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A CurtainUp Review

Making Tracks

The creators of this enjoyable musical history lesson have added their own footprint to the struggles and contributions of Asians to American life. The current world premiere is a full scale book musical that grew out of two previous workshops. Plans are afoot for a college tour and a summer engagement in Taipei but New York theater goers need to make tracks to see it at the comfortable 234-seat Tapei Theater on the lower level of the McGraw Hill building. The run there is limited to just fourteen performances.

Though more song than dance oriented Making Tracks, like Bring In 'Da Noise, Bring In 'Da Funk, tells a story of a hyphenate culture in a distinct and passionate voice. The use of the aisles gives the modest staging a wide sweep and makes the generous cast seem even larger. Photo projections on two upstage panels and dialogue interspersed with the songs and dance movements create the sense of characters stepping right out of a photo album. Even though the outlines of some of these stories may be known to many audience members, the details are richly embroidered and enhanced by more than a dozen original songs.. The music, billed as "rock" is more soft or sweet than loud, hard rock.

Typical of other stories about modern Asian-Americans coming to a fuller understanding of their histories (i.e. David Henry Huang's Golden Child-- see link), Making Tracks moves forwards and backward in time. The now generation lead character is a young Silicon Alley web developer (Kiki Moritsugu) who wants to create a web site which will pay tribute to her dying grandmother's (Virginia Wing) stories and thereby connect all Asian-Americans to their forbears' often painful journey to assimilation. When a bottom-line oriented boss (a Chinese Bill Gates sound-alike) kills her project she moves ahead anyway and the rest is history -- a poignant and sad and funny history.

It begins with the building of the railroads and the musical's title anthem. Next we see the arduous interrogations endured at Angel Island, the West Coast immigration processing center that makes the Ellis Island experience seem like a Welcome Wagon party. Welly Young, who created the show's book and concept, also proves himself a fine actor as a young man whose name is amusingly changed to Lucky Chuck by uncomprehending officials (shades of the much told story of the Jewish immigrant who similarly became Shawn Ferguson). The blend of humor and poignancy is also evident in the story of one of the picture brides who came to America clutching photos of men that often turned out to be twenty years old.

Moving forward to 1941 we arrive at the famed Forbidden City nightclub in San Francisco's Chinatown, where assimilation took the form of copycat Asian acts -- like Frankie (Timothy Hung) the Chinese Fred Astaire and Dottie, the Chinese Ginger Rogers (Kiki Morisugu, stepping out of her computer programming persona into Ginger's dancing shoes). Since Frankie is really Japanese the action progresses quite naturally into one of the darkest chapters in this country's history -- the internment of thousands of Japanese during the second world war. Again, there's a nice mix of humor and pain.

By the time the the story brings us back to Silicon Alley it's clear that the web site situation used to lead into the flashback is not just a device but a continuing pattern of Asians as valuable track builders. The information highway, like those early railroads, could not have been built without the contribution of such Asian Americans as An Wang (Wang computers) and Jerry Yang (Yahoo).

Making Tracks may not be quite ready for Prime time, but it's imperfections fade in the face of its relevancy and energy. Do you have to be Asian-American to enjoy and be touched by Making Tracks? No more than you had to be African American to have tapped and clapped your way through the now gone Noise/Funk.

Concept and Book by Welly Yang
Book and Lyrics by C. Matthew Eddy and Brian Yorkey
Music by Woody Pak
Directed by Lenny Leibowitz
Musically Directed by David Jenkins and Tom Kitt
Stage Managed by Will Marquardt
With Cindy Cheung, Lydia Gaston, Mel Gionson, Tim Huang, Tom Kouo, Mimosa, Michael Minn, Kiki Mortisugu, Aiko Nakasone, Rodney To, Virginia Wing and Welly Yang.
Set Design: Sarah Lambert
Graphic Design: Richard Ng
Projection Design: Elaine McCarthy
Costume design: Rasheda Poole and Shawn Ku
Sound design: Virg Nafarette
Choreography: Shawn Ku
Band: David Jenkins, Tom Kitt, Hector Lopez, Mowg, Woody Pak
Produced by: 2G (Second Generation Productions)
Taipei Theater (lower level of the McGraw Hill Building, 1221 Avenue of the Americas, between 48th and 49th Sts-- 212/ 340.1095).
1/30/99-2/14/99; opened 2/04/99
Reviewed by Elyse Sommerbased on 2/01/99 performance

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