THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE “SHE IS A BIRD ABOVE THE REST” IS THE PERFECT WAY TO OPEN THE HOLIDAY SEASON
An ancient Chinese empire comes to the Town Hall Theatre and proves a simple Bird can win our hearts and smiles. Min Kahng’s THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE opens Town Halls 73rd season themed “Generations”. The Musical Fairy Tale is now on stage in Lafayette Ca. through Oct 21. Based upon the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale, THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE is heartwarming.
Book, music and lyrics by the award-winning Bay Area playwright, Min Kahng, says “We did a staged reading of the musical in 2010 at the Frederick L. Chacon Little Theatre at Alameda High School and had a great response.”
The musical is now reworked by the playwright especially for the Town Hall Theatre stage. Kahng says, “This second production has provided me a rare opportunity to revise my work and see it on its feet in its new form. I'm so grateful to Town Hall Theatre for this chance to let The Song of the Nightingale take wing again!”
THT artistic director, Susan E. Evans, who encouraged this reboot says “Kahng’s musical burst with positive energy, optimism and naivete in its message about the ultimate power of beauty to lift us up and make us better human beings."
Directed and choreographed by the clever Michael Mohammed, he brings a very talented all Asian cast to tell this tale “In this wonderful tale that Min has brought to life for us, the Nightingale is the bringer of great insight,- sometimes a simple bird song – or dance – can transform personal outlook.” Mohammed worked with a gifted cast of some of the Bay Area’s best featured actors including the superb dancer Pauli N. Amornkul as the elegant Nightingale.
Photo's by Jay Yamada
Just after his successful new musical FOUR IMMIGRANTS closed at Silicon Valley's TheatreWorks, Kahng brings this Hans Christian Andersen back to stage “The Nightingale has a special place in my heart. When I was in the 3rd grade, I performed in a children's play adaptation of the fairy tale, and the story stuck with me ever since. Andersen's Nightingale is a magical character who captured my imagination - I also long to expand the roles available to Asian American actors in musical theatre. Andersen's setting of a mythical China provides a choice opportunity to do just that.” Kahng initially wanted to adapt Andersen’s The Nightingale into an animated film but decided to turn his idea into a musical, the Disney-esque storytelling quality stuck with him.
Kahng has crafted a winning musical and story; NIGHTINGALE includes almost twenty new songs and cast of thirteen roles, sung, danced and performed by Asian actors. The two hour musical opens with “Nightingale Anthem”.
The simple story of heart, love and change takes place in an ancient Chinese empire where a frisky kitchen maid, Mei Lin, hoping to better her life captures the beautifully singing Nightingale. Isabel To returns to this new cast as Mei Lin after appearing in the first version back in 2013. To has a wonderful voice and sings “Make Room” with the ensemble as Mei Lin tells her story.
Young Mei Lin presents the bird to the Emperor who is taken by its magical song of hope. For her deeds Lin is promoted to the court leaving behind the man who loves her deeply, Xiao Hai, played by the impressive Matt Ono who sings the “Make Room” reprise with his excellent tenor voice. Ono is polished and charming in the part of the scorned lover and warrior, but his younger brother Tai Yun, played wonderfully by 12 year old Kenneth Greenwell steals the stage whenever he is front and center.
Young Greenwell who is “hapa” is a bright young talent who kept the sold out opening night audience laughing as his preteen humor grumbled as his brother flirted with Min Lin.
The Emperor played by local favorite DC Scarpelli is also a show stopper as he becomes dazzled by the Nightingale. Scarpelli commands the stage in this demanding role as a lovable bully Emperor who is held down by his sister Madame Wu, played by the grand Lisa Woo who seems to call all the shots.
Both Woo and Scarpelli have great stage comic timing and sing “Never Have I Heard” under the flawless music direction of Margaret Halbig. The Emperor's assistant and clothes designer Bing Wen is played by the splendid Ted V. Bigornia, who plays Wen as a flamboyant yes man who sings “Brown Is In” as he suggests the royal court dress in brown to match the Nightingale.
The feature cast is all outstanding and include humorous Christopher Juan as the fake golden Nightingale “made in Japan”, dressed in Hope Birdwell’s brilliant shining costume. Juan is hyped as the robot bird and is swank in the dance number “Song of the Fake Nightingale” - Mohammed’s hip hop choreography for the upstaging bird is sizzling, yet his work with the dance of the Nightingale with Amornkul is exquisite in “The Duet” when both birds compete.
The likeable Miyoko Sakatani as Head Fisherwoman and sometimes royal court staff and Chelsea Wellott is a Messenger and keeps Xiao Hai inspired to revolt against the Emperor
Benjamin Nguyen is humorous as Head Chef scampering across the royal court always asking for more fish, and he is wonderful as an old wise watchmaker. The entertaining Ji-Yun Kim fills out the Ensemble as a soldier and farmer.
MinSeob Yeom who is a first rate acrobatic dancer appears as the royal guard and is amusing as he tries to follow all the Emperor’s silly commands. Yet Yeom’s appearance as Death and his demanding dance expertise are exciting and just as elegant as the Nightingale, both dancers high light Kahng’s exquisite score, as they dance the final battle that wowed the audience.
Martin Flynn’s layered colorful set design uses sliding screens to transform from the docks of the sea side to the colorful Emperor’s Throne Room includes fabrics of pastel colors. The background design features the live on stage musicians; Daniel Warner who is the real nightingale’s whose words are performed by his elegant flutist and kept the Nightingale in the air. The accomplished Dan Wellerstein on percussion, and music director Halbig on keyboard.
Flynn’s set also includes a roving throne for Scarpelli whisking flow around the Emperor's Court. Scarpelli commanding wonderful voice is a stand out in his solo “Lonely at the Top” as the elegant Amornkul brings the Nightingale to life.
The second act opens with “Full Speed Ahead” song by Bigornia and Ono as the people of the kingdom prepare to challenge the Emperor’s court to take back the Nightingale and Xiao Hai’s mother.
The poignant Ono sings my favorite solo “The Girl I Know” and his voice is a pitch perfect warm voice. Woo as the lost Emperor's sister highlights the second act with her solo “Wu’s Soliloquy” and fills the Town Hall theater with her delightful voice. The lively creative costumes of Birdwell change with each scene as she kept the Emperor's wardrobe over the top with some swank hats and robes.
Mei Lin and Xiao Hai looked dapper on stage sometimes wearing the same color theme, and Madam Wu’s gowns flowed with charm as well as the guards and townspeople. The entire production is highlighted by Christian Mejia’s lighting design that perfectly captures the jazz and ballet that Mohammed has effectively weaved into heart of the Bird.
The sound design by award winning Lyle Barrere keeps the cast balanced with the on stage band. The ancient props are designed by DVC’s Wallace Yan are all clever especially the fishermen’s knives, the many scrolls the Emperor calls for and the cranky wind-up turn key for the golden bejeweled Fake Nightingale.
Of course the Emperor grows from a bullying ruler to a dying, wise man thanks to the powerful small brown bird. Xiao Hai and Mei Lin learn their happiness is important as young Tai Yun defends his brother. Overall this tale has that Disney and happy ending feel, and Kahng presents the charismatic wonderful score and pop songs that you will always remember.
This charming new musical is a wonderful accomplishment by THT and I would hope to see this musical on other stages throughout the country that features Asian actors and presents a family story for all to enjoy. Start your holiday season with this Nightingale. Next up at Town Hall is CIVIL WAR CHRISTMAS by Paul Vogel opens Dec 2nd. But in the meantime set aside an evening to join the little brown Nightingale “She's a bird above the rest!”
TOWN HALL THEATRE
Seasons of Generations Presents
The Song of the Nightingale
Book Music and Lyrics
by Min Kahng
Directed and Choreographed by Michael Mohammed
Music Director Margaret Halbig
Must Close Oct 21
Running Time Two Hours with an intermission
Town Hall Theatre
3535 School St, Lafayette Ca
Photo’s by Jay Yamada