Tyley Ross and Welly Yang star in the musical adaptation of “The Wedding Banquet.” It was originally a film directed by Oscar winner Ang Lee. Photo provided by Village Theatre
By Caroline Li
For the Northwest Asian Weekly
“Theater is a fantastic world that takes you somewhere else,” said actor, writer and singer Welly Yang. Having already left his mark on Seattle through the production of “Making Tracks,” Yang is back with another outstanding accomplishment to add to his already-impressive resume.
The founder of the New York-based theater company Second Generation, which brings Asian American stories to national and international stages, Yang is responsible for the new musical adaptation of “The Wedding Banquet.”
Conceived by, developed by and starring Wang, the show has already awed audiences in Taiwan, where it had its world premiere, and in Singapore. It will open at the Village Theatre in Issaquah on Sept. 18.
In 1999, his groundbreaking musical about Asian American history, “Making Tracks,” also made its U.S. debut at Village Theatre.
Adapted from Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee’s 1993 film of the same title, “The Wedding Banquet” is about a Taiwanese American bachelor, played by Yang, who weds a Chinese immigrant played by Dina Morishita. It’s a marriage of convenience: She gets her green card while he stops his mother’s constant nagging.
But the bachelor’s parents don’t know that their newlywed son is also gay and has a boyfriend. When his parents come from Taiwan to meet their daughter-in-law, there’s a lot of explaining to do.
A friend of Yang’s sparked the idea for a remake of the film about three years ago. Yang contacted Lee, told him about the idea and, with a little persuasion, the musical was born.
Yang said the biggest challenge was figuring out how to stay true to the original spirit of the Oscar-nominated film. “Adapting it into its new medium was a big challenge. Musical form is so different from film,” Yang said recently, just before taking the stage for evening rehearsal.
Instead of intricate camera angles and up-close shots, there are songs this time around.
Some of the dialogue is the same, but singing and dancing take the story to a different level. Yang promises that the humor and integrity of the original screenplay remain intact in the musical.
“The Wedding Banquet” sheds new light on Asian Americans in theater. Rather than being representatives for historical purposes, it tells the story of contemporary Asians in America.
“It’s a huge step forward to see an Asian cast nontraditionally,” said Morishita. “It doesn’t happen very often.”
Yang could be called an exception to the rule. He is one of just a few prominent Asian Americans in the national theater scene.
At age 20 he made his Broadway debut in “Miss Saigon” as Thuy. Since then he has been praised in cultural capitals throughout Europe, Asia and the United States in John Adams and Peter Sellars’ “Ceiling/Sky” and Cole Porter’s “Aladdin.”
Yang also has television credits on “MetroTV,” Nickelodeon’s “Sponk,” NBC’s “Law and Order: SVU” and numerous other productions.
One of his goals in creating Second Generation in 1997 is to bring Asian American stories to mainstream theater audiences. Hence, “Making Tracks” and, now, “The Wedding Banquet.”
“One of the most exciting things is the prospect that this (‘The Wedding Banquet’) could maybe be a show that people will be doing 20 years from now, that we brought this new piece into the American canon,” Yang said. “And if so, we hope that in 30 years or so people will look back and this will be a part of the definition of an Asian American.”
“The Wedding Banquet” plays Sept. 18 to Oct. 26 at the Village Theatre at the Francis J. Gaudette Theatre, located at 303 Front St. N. in Issaquah. It then shows Oct. 31 to Nov. 16 at Village Theatre at the Everett Performing Arts Center, located at 2710 Wetmore Ave. in Everett. For more information, call 425-392-2202 or visit www.villagetheatre.org.
Caroline Li can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.