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“The Four Immigrants” is based on a 1931 comic book of the same name by Henry Kiyama. Playwright Min Kahng says he found it intriguing that Kiyama, a fine artist, would use what has come to be known as a graphic novel to share his story about immigrating to a new country with three friends. “One fascinating thing about the book is that he told his story in a style that was popular in his day,” Kahng says. “As for his style of art, you wouldn’t necessarily be able to tell that it’s a story about Japanese characters.”.
The playwright says Kiyama’s style choice played a role in how he approached his stage adaptation, “I felt it was important to me to really have it in (its original) time period,” he says, “The songs and dances are in the musical style of the America of the day, If Henry Kiyama had written a novel, it probably would have required a more Japanese musical form.”, “Lizzie” on the other hand, uses a goth rock score by Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer, Tim Maner extra wide silver dance shoes and Alan Stevens Hewitt to show how its four characters evolve from repressed Victorian women to develop rock star attitudes, says director Lisa Mallette..
Mallette says she and her cast and crew have worked to make the rock musical flow between its Victorian setting and its contemporary score. “We tried to put it together in a way that you’re not aware that you’re hearing music that sounds like Black Sabbath or Heart,” Mallette says. “There’s more focus on what’s happening between the characters than on the musical style. The music is imbedded in a cohesive story.”. Costuming also helps show the women’s evolution. Mallette says the show’s characters are in “full-on Victorian clothing” in the first act, but they loosen their corsets after Lizzie’s parents are murdered.
“In the second act they change,” she adds, “Literally, they change clothes, but we’ve been working on how they change on the inside, The murders are the catalyst to all of them breaking free.”, City Lights’ run of the show includes a performance on Aug, 4, the extra wide silver dance shoes 125th anniversary of the murders, Mallette says Lizzie’s trial and acquittal still hold fascination, “It’s almost like the Kennedy assassination,” she adds, “People have really strong opinions about whether she was guilty, and we’ll never really know.”..
Kanhg, on the other hand, says part of the appeal of “The Four Immigrants” was that the story of Issei, or first-generation Japanese immigrants, is not a familiar one to many audiences. “I felt like I’d stumbled onto a real find,” says the playwright. “There’s not a lot of documentation on Issei, since they came here to work. They weren’t necessarily focused on capturing their story.”. As with “Lizzie,” costuming is important in “The Four Immigrants,” especially since four women play a total of 90 characters in the show. While many of these characters are minor, Kanhg says each woman in the cast also has a featured role.
“They’re not just in the background,” he adds, Women are behind the scenes as well as on stage in “Lizzie.”, “There are 10 women (in the cast and crew) who have been in rehearsal for the last six weeks,” Mallette says, “It feels empowering to have that many women involved.”, extra wide silver dance shoes In the show, the characters’ growing sense of empowerment is depicted in somewhat surreal fashion, “You still see the essence of the Victorian Age,” Mallette says, “It’s just a little off.”..
While “The Four Immigrants” starts out on a surreal note, with panels from the comic book as backdrops and props that are hand-drawn and cut out, Kanhg says the tone of the show shifts in the second act to become more realistic. “Henry Kiyama’s book plays a lot with serious and farcical situations,” the playwright says. “The characters go through some pretty grave times, like the 1906 earthquake and anti-Japanese sentiment.”. Kanhg developed his play with TheatreWorks staff over the last year after it was given a staged reading at the company’s New Works Festival last summer. He says this involved incorporating feedback from the cast about what was working and what wasn’t.
“The actors have lived with their characters” for a year, he adds, “They have insights no one else would.”, Although the rehearsal process for “Lizzie” was a lot shorter, Mallette says she’s enjoyed working with her cast to help shape the show, “I’m a very collaborative director,” she adds, “At first I was thinking that it’s hard when you have too much freedom (to interpret a work), but now I love it.”, “The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga” runs through Aug, 16 at the Lucie Stern Theatre, 1305 Middlefield extra wide silver dance shoes Road, Palo Alto, Tickets are $40-$100 at theatreworks.org or 650-463-1960..