Review: In the Musical ‘Soft Power,’ China Whistles the Tune

A complex look at democracy from an Asian perspective turns “The King and I” inside out.

Comments: 18

  1. The National Popular Vote bill is 73% of the way to guaranteeing the majority of Electoral College votes and the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country, by changing state winner-take-all laws (not mentioned in the U.S. Constitution, but later enacted by 48 states), without changing anything in the Constitution, using the built-in method that the Constitution provides for states to make changes. It requires enacting states with 270 electoral votes to award their electoral votes to the winner of the most national popular votes. All voters would be valued equally in presidential elections, no matter where they live.

  2. @mvymvy , hmmm, you got all that from the play?

  3. Bravo! This is why we have critics! Much appreciate the exposition and look forward to seeing the show.

  4. @Godfree Roberts , I agree. I fear it will never get to Florida but I'd love to see it, thanks to this review.

  5. @Godfree Roberts - Historians will be studying the work and careers of both these writers the way we now study the careers of Sondheim and Loesser and Lerner & many composers, and Bock & Harnick, etc. If for some reason, this show doesn't take a next step due to lack of commerciality, this rather new-ish type of review will be an amazing historical record! (like a "Someone in a Tree" of a moment in theater history of an effort that just may not have proven commercial). Yet "Caroline or Change" never seemed commercial at the time, but some producers decided it needed a Broadway shot, and that work suddenly feels like it could become commercial summary years later.

  6. We saw the show last Sunday and loved it. It was heartbreaking, wistful and funny simultaneously. Jesse Green is correct in his criticisms but we always felt we were experiencing something very special.

  7. To Jesse Green: it would seem the reference in the number instructing Clinton to pronounce Xue’s name is to Sound of Music’s “Do re mi.” Keeps with the Rodgers and Hammerstein focus, plus listen to those octave jumps at the beginning...

  8. Its fascinating that Jeanine Tesori keeps working with major playwrights who are not really known at all for lyrics before they work with her, and gets such terrific lyrics from them In their own playwriting voice. David Lindsay Abaire, Lisa Kron, Tony Kushner, and this show, where she gets a credit for additional lyrics also. I recall sitting in a classroom at BMI when Jeanine presented a one-act with her soon-to-be "Violet" collaborator Brian Crawley and the class generally feeling this could use dramaturg but OMG, this is amazing blend of artists. They didn't develop "Violet" at BMI but they did have the brilliant BMI Librettists leader Susan Schulman as their dramaturge and director. One day in Susan Schulman's class, after "Violet" was already celebrated, she gave an opening mini-lecture with an assignment saying (from memory) "you can break many so-called rules but these three rules are inviolate." Someone spoke up and asked "These rules are in Violet?" Just a fun nod to the roots of a remarkable canon built by working with many playwrights rather than staying wedded to one. Such an exciting project that they're making "... Millie" right for inclusion next year with Lauren Yee! This seems like a thrilling idea, doing these while the artists are still alive and at their peaks.

  9. What were the three rules?

  10. The BMI notebooks were easier to find than I thought, because they gave these long green notebooks then, before handhelds. This wasn’t from that specific day, but these are what I have in my notes as the three basics from a first session, when there were always new people starting that year - The Passover rule - why is this day different from any other day - Know at least in your mind why you’re starting on the day in the plot you’re starting, that something happens that day in your plot. Adaptations, be ready not to start when your source material starts. If you see a truck unloading the sets into the theater, if you start seeing couches and dining tables, the choreographer is going be limited when those are onstage. Don't make them needed as you write a musical. You can’t dance through a sofa. In “Singin’ in the Rain”. the audience expects the number, so there you have to, That for a modern musical, after a page and a half with no song moment, start really looking for cutting; by two and a half pages with no song possibility, too long. Don't really on Peter Stone giving done a long book scene that worked in 1776, and there’s a reason that seems remarkable and may be the only one; at least it rarely works. I don't think she's written a book, maybe since she said even then that the ratio of music to book was getting larger.

  11. Clarifying that last part, I meant I don't think Susan Schulman write a "how to" book, maybe since what's true in 2005 may not be by 2025. (She's guided people who came out of the MFA program at Penn State.) There was a big rule that came from the songwriters' class that Maury Yeston announced every first session, Lehman Engel's "7-block rule," that anything negative you have to say about the work of a writer you know, anything about how you would've done this differently. - nothing except good until you're 7 blocks from the theater - that person near you as you chat at intermission or walk toward 8th avenue could be an investor - or maybe a reviewer you don't recognize. Be safe, wait 7 blocks, and the same etiquette should hopefully come back to you. :) but not kidding. Just the number of blocks being 7 is arbitrary; you can hold it in that long.

  12. When a critic warns an audience that they may have to see the show twice to fully appreciate its complexities, that shouldn't be viewed as a fault. And framing "Soft Power" as a Feverish Dream is to try to diminish its power as well. I think Mr. Green himself is caught up with trying to be clever for the Times when he is only confused. Everything in this "play with a musical" is working just the way it wants to. To needle David Henry Hwang's lyrics as not having the "brilliancy of Sondheim" but rather as "bare-bones-devoid penache" makes this critic sound like a tool. Why can't critics stop judging according to their own merits and start simply elucidating for readers what ideas are being put out there in the world by way of the stage? Here, Soft Power, is in a league and class of its own. Here's the first musical to sincerely and unflinchingly look at the times we are in and addressing it directly. Not since the musical Hair and that was way too long ago. So please, thank all the producers and the artists here and beg them to move it to Broadway, that's what this review should've said. "A strange complication", yes indeed Mr. Green, welcome to the theatre. Long live SOFT POWER!

  13. I think the comment from Eric "Wally" Wallach is right on point- the critic couldn't process the show and that is the weakness of the show? And to drop names like Sondheim to demonstrate the critic's musical theater literacy undermines the creative rights of others to be original and daring. I loved the show- it's zaniness ; it's rendition of parallel universes; its scaffolding of magical musical elements; directorial wizardry and of course the choreography which is perfectly executed with winks all around-- Is the critic stating: "stay on course, theater should be static ?" A critic should watch a show as many times as he/she needs to- but don't blame the creators for taking a roller coaster ride that is juiced with taking chances; being political and wonderfully entertaining.

  14. I saw it twice in San Francisco - produced at the Curran - and adored it both times. Special.Deep.Silly.Provocative.Very moving. And sharply , perceptively funny, in all the right ways. A unique thing that will wake up your jaded theater soul!

  15. I really liked this play. Smart, funny, touching, curious and utterly delightful. What more could you want?

  16. Saw this in Los Angeles and loved it–really eager to know what, if any, changes have been made since then. Judging by this review, not many. The reviewer is right in that the show has more ideas and ambitions packed into 2 Acts than pretty much all the shows currently on Broadway combined. As a result, not all of them land–not every one is a diamond. But I can honestly say that I've never seen anything like "Soft Power," would happily see it again, and it's a rare to have a show that is so packed to the gils that you'll be talking about it for hours and days after to try to unpack it.

  17. We four enjoyed it tremendously. Sorry the Public has not extended the run so other can see this tremendously entertaining...but imperfect...play within a musical.

  18. Saw it once with a friend. Insisted on taking my husband as he had to see it. He was crying with emotion by the end. I enjoyed it more the second as I was more prepared for what I was going to see. The first time I was just blown away! I would see it a third time. For both shows, in San Francisco, the crowd leaped to their feet by the end. A genuine response .....