A star is born
Okay, he was born a long time ago.
Chuck Wong, bridge player, raconteur and singer of songs, has been in the chorus long enough–now he gets to sing a solo and get his own line in the credits, right there with the Equity Actors.
Chuck is playing Uncle Chin in Flower Drum Song at the Woodminster Amphitheater in Oakland. We went there Friday night with a group of friends, having planned the evening even before we knew Chuck was a big shot therein.
All these years in this area, and I’d never been to Woodminster. I had a misconception that it was the kind of place you sat on the grass and watched bad amateur theater. I was wrong on both counts.
Woodminster was built in 1938-40 by the WPA. It’s a real theater, with lots of real seats, no grass. The stage is impressively wide and contains a turntable to change scenes–because it is an outdoor theater there are no flies, which would block out the view over the bay to the bridges and San Francisco.
The performance is pretty darned professional–six of the actors (all of the leads save Chuck) were Equity members. There was a complete orchestra in the pit, lighting and costumes were expert, this was a big league operation.
Curtain time is 8 pm, but we got there way early to picnic. There are tables outside the theater area, but for a piddling $10 you can reserve one inside, behind the stage area. Our group of 8 filled up our table and spilled over on both sides, fortunately there was plenty of room as very few of the tables had been reserved.
Linda made the salad, Nancy Munson brought the fried chicken and the pie, Sheryl Nagy created the crab dip, fruit salad and the devilled eggs. I brought Diet Coke and white wine and a camera.
Danny is still an Indiana boy at heart, which explains the genuine Tupperware™ corn-on-the-cob keeper:
Nancy Munson has the well deserved reputation of best pie cook in the county. Bob asked me what kind I wanted, so I said “sour cream blueberry”, since nobody but Marie Callendar had ever made one I liked.
Nancy came up with this:
Nancy says she’s never made one like this before. I suggested that she needs to make one a week for a couple of months to get good at it. I don’t think she fell for that idea, darn it.
If you’ve got golden hour light, a camera and a couple of friends, you have to take pictures. Here’s Sheryl
Then we had a visitor:
Dinner over, things cleaned up, coolers walked back to the cars, we took our seats. I’m sad to report that the auditorium was about 25% full. We had great seats, dead center and about 12 rows up the steeply raked facility.
The sun had just set, the house lights went down and the stage lights went up:
Flower Drum Song was written by Rogers and Hammerstein in the mid 50’s. It was a hit at the time, but is very very out of date and politically incorrect today. This production relies on a new book, written, with permission,by David Henry Hwang in 1998. He was allowed a free hand with the book, but not permitted to change any of the lyrics.
The re-written musical was staged in Los Angeles in 2002 to good reviews, went to New York where it got poor reviews and closed in 6 months.
The version presented to us was cut down even more, leaving little drama and almost no plot. Boy meets girl. Boy doesn’t want girl, so she goes away. Boy realizes he does want girl, and she comes back. Everybody lives happily ever after. This is the lightest book since Great Swiss Naval Battles.
There are a couple of good songs–you’ll remember I Enjoy being a Girl. and will like Don’t Marry Me. That’s about it for the score.
Here’s a gallery of photos:
Consider this a pleasant evening at a lovely location. It isn’t great theater, but it’s good theater. The production is excellent and the actors make the most of what they have to work with. Take a good picnic–even if you can’t get Nancy to bake you a pie.
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