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CURTAIN CALL: 1930's Sing-Song Nostalgia on the Bund
From THAT'S SHANGHAI June 2008 Print & Web Edition

By Mina Choi


The brainchild of playwright Ning Caishen and director He Nian, Romeo and Zhu Yingtai is billed as “ten times more romantic” and “30 times more funny” than the pair’s wildly successful Kung Fu epic, My Own Swordsman.

The show, which premiered last month at the Shanghai Dramatic Art Center, is a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that pulled out all the stops, including a set design worthy of Broadway. It had the dynamism of a musical, complete with a rotating stage, and the wulitou or “nonsense humor” of My Own Swordsman, including a hilarious bad guy who breaks out into a spasm of hip hop moves before assuming a villainous pose.

All this against the backdrop of the 1930s Shanghai Bund where the wealthy and pampered Zhu Wanying meets the charismatic, polyglot rickshaw driver Luo Guo (a.k.a. “Darling”). The two fall in love and find themselves in a dangerous adventure involving the head of a Buddha, a murderous Japanese collector, a group of gangsters and an amateur production of Romeo and Juliet featuring blond wigs and over-the-top Elizabethan period costumes.

Through a series of flashbacks, the story takes us back and forth between New York in 1997 and 1930s Shanghai. The audience responded enthusiastically to the play, laughing at the slapstick sexual references and swooning at the romantic gestures, but seemed oblivious to the play’s contradictions: the yearning for the glory days of the 1930s, even as it condemns the ugly behavior of foreign powers and Japanese militarism. Even the title Romeo and Zhuyintai demonstrates this paradox: it pays homage to a Western play, yet tries to transform it into something uniquely Chinese (Zhu Yingtai referencing China’s own famous love story, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai).

In the end, the audience is left with a few nagging questions: “How and why did Zhu end up in New York?” and “What is there to feel nostalgic about?” These questions, however, are gleefully glossed over in this youthful production that carries the audience along at such a wulitou whirlwind pace that the feel-good factor overrides all thorny answers.

May 2008, The Two Hamlets (read)

April 2008, Strippers and Princesses (read)

March 2008, Snow Storm and Bestiality (read)

February 2008, A Recap of the Spectacular Fall 2007 season (read)


For a complete list of Theater Articles by Mina Choi click HERE