April 10, 2012
By Rory Leahy
The Silk Road company’s mission is to promote theatre by Asian and Middle Eastern artists. With “Re-Spiced”, they offer an intriguing twist on that mission.
Conceived by Jamil Khoury and directed by Steve Scott, “Re-Spiced” features eight mostly Asian and Middle Eastern actors performing over two hundred years of British and American songs about the eastern world.
There’s some really beautiful stuff here from this subsection of the western musical canon, and some ugly stuff too. It’s clear white men have always thought of the “strange, faraway lands” of other continents as their playgrounds and their inhabitants as funny little people to be exoticized and colonized.
But Re-Spiced does a lot more than dig up and expose the racist and imperialist subtext of old songs. (And they’re not all old, some of this material was written in the 21st century) It’s obvious the creators have a lot of respect for the wit, artistry and magic of this music. By having non-white performers sing these songs, which were written about their people, they reclaim them as their own, and make them part of a universal human story that belongs to us all.
They gently mock the slightly dehumanizing 80s pop songs “Walk Like An Egyptian” and “Turning Japanese” and the outright bloodlust of Toby Keith’s “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue”. But they also lend strong voice to Kinky Friedman’s satirical “They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore” and Miss Saigon’s regretful “Bui Doi”. They also give us a wonderful rendition of the antiracist classic “Carefully Taught” from “South Pacific” sung by a woman of color instead of a well meaning white man.
Re-Spiced is a rare and admirable production that perfectly combines thought provoking content with an overwhelming sensibility of lighthearted fun.