“Tiananmen A New Musical” – The Phoenix Theatre Company

Theater Review – October 14, 2023


“Tiananmen A New Musical”
The Phoenix Theatre Company, Mainstage Theatre
Phoenix AZ

By Chris Curcio
Theater Critic

World premiere musicals are rarely part of the Valley’s theater scene.  Exceptions come from The Phoenix Theatre Company.  They debuted “Americano!” about the Hispanic cultural lifestyle during the 2019/20 season.  That show was so successful here that it went on to a popular Off-Broadway run in New York City.

Now, TPTC brings audiences “Tiananmen,” a rich new musical about the awful violence inflicted on innocent students protesting for non-existent democracy in Communist China. The show is not without faults but the timely story applies to many places struggling for egalitarian principles.

Scott Elmegreen’s book after Wu’er Kaixi’s concept focuses on how the situation impacts a protesting couple. The pair discover romance but sidetrack it for their political convictions.  When they finally marry, their bond is scuttled by a brutal and senseless murder.

Optimists to the highest degree, all the protestors struggle to understand the autocratic rulers and their fear of students questioning totalitarian rule. The show’s score by Drew Fornarola sounds reminiscent of several recent musicals but the conventional musical sound never provides the feeling of the Chinese society the show depicts. The Tiananmen riots counted over 100,000 protestors but the small cast of 16 has difficulty conveying the insurrection’s overwhelming size and impact.

Darren Lee stages and choreographs well but the story drags on too long with unnecessary details.  Sharp edits won’t hurt the show’s thoughtful message. The leads are well played by Kennedy Kanagawa as Sheng Peiwen and Ellie Wang as Fan Xiaoli.  They sing soaringly and act convincingly.  Brandon S. Chu, Michael Ching, and Marc Oka play government dictators and leaders with stern focus who try unsuccessfully to quell protestors. The rest of the all-Asian cast are splendid and make each character a vivid portrayal of their involvement in this story.  An excellent band under Kevin Robert White’s fine direction essays the music well.  Workable sets and helpful projections by Michael Downs bring us to China with stark simplicity.

“Tiananmen” is an interesting show about a timely historical period that has earned the creators and cast the rath of Chinese leaders who wish to bury this episode from history. Some original show participants dropped out for fear of Chinese repercussions on their friends and families.  The show needs further tinkering but it serves as a significant reminder of “Tiananmen’s” terrible history and the horrors of autocratic dictatorships. Is “Tiananmen” a cue to America as we approach the 2024 Presidential election?  The show’s evening showtimes begin at 7:00 p.m. so arrive in time. The musical continues through October 29.  To order tickets, call The Phoenix Theatre Company box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: A

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    Oct 20, 23 at 23:57

    The government officials were played by Austin Ku (not Brandon S. Chu), Michael Ching and Marc Oka.

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