Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Kung Fu @ The Pershing Square Signature Center/Irene Diamond Stage

Bruce Lee almost single handedly created the “martial arts” action films. His name echoes throughout the world as a hero and superstar. So it’s no surprise that when his life is put on stage in “Kung Fu”, the result is a magical dynamic portrayal of a remarkable man.

“Kung Fu”, written by David Henry Hwang and directed by Leigh Silverman, takes the audience through the life of Bruce Lee (Cole Horibe) from the 1940s to 1971, when Bruce was starting his climb to superstardom. Deftly weaving through the past and the future, Bruce has to contend with trying to make his mark in a discriminatory world and still provide for his wife (Phoebe Strole) and family, while against the shame and troubled relationship Bruce had with his father, Hoi-Chuen (Frances Jue), along with other setbacks in his life.

The overall stunning cast is led by the dynamic Cole Horibe as Bruce Lee. In his New York theatre debut, Horibe is spunky, funny, and full of charm, passion, and intensity. He has exquisite control of his body, easily sliding in and out of kung fu and a myriad of other dance styles. This is exemplified in the opening scene where we see Bruce flirt with a contemporary dancer (Kristin Faith Oei) by combining cha-cha with contemporary and then throwing in his martial arts skills, all while never losing his charm and spunk. The scene greatly endears Bruce to the audience and that enjoyment remains consistent throughout the show. 

The rest of the cast is solid as well, in particular Phoebe Strole as Linda, Bruce’s wife, and Clifton Duncan as James Coburn and various other parts. Strole is a delightful foil to Horibe, listening intently to Bruce’s passionate speeches and showing her indomitable inner strength just when Bruce needs it the most. As the only female lead, the more subtle female inner strength that Strole portrays is striking in a show dominated by the physical strength of men. Clifton Duncan is just a delightful comic presence and frequently stole whatever scene he was in with just a simple look. My one critique of the cast is that it needed more women. Aside from Strole, the only other woman was ensemble member Kristin Faith Oei. While I understand the focus on Bruce and his broken relationship with this father (a wonderfully nuanced and malicious Francis Jue), along with Bruce’s relationship with his son and his film career, the female presence was needed more.

Besides the overall wonderful cast, the real star of “Kung Fu” was the choreography by Sonya Tayeh and fight direction by Emmanuel Brown. Once again, the opening scene set the tone of the choreography, which frequently turned on a dime between various genres and styles of dance. The fighting itself was also a dance, exemplified in sparring scenes as well as the more structured fights, like a heart racing street fight representing Bruce’s early wild days in Hong Kong. Sometimes it was hard to tell when the fighting ended and the dancing began, which shows the attention to detail director Leigh Silverman gave to every second of the show. Particularly stirring were two scenes between Young Bruce and his father in Act One, which was then mirrored in Act Two with the older Bruce. There’s so much said – hope, desperation, anger, disappointment, contentment – in almost no words, just in the movement.

In combination with the choreography, the lighting design by Ben Stanton and the music composed by Du Yun skillfully set up transitions between scenes and times that quickly established the moods for each scene. One particular stand out was the brightly comic colors and bouncy fun music used to create the “Green Hornet” section of the show, which turned up the comic book cheesiness in a truly funny and amusing way.

“Kung Fu” is a delightfully funny piece of theatre that truly encapsulates the rise of a now international recognized hero. Do not miss “Kung Fu” a wonderful gem of theatre. “Kung Fu” opens on February 24 and is only running until March 30 on the Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Theatre on 480 West 42ns Street, between 9th and 10th Avenues.

Review By: Chrissy Cody

Photos By: Joan Marcus

No comments:

Post a Comment