'The King and I' Meets 'Soft Power'


Representation in Asian-Themed Musicals

Tony Award-winning theater artists director Bartlett Sher and playwright David Henry Hwang engage in a conversation on the current state of American musical theater, as it wrestles with becoming more sensitive and inclusive, with focus on Asian-themed musicals. The inspiration of Hwang's new musical Soft Power by Sher's revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's The King and I will serve as the basis for discussion of Asian representation in musical theater history, as it informs our present. Segueing into how to improve upon the status quo, the panel will examine Sher and Hwang's distinctive approaches, illuminate points of contrast and overlap, and consider their artistic work and goals as complementary. The conversation will be moderated by Karen Shimakawa, NYU Tisch Associate Professor of Performance Studies.

This program is part of the series Asian Americans in Theatre: Art and Activism co-presented with the Barnard College Department of Theatre, Stages of Inquiry.

Watch David Henry Hwang and Bartlett Sher discuss what progress has been made in diverse casting and storytelling in mainstream American theatre, and where it can still be improved.


Bartlett Sher is a director of theater and opera whose most recent Broadway credits include To Kill a Mockingbird at the Shubert Theatre and Lerner & Loewe’s My Fair Lady at the Beaumont Theatre. He is also Resident Director at Lincoln Center Theater, where he won a Tony Award for his production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific (which he also directed in London and Australia); and was nominated for Tony Awards for his LCT productions of My Fair Lady, Oslo (2017 Tony Award for Best Play, Obie Award, also National Theatre, London), Rodgers & Hammerstein’s The King and I (also London), Golden Boy, Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, Awake and Sing!, and The Light in the Piazza. His other LCT productions include Blood and Gifts and Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown (also London). Broadway: Fiddler on the Roof (Drama Desk Award), The Bridges of Madison County. Off-Broadway: Waste (Best Play Obie Award), Cymbeline (Callaway Award, also Royal Shakespeare Company), Don Juan, Pericles (TFANA, BAM). He was the Artistic Director of Seattle’s Intiman Theatre (2000–2009) and was previously Company Director for the Guthrie Theater and Associate Artistic Director at Hartford Stage. Opera: Roméo et Juliette (Metropolitan Opera, Salzburg, Milan, Chicago); Faust (Baden Baden); Two Boys (ENO, Metropolitan Opera); Barbiere di Siviglia (Baden Baden, Metropolitan Opera), Otello, Les Contes d’Hoffmann, Le Comte Ory, L’Elisir d’Amore (Metropolitan Opera); Mourning Becomes Electra (Seattle Opera, New York City Opera). He currently serves on the board of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers. Upcoming work includes the film of Oslo, written by JT Rogers & produced by Marc Platt, and Rigoletto at the Staatsoper in Berlin.

David Henry Hwang’s stage works include the plays M. Butterfly, Chinglish, Yellow Face, Kung Fu, Golden Child, The Dance and the Railroad, and FOB, as well as the Broadway musicals Aida (co-author), Flower Drum Song (2002 revival) and Disney’s Tarzan. Hwang is a Tony Award winner and three-time nominee, a three-time OBIE Award winner, and a two-time Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. In addition, Yellow Face was recently named one of the best American plays of the past 25 years by the New York Times. Hwang is America’s most-produced living opera librettist, whose works have been honored with two Grammy Awards, and he co-wrote the Gold Record "Solo" with the late pop icon Prince. Since 2015, he has been a Writer and Consulting Producer for the Golden Globe-winning television series The Affair, currently shooting its fifth season. His screenplays include Possession, M. Butterfly, and Golden Gate. Recent honors include his 2018 induction into the Theatre Hall of Fame, the 2012 Steinberg Distinguished Playwright “Mimi” Award, and the 2011 PEN/Laura Pels Award. In the 2017-18 season, M. Butterfly was revived on Broadway, and the premiere of his opera with composer Huang Ruo, An American Soldier, at Opera Theatre of St. Louis, was included in 2018’s Best of Classical Music by the New York Times. Furthermore, his newest work, Soft Power, a collaboration with composer Jeanine Tesori, enjoyed successful premieres at Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and The Curran Theatre in San Francisco and will open in New York in 2019. Hwang serves on the Board of the Lark Play Development Center, as Head of Playwriting at Columbia University School of the Arts, and as Chair of the American Theatre Wing.

Karen Shimakawa is an Associate Professor of Performance Studies and Co-Associate Dean of Faculty and Academic Affairs in the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, and an instructor in the NYU Law School. Her research focuses on Asian American performance, critical race theory, and aesthetics. Her current project is on the aesthetics and politics of discomfort in contemporary performance.

This spring, Asia Society presents Asian in America, a series of public events, performances, conversations, and celebrations of the remarkably diverse experiences of Asians in the United States.

Event Details

Tue 05 Feb 2019
7 - 8:30 p.m.

Asia Society
725 Park Avenue 
New York, NY 10021

Buy Tickets
$20 members; $22 students/seniors; $25 nonmembers
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