Review: ‘Four Immigrants’ in Palo Alto a powerful slice of Americana

The United States is at its heart a patchwork of immigrant families, some recent arrivals and others less so. The new musical that TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is premiering at Palo Alto’s Lucie Stern Theatre, “The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga,” is a quintessential American story. It’s also a slice of Bay Area history, taking place in and around San Francisco from 1904 through 1924.

Written and composed by Bay Area playwright Min Kahng, “The Four Immigrants” is based on a very early graphic novel created in 1931 by artist Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama, detailing his misadventures with three other young Japanese men he befriended while immigrating to America.

Charlie (irrepressibly enthusiastic Hansel Tan), a self-styled forward thinker who can’t wait to leave the old country and old ways behind and become the American he already is inside. Fred (Sean Fenton, bullheadedly impatient) just wants to make some money to buy a farm, though he also fancies himself a ladies’ man.

Frank (Phil Wong, humorously slow on the uptake) is indecisive and easily dissuaded, so much so that he keeps his big dream to himself. As the point-of-view character, Henry (low-key, amiable James Seol) is the most subdued of the lot, a quiet dreamer who focuses on his art and doesn’t seem to have much of a personal life, or at least not one he talks about.

The story is about their dreams and adventures, but also all the obstacles thrown in their way— laws created specifically to prevent Asian immigrants from buying land or becoming citizens, and chilling encounters with people who just don’t want them there.

Developed in the company’s 2016 New Works Festival, “The Four Immigrants” is given a lively, fanciful world premiere staging by TheatreWorks associate artistic director Leslie Martinson. The projected backgrounds by Katherine Freer have a colorful painted quality like illustrations in a children’s storybook, and any details on the moving walls of Andrew Boyce’s set are line drawings.

Played by a small orchestra under the direction of William Liberatore, Kahng’s catchy songs combine plenty of period touches of vaudeville and ragtime with more modern musical theater styles. Vaudeville also informs the playful performance style from time to time, but not to the point of making it shticky.

Pretty much everyone the four immigrants meet is played by a quartet of women, both individually and as a chorus. The men occasionally also double as other characters, most notably Fenton as Charlie’s disapproving

Source:: East Bay – Entertainment

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