The Mikado Project Goes from Stage to Film
"The Mikado Project", a feature film directed by Chil Kong is currently in production and shooting in Los Angeles. The musical comedy (based on the stage performance written by Ken Narasaki and Doris Baizley and adapted for film by Chil Kong), also has attached: Tamlyn Tomita ("The Eye"), Yuri Tag ('Kaba Modern" of "America's Best Dance Crew), David McInnis ("Never Forever"), Erin Quill ("Avenue Q").
"The Mikado," one of the most beloved comedy operas by legendary collaborators, Arthur Sullivan and W.S. Gilbert, first opened on stage in 1885 in London. The story was set in Japan (considered an exotic land to the British during that era) which allowed Gilbert & Sullivan to satirize British politics. However, by doing so, Asians around the world and Asian Americans today have found this opera hard to embrace—making the notion of Asian American actors performing The Mikado controversial and palatable only through a comedic reconstruction.
The story begins with the news that The Angry Buddha Theater Ensemble, has lost its leading male actor, Jace (David McInnis, Never Forever), to a primetime gig on TV. Without Jace's star power the company faces imminent demise. Lead by Lance (Allen Liu, Flower Drum Song), a scrappy artistic director secretly living out of the back office of the theater, the members of the group fight over the idea of putting on The Mikado, which to some in the company is the equivalent of reviving “Charlie Chan” or “Kung Fu”.
“We are using the story of this Asian American theater company in the same way Gilbert & Sullivan used a Japanese story to comment on their society,” says producer Quan Phung. “Hopefully, we can laugh at ourselves while shedding light on the challenges facing Asian American actors or any actor of color in Hollywood today.”
We see the conflict most vividly through the eyes of three women in the troupe: Viola (Tamlyn Tomita, "The Eye"), a veteran finding her way in a young actor’s world; Cheryl (Erin Quill, "Avenue Q") a half-Irish, half-Chinese, feisty actress whose indignation masks her insecurities about being a lead; and Yuri (Yuri Tag, MTV’s "America’s Best Dance Crew") who is young, naïve, and oblivious to any negative connotations from art or life. These three women guide the story through their experiences as Asian American women in Hollywood and along the way we are given a window into the lives of the other members of the theater company and provided a glimpse into what binds them to the company. Through it all, they learn that what it all means is that they are not just a group of misfits, but a family.
“This story came out of my very own personal experience in the Asian American artist,” says director Chil Kong. “I am the artistic director of an Asian American theater company called Lodestone, based in LA, and we went through 10 years of introspection about the landscape of Asian Americans in arts and cinema. The one thing I know for sure is that history is evolving and my goal is to create a really good and entertaining story. For me, a musical comedy was the best way to go to address anything we had to say about being Asian Americans or 'The Mikado.'”
The most notable component of the film that audiences won’t be able to see but will certainly hear, are the new hip-hopera versions of the Gilbert & Sullivan’s musical compositions—outstanding beat box and rap mixes. The dance numbers are choreographed by members of the dance troupes, "Kaba Modern" and "Jabbawokeez", from Randy Jackson’s hit show on MTV, “America’s Best Dance Crew,” giving the movie a whole new identity to an old operetta.
Cast (in Alphabetical order as of 6/1/2008)
Raymond J. Lee – Teddy (Mama Mia on Broadway)
Allen Liu – Lance (Flower Drum Song Broadway revival)
Rizwan Manji – Sam (Karma Calling, Charlie Wilson's War)
David McInnis – Jace (Never Forever)
Gerald McCullouch – Dennis (CSI, Law and Order, NCIS)
Erin Quill – Cheryl (Avenue Q)
Freda Foh Shen – Mrs. O'Malley (Primal Doubt, Red Doors)
Yuri Tag – Yuri (Kaba Modern of MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew)
Tamlyn Tomita – Viola (Tekken, The Eye)
Ryan Yu – Ben (Kissing Cousins)