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Review by Vince Mediaa

This musical and my review is dedicated to the great Kathleen Breedveld who was an icon to Bay Area Theatre. For 40 years Kathleen Breedveld was the Artistic Director of Tri-Valley Repertory in the East Bay. She opened many green doors for young local actors and crew that now have gone on to their professional careers. Breedvelds’ passion for producing regional theatre and bringing the best of the Bay Area to East Bay audiences. Sadly, Tri Valley Rep lost Kathy just weeks before this musical was to open after a battle with illness. But with her lives a legacy that will continue on through everyone who has worked with her and she has inspired in the past 40 years. This production of NIGHTINGALE celebrates Katheen Breedveld’s final production.

An ancient Chinese empire comes to the Tri Valley Rep and the City of Pleasanton as they collaborate to celebrate Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month. Min Kahng’s THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE a Musical Fairy Tale is now on stage at the Firehouse Arts Center in Pleasanton Ca. through May 14th. Based on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale, THE SONG OF THE NIGHTINGALE is very heartwarming and proves a simple Bird can win our hearts and smiles.

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.” “This 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 let The Song of the Nightingale take wing again!”

Directed by the accomplished Jepoy Ramos, he brings a very talented all-Asian cast to tell this tale “What I hope audiences will see is that it is possible for local theater companies to produce and support works written by people from our community and feature an all-AAPI cast," Ramos said. "I hope that the audience will feel the passion from all of the artists and will embrace the themes of Joy, Hope, and Peace. I hope they will walk away feeling good, feeling uplifted and feeling motivated to share kindness & love with their community as well." Ramos and AD / Stage Manager Brian Olkowski worked with a gifted cast including the superb dancer Mercy Wu as the elegant Nightingale.

Just after his successful new musical FOUR IMMIGRANTS at Silicon Valley's TheatreWorks, writer Min Kahng brings 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.

The simple story of heart, love and change takes place in an ancient Chinese empire where a frisky kitchen maid, Mei Lin, played by the terrific Ann Warque, hoping to better her life, captures the beautifully singing Nightingale. Warque has a wonderful voice and sings “Make Room” with the ensemble as Mei Lin tells her story. 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 Simon Santos who sings the “Nightingale Anthem” with his excellent tenor voice. Santos 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 Tyler Kawata steals the stage whenever he is front and center. Kawata is a bright young talent who kept the opening weekend audiences laughing as the preteen humor grumbled as his brother flirted with Mei Lin.

The Emperor played by Myles Wu is a casting change that features a young Chinese royal. He becomes dazzled by the Nightingale as he sings “Never Have I Heard”. Wu is a lovable bully Emperor who is held down by his sister Madam Wu, played by the grand Jasmin Howard who seems to call all the shots for her young brother. Both Howard and Wu have great stage timing and sing “Palace Frenzy” under the flawless music direction of Delphean Quan and vocal director Jed da Rosa. The Emperor's assistant and clothes designer Bing Wen is played by the splendid Faustino Cadiz, as a flamboyant yes man who sings “Brown Is In” as he suggests the royal court dress in brown to match the Nightingale. The marvelous Warque ends the first act with the powerful song “Regret” and shows off her soaring vocals and sincere acting.

The featured cast is all outstanding and include humourous Ronnie La as the Fake golden Nightingale “made in Japan”, dressed in Micaela K. Sincair’s shining costume. The Emperor is hyped by the robot bird who is swank in the dance number “Song of the Fake Nightingale''. Choreographer Cat Reyes’ hip-hop choreography for the upstaging bird is sizzling, yet her work with the dance of the Nightingale with Mercy Wu is exquisite in “The Duet” when both birds compete.

The wonderful Miyoko Sakatani is humorous as Head Chef scampering across the royal court, always asking for more fish, and she is wonderful as an old wise watchmaker. The stoic Allen Ocampo plays the lovable bully palace guard. The graceful Ronnie La appears again as Death in an awesome dark battle with the Nightingale that steals the second act. Both dancers highlight Kahng’s exquisite score and Cat Reyes’ inspired choreography, as they dance the final battle that wows the audience. The elegant dance captain Ji-Yun Kim, Martha McDowell, and Allison Quintilla fill out the Ensemble as Fisher folks, Head Fisher, and Rebels.

Set designer Tom Curtin’s colloaborated with Director Ramos and designed a layered colorful set that uses sliding screens to transform from the docks of the seaside to the colorful Emperor’s Throne Room and includes fabrics of pastel colors and original hand paintings by Helen Rival and Victoria “Lukka” Pascual to complete the look. Curtain’s set also includes a roving throne for young Wu whisking flow around the Emperor's Court. Wu’s voice is a standout in his solo “Lonely at the Top” as the elegant Mercy Wu brings the Nightingale to life. The musicians; George Pascoe, Ryan Friedman, and conductor Delphean Quan on Keyboard are perched above the colorful set.

The second act opens with “Full Speed Ahead” sung by Cadiz and Santos 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 Santos sings my favorite solo “The Girl I Know” and his voice is pitch perfect with a comforting warm tone. Myles Wu as the Emperor showed maturity as he realizes his past mistakes and sings “Regret Reprise”. Jasmin Howard as the lost Emperor's sister highlights the second act with her solo “Wu’s Soliloquy” and fills the Firehouse theater with her delightful voice.

The lively creative costumes change with each scene as 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 guard and townspeople. The entire production is highlighted by Erica Engel’s lighting design that perfectly captures the jazz and ballet that Ramos has effectively weaved into the heart of the Bird. The sound design by Makena Mueller keeps the cast balanced with the orchestra. The ancient paper props designed by DC Scarpelli are all clever, especially the many scrolls the Emperor calls for. Each hand written in Chinese and the paper matched the era of China.

As the tale comes to an end the Emperor grows from a bullying ruler to a dying, wise young 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. 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. Honored Producer Kathleen Breedveld would have loved this musical. Set aside an evening to join the little brown Nightingale “She's a bird above the rest!”


In loving dedication to Producer Katleen Breedveld

And in celebration of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month

Presents Min Kahngs’

The Song of the Nightingale

A Musical Fairy Tale Based on Hans Christian Andersen's The Nightingale

Book Music and Lyrics by Min Kahng,

Directed by Jepoy Ramos

Choreographer Cat Delos Santos Reyes

Assistant Director/ Stage Manager Brian Olkowski

Vocal Director: Jed da Roza

Music Director: Delphean Quan

Must Close Sunday May 14th

Running Time Two Hours with a 15-min intermission


4444 Railroad Avenue Pleasanton, CA

Photos by Jepoy Ramos

Ramos quote courtesy of Nicole Gonzales / Pleasanton Weekly



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