During the spring of 2014 I was involved in the creation of an original musical theater production at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington called “The Blooming Season.” Directed by faculty members Rose Jang and Zhang Er, the book and lyrics were written by a remarkable graduating senior, Nick McCord. He had been involved with Rose and Er two years earlier, studying Chinese theater and culture, and so offered to write an original book and lyrics as the basis for an Evergreen theater production. I was so impressed with the results that I volunteered to write the music.
The plot centers on “The Woman” an archetypal Chinese female character found in all Chinese operas, novels and short stories, who is young, beautiful, brilliant and deeply longing for the true passionate love she cannot have as a female in traditional Confucian culture. Nick put together a delightfully madcap yet respectful and authentic mash-up of three famous Chinese opera plots: “The Romance of the Western Wing,” “The Peony Pavilion” and “Qiannu’s Soul Leaves Her Body.” The Woman is on trial in the court of (Buddhist/Confucian) Hell for the repeated cardinal sin of love, carried out against the laws of Confucian order and propriety. We visit three of her previous incarnations, drawn from the three opera plots and characters, and finally see the power of love to shake the very foundations of patriarchal cosmology. It is fun, funny, very moving and ultimately profound.
My music culled sections of compositions by students from the cast, as well as snippets of two famous themes from “The Peony Pavilion” and weaves them together with styles drawn from Broadway, doowop and popular song. Our workshop production used several Chinese stringed instruments as well as a lot of Chinese opera percussion in the pit band, along with two guitars, bass, piano, clarinet and cello. We were able to determine what the show is, and to recognize it as a serious musical theater piece worthy of a next, professional production.
The two clips above are MIDI only- no dubbed-over vocals yet. That will happen later this summer. But you can hear in the first example “I Believe” the Chinese style as I compose my tune “upon and around” snippets of a passage from The Peony Pavilion. In the second example, this same tune is turned into a ballad with backup singers, then joined by another tune from the show “Buzz Buzz Busy Busy” and ultimately into a dance number sounding like a flower-power anthem from “Hair.” (which is what the script called for!)
I hope you enjoy these as much as I do. This project was a wonderful return for me to the days when I wrote a LOT of theater music for the University of Washington theater department back in the late ’70’s!