sexual, artistic, and musical challenges and conflicts-and there are many! The creative process for creating a musical is constant. Out on the West Coast, Brian crafts lyrics and dialogues to tell the story and sends them to Woody to compose complementing tunes that touch the mind and heart. Along the way, Welly infuses his energy, intellect, and insight from both the artistic and business point of view. The songs and lyrics are reviewed and revised often, based on revisions and perspectives-a musical is a true collaboration, in every sense of the word. A series of reading workshops assist in the development process where the work is showcased and feedback is collected. [Note from the editor: Having attended a reading in February this year, I can already tell you that audiences are in for a big, big treat!]
Selling the idea to producers was relatively hurdle-free. Through Making Tracks and other projects, 2g has fostered trusting relationships and demonstrated a track record for producing world-class theatre. Subsequently, partnerships were established with Siraya Theatricals and Dream Park in Taiwan, Fiction Farm in Singapore, and Village Theater, a theater based just outside of Seattle, who also did a successful run of Making Tracks last year.
Four years later, 2g is currently at step 5. During the end of March, Welly, Brian, Woody and three-time Tony nominated director John Tillinger went on a 1½ week audition tour put together by casting director Stephen DeAngeles. DeAngeles pre-screened hundreds of headshots and resumes from talent agents across the country and set up auditions with over 150 actors in New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles in search of the perfect 18 person cast.
Lots of work still lies ahead for this team before the production can be seen on stage. Given that Woody, Brian, and most of the ensemble are on the West Coast, rehearsals will take place in Seattle. Details for stage design, scenery, and costumes have to be ironed out. After all, the sets and costumes have to be effective yet efficient enough so they can be lugged from country to country!
Saying that The Wedding Banquet came about in 7 simple steps is an understatement. How simple can it be if it took 4 years and the work is still in progress? But it is almost there. The excitement and anticipation is skyrocketing among the 2g family. When all is said and done, this is going to be a show well worth waiting for!