Flower Drum Song

Flower Drum Song is a musical written by the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein, based on the 1957 novel of the same name by Chinese American author C. Y. Lee. The Broadway production opened in 1958 featuring, for the first time in Broadway history, a mostly Asian cast. The musical was successful (as the novel had been), garnering six Tony Award nominations and spawning a London production, national tours and a 1961 musical film, but the musical and movie would fall out of favor as the civil rights era re-defined how minorities should be portrayed on film.

While it is revolutionary for being a show that features a virtually all Asian cast, it should also be noted for being revolutionary because it is the only musical about Asian-American characters. Other “Asian” musicals, South Pacific, The King and I, Miss Saigon, Pacific Overtures are about Asians who live in Asia. Flower Drum Song features characters who were born in America who just happen to be Asian. This is despite the fact that the producers of the original production cast “star” non-Asians in leading roles.

Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, the story concerns the generation gap between the old world Chinese who cling to traditional values, and the new world Chinese who see themselves as Americans who should adopt Western values and lifestyles. The ending, in the tradition of all comedies, is happy with all the protagonists finding their true loves.

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