TheatreWorks Silicon Valley presents the world premiere run of The Four Immigrants: An American Musical Manga by playwright/composer Min Kahng. It’s based on a comic book that he found in a bookstore in Berkeley, drawn by Henry Kiyama, who detailed the adventures he and three friends had as they became part of the Bay Area’s immigrant community. The play runs through August 6th at the Lucie Stern Theatre in Palo Alto.
There’s more information about the performances at the TheatreWorks Silicon Valley website.
There’s been a real interest in imported Japanese comics, or manga, especially in the past several decades, but Min Kahng came across a much earlier example by happenstance: “I was at a used bookstore, and I stumbled upon a book called The Four Immigrants Manga. And I just thought the title was really interesting, so I pulled it out, thinking that I was going to see a contemporary manga, but I discovered that it was actually from the early 1900’s. Then I discovered that it was drawn by a Japanese artist, and that it was a Bay Area story. And when I got home and read the book, I saw that there was an emotional arc to it that I thought could lend itself to a musical.” But it would be a lengthy process, beginning by being paired with director Leslie Martinson at a TheatreWorks writer’s retreat (which resulted in the opening song and scene), a ‘Musical Cafe’ showcase, and then their New Works Festival last year. There are only eight actors, with the women playing the most roles: “Musicals are expensive,” Kahng says, “And so the smaller you can get the cast, the more likely it is to get a local production. But it also set up a nice symmetry, because there are four men in the story, so my thought was, well what if the other actors were four women, but they played everybody else in the show.” Kahng says much more has been discussed about the generation that followed, those who dealt with internment camps in World War II: “I actually was not very familiar with the Issei, the first generation of Japanese, which the characters in this book are. There isn’t a whole lot of documentation, and here comes this document that not only tells the story, and is a local one, but also is drawn by an artist who chose to draw it in a cartoon format.”