Journey to where East meets West

By Raymond Zhou ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-12-27 07:29:18

Journey to where East meets West

Apollo Levine plays a wonderfully energetic Monkey King. Zhu Xingxin / China Daily


Journey to where East meets West

Monkey King musical makes jaws drop

It takes an outsider to inject something fresh into a tale as old and venerated as that of the Monkey King. If I were told that an African-American would play the lead role, I'd probably laugh it off as a gimmick. Most Chinese may not even be able to accept it as a gimmick.

But this audacious casting choice turns out to be the best thing about this new musical version based on the ancient novel, Journey to the West, conceived in Beijing by a team of Broadway veterans. Not only is Apollo Levine, the American actor playing the part, wonderful and wonderfully energetic in the role, but, simply by being different from the other cast members in height and skin color, the point is hit home that it's about being different and how one reconciles with that kind or any kind of difference-about being able to fit in and stand out. Levine does not even attempt to imitate the existing Monkey King performers. About five minutes into the show, I totally embraced his portrayal, which exudes optimism and ebullience, with a casual touch of mischievousness.

When I first read of Shakespeare's Puck and Ariel, I was reminded of China's own Monkey King. I conjured up very specific images of the characters, but, as I watch more and more actors in the roles, I realized anyone could be Puck or Ariel depending on what aspect the director wants to emphasize. The same is true of the Monkey King. This new version is certainly not definitive, but it tickles my imagination.

Produced by Tony Stimac, a Broadway master who has been residing in China for many years and is now immersed in the Chinese tradition of performing arts, this Monkey King is truly East meets West.

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