After a tremendous reception in Asia, The Wedding Banquet: The Musical, produced by Second Generation (2g), premiered in the US earlier this month at the Village Theatre in Seattle. The musical, based on the acclaimed movie directed by Ang Lee, The Wedding Banquet centers on the life of gay Taiwanese American Wai Tung, and his Caucasian partner, Simon. It tells the tale of a plan gone awry when Wai Tung's parents joyfully arrive from Taiwan to attend their son's wedding to green-card deficient friend Wei Wei. While the make-up of the audience is different and the theater smaller (500 seats in Issaquah versus nearly 2000 seats in the Espalande in Singapore), the welcome and applauses are equally resounding.
"People at the Village Theatre are very supportive and are very supportive of new works," says Dina Morishita, starring as Wei Wei. Although the topics of different racial, generational, and sexual cultures presented in the musical are relatively new for Seattle audiences, Robb Hunt, executive producer of Village Theater boasts much enthusiasm for hosting the show. "I expect to have to answer to a few letters, but it's worth it," Robb predicts in discussing his decision to support the musical. "The piece deals with topics that are not typically discussed, but need to be talked about," he explained. With the pool of talents and the proven success of 2g's run of its pop musical Making Tracks last year, Robb believes that with the same creative team developing the work, The Wedding Banquet will parallel its success.
In previous conversations, producers have indicated that the process of creation is an ongoing one. Thus, it is no surprise that the show presented in Seattle is slightly different from the version showcased in Asia. Taking lessons from the Asia run, changes have been made to further condense, clarify, and define relationships in the show. For instance, based on audience feedback, more Mandarin is spoken by Pa Gao and Ma Gao (parents of Wai Tung) in order to intensify the contrast between the traditional Taiwanese parents and their much Americanized son. (Editor's note: If you don't want to ruin the ending, please skip the next paragraph.)
Welly Yang, founder/artistic director of 2g, who stars as Wai Tung, revealed that both the opening and the ending of the musical have been changed. In Singapore, owing to censorship issues, the ending of the musical focused on the celebration of family rather than on the marriage between the gay couple. In the U.S., the ending incorporates both and celebrates the matrimony and love of the couple as well as the formation of a new family comprising of the duo and Wei Wei. Modifications were also needed throughout the musical to offer context to American audiences and "explanations of the Chinese culture and the meaning of a wedding banquet."
While costumes are the same, the settings for the Seattle shows are more complete and elaborate. "The sets are absolutely beautiful," says Dina. Unfortunately for Asian audiences, the production was limited by touring logistics and overseas transportation and had different sets.
One might wonder how the cast deals with all the changes. Admitting that it can be a little difficult and confusing at times, Dina indicated that she fully expected the large number of revisions for a new show in development. In Issaquah, the team was busy with daily rehearsals, re-arranging and re-writing. However, with the show up and running, these days are less intense, according to Welly. "They have left us alone with no revisions for one weekend now!" Dina joked.
With all the amendments, one thing for certain has remained unaltered. That is, everyone involved, cast and audience, continue to have a blast, regardless of location. For those who haven't yet seen it in Seattle, 2g night at The Wedding Banquet: The Musical is this Saturday in Issaquah. For those in New York clamoring to see it, this year's Concert of Excellence will feature The Wedding Banquet cast in select numbers from the musical.
by Grace Leung