April 10, 2012
By David Zak
As our world grows smaller with instantaneous communication and cultural overload, we hear only sound bites that emphasize the differences and disagreements between Eastern and Western culture. Thus there is a lot to like and learn from Re-Spiced, Silk Road Rising's new cabaret that lets us listen and laugh, reflecting on how far we have come, and how far there is yet to go.
Artistic Director Jamil Khoury's blend of spoken material and songs features the views of Western artists commenting on the real - and imagined - exoticism of the Eastern world over the last three hundred years. The majority of the prose selections are familiar voices including Nietzsche, Whitman, Flaubert, Gide, and Hugo from the 19th century. A few writers from the 20th and 21st centuries are also cited, and the material is delivered with careful emotion by Steve Scott's talented ensemble. You will be surprised by some of the writing, and happy to hear who wrote it, and when.
The music has a more contemporary flavor, including selections from the classic works "Milk and Honey," "Kismet" and "South Pacific," and the contemporary "Bombay Dreams". A speech of General Douglas MacArthur in 1947 on the bombing of Hiroshima was followed by an excellent choral rendition of "Bui Doi" from "Miss Saigon".
The real crowd-pleasers are the pop music selections, from Randy Newman's hilarious "Korean Parents," to Toby Keith's classic country response to the September 11th attacks "Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue". But it is mash-up of "Walk Like An Egyptian," "'Turning Japanese," "One Night In Bangkok," "Rock the Casbah," and "Kung Fu Fighting" that brought the show most fully to life through Brenda Didier's zesty choreography.
The ensemble shines in their group work and featured solos. The enthusiasm of Christine Bunuan and Dipika Cherala is balanced by Amira Sabbagh's strength and Jaii Beckley's power. Beckley's "Bali Hai" is simply lovely. Joyee Lin fares best among the men, with vocal power, dramatic elegance and great comic timing. But Evan Tyrone Martin, Danny Bernardo, and Joel Kim Booster do great work.
Ryan Brewster provides restrained musical direction, with multi-instrumental support from Michael Evans. Jeremy Floyd's costumes are a smart use of gray with color accents, but the layers and sweaters made for some over-heated actors. Michael Stanfill's lights were marred by poor cuing at the performance I attended, and the sound system had an irritating buzz during the ensemble work. As it stands now, the intermission-less show overstays its welcome by 15 minutes, as certain themes circle in on themselves again and again.
But I love this concept, and - perhaps because I lived for six months in South Korea recently - it made me hunger for a show featuring artistic voices from the Silk Road countries commenting on the America they have known over the last three centuries. Hopefully the strong points music and poetry can make will continue shaping the essential cultural bridge that Silk Road Rising is building between East and West.