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 TIANANMEN  March 21-23, 1996

Music by BRAD FREY • Lyrics by GARY SHAPIRO
Book by Brad Frey and Gary Shapiro
Based on the events leading up to and occurring
 on June 3-4, 1989 in Beijing, China

 
  -Synopsis
-
Press Release
-Musical Numbers
-
Director's Notes

 

Synopsis

PROLOGUE:  BEIJING, CHINA 1949

The Communist Chinese Army, with patriotic fervor inspired by the Party Chairman (Andrew Levinson), vow loyalty to their party and country (Serve The Dragon) Tan Ming (Darren Rovell), is singled out by the Chairman as a role model for the others. This is the precocious beginning of a political career which will see him rise to membership in the Central Committee.

 BEIJING, 1952-1960

Katherine (Sabriena Stone). a British teacher, instructs children in English. Ming, now Minister of Culture and Education observes Katherine. When she becomes aware of his presence, she becomes immediately defensive. She asserts that she will not he an obedient servant who capitulates to party orders. When he responds in a calm, dignified way, she is remorseful (A Western Woman) A few weeks later, after a number of visits, it is clear that these two strong, independent personalities have developed mutual respect and affection (What Matters Now). By the mid 1950’s, Ming grow's in political influence and stature as China goes through many changes. Mindlessly following the Chairman ‘s lead, the party flip flops with policy, trying to improve the economy without losing political power (The Gong Show).  After a series of failed programs, Ming convinces the Chairman to take his place behind the scenes, and the Prime Minister (Luke Nam), assumes party leadership.

 BEIJING, 1967

The Chairman, realizing that power was slipping from his hands launched the Cultural Revolution to stir up revolutionary fervor among the people. Utilizing young students to be the vanguard of the revolution, they put on red arm bands and formed the Red Guard. They were instructed by the Chairman to get rid of all “bourgeois”, “western”, and “imperialistic” remains. Many ministers, including the future Chairman and Ming are purged and publicly humiliated by the Guard (Jet). Katherine, now Ming’s wife, looks on as Ming is whipped in Tiananmen Square. Afterwards, she pleads with him to do whatever he must to escape the dangerous and thankless position, if not for his own sake, then for her and their daughter (Sacrificial Man). Later that night, in their apartment, Ming tells Katherine of his plan to send her and their daughter, Liang (Allison Wainstock), to Taipei until things cool off. She is angry at him for this decision. He stoically accepts her reaction, but shows how much Katherine and Liang are his primary concerns as he soliloquizes a good-bye to his sleeping daughter (Lullaby). Moved by his sincerity, Katherine reluctantly softens and supports his plan. At the harbor in the nearby port city of Tianjin, a captain (Jay Yamarnoto) rationalizes with his men why he cannot always follow the law in a communist society (The Art Of Corruption). Ming enters with Katherine, Liang, and her Nanny (Natalie Wu), and calls upon his past friendship with the captain to deliver Katherine arid Liang safely to Taipei in exchange for his family jade. Two crewmen, Kwang (Yair Tal) and Fong (Dennis Trottier), observe the transaction. Ming says good-bye to Katherine and assures her that they will soon be reunited. On the boat in the cabin, Katherine puts Liang to sleep in the cabin’s one berth. She places the jade around Liang’s neck and under her shirt for safe keeping. Katherine and the Nanny sit up uncomfortably on benches, and they finally fall asleep. The Captain’s men, Kwong and Long, enter and go through Katherine’s luggage looking for the jade. She awakens and attempts to stop them. They push her down, but she valiantly fights back as the struggle intensifies. Liang and the Nanny awaken and huddle, frightened in the corner. They witness Fong stab Katherine to death.

 TAIPEI, REPUBLIC OF CHINA, 1967

The captain escorts the Nanny and Liang off his ship. He is worried about facing Ming and leaves to tiy to find a way to get out of his predicament. Left with Liang, the Nanny expresses fear and anxiety over what will become of the child. She is not prepared to take care of her on her own, so she runs away. The Captain returns with Peter (Josh Goldstein), and Michelle Sanders (Carla Brandwein), and American couple. Peter is a young correspondent for Tn-N (NNN) news. The captain suggests that they adopt Liang, appealing to their sense of compassion and means as Americans. He also suggests that Liang would either be taken to an orphanage or kept on the ship. Peter and Michelle, who are childless, discuss the situation. Realizing Liang’s hunger, Peter takes her to find some food. Michelle remains and contemplates her decision (Is This Child For Me?). She concludes that adoption is the best course for the child and for her and Peter.

 NEW YORK, April 18, 1989

Peter Sanders, who is now evening anchor for Tn-N finishes his live newscast about the uprising in Tiananmen Square, Beijing. The News Director (Kevin Schwartz), gathers the reporters for their assignment to cover the protests. He appoints Liana Sanders - Liang (Alison Breitman) as head correspondent. There are murmurs of resentment, especially from two other reporters, Jessica (Lauren Mensch) and Eddie (Adam Markovics). The News Director assures Liana that there is no nepotism in his decision. Peter suggests that this assignment and the trip to China is a great opportunity. He exits, leaving Liana alone to reflect on the meaning of this opportunity, personally as well as professionally, at this time in her life (This Is My Chance). Eddie and Jessica enter, teasing Liana. Eddie gripes about all the bad breaks and reverse discrimination that Caucasian males have to endure in the business world (What’s Coming To Me).

 BEIJING, May 13, 1989

At the Zhongnonhai, the Chinese government headquarters, Ming, Chairman (Luke Nam), his attaché, Kai (Ken Coelho), and the student protest leaders, Tian Jiang -TJ (Matt Bankan) and Mei-Ling (Alison Love), meet to discuss the student occupation of Tiananmen Square (Positions). Before TJ and Mei-Ling enter, Kai voices his impatience and disdain for the protests. Ming advises the Chairman to take a more moderate approach. When the meeting begins, it is clear that Mei-Ling is more rational than the impetuous TJ, who is full of demands and threats. Ming, recognizing TJ’s passionate sincerity, tries to advise him to be calm and tactful, but the meeting ends with no compromises from either side. A few days later in Tiananmen Square, the students jubilantly celebrate their protest (Rockin’ Tiananmen). It is the third day of their hunger strike. The media is covering the event. Liana interviews TJ. He is immediately attracted to her, and Mei-Ling is jealous. Eddie tries to get in on the interview, but Liana sends him and Jessica back to the hotel. After the interview, Mei-Ling expresses her resentment of Liana to TJ. He tells Mei-Ling that she is not able to compete with Liana for his affections. She is left alone to reflect on her unrequited love (Where I Belong). Meanwhile at the Zhongnonhai, the Chairman, Ming, and Kai are discussing the escalating problem in Tiananmen Square. The Chairman, urged by Kai, feels that military action is necessary now that the students are out of control. Ming tries to dissuade them, reminding the Chairman that they were once young political idealists. They are interrupted by the arrival of the American news team. The Chairman leaves Ming to handle the interview. Liana begins to question Ming. Again, Eddie tries to inject himself, this time offending Ming. Once more, Liana sends him and Jessica on their way. Left alone with Ming, Liana apologizes for Eddie’s behavior. Ming notices that perhaps Liana is more deferential because she is part Chinese. She tells Ming that she lost her parents long ago, and shows him her family jade, the only remembrance of her original family. He recognizes it, but he is too shocked to reveal who he is. When she leaves, he ponders his years without his daughter, not knowing what had happened to her (She Has Returned). He concludes that he will find a way to tell her he is her father. Meanwhile, the students hold a rally in the square to keep up their unified spirit (If We Truly Stand). The military appears on the scene and the students put up barricades. A tank approaches, attempting to knock down the barricades and scatter the protesters in its path. The soldiers warn the protesters to move back. TJ steps in front of the tank. The tank tries to pass on either side, but TJ adamantly continues to block its path. Finally, the tank stops. The driver and gunner (John Nam), emerge from the hatch. At this point the soldiers flank the tank on both sides. Convincingly, TJ urges them to stop and think of what is best for their country. The soldiers join the students as the Chairman and his ministers look down from the balcony of the Zhongnonhai at their defeat.                                               

END OF ACT 1

 TIANANMEN SQUARE, MAY 20, 1989

The next day, TJ, Mei-Ling, and the students continue to occupy the square. They are feeling triumphantly optimistic after the successful standoff with the military (Making Changes). Kai looks on and comments disparagingly from the balcony. Liana, Eddie, Jessica, and the news team show up to continue their coverage. Liana approaches TJ and interviews him about the events of the day before. Meanwhile, Eddie attempts to extract information from Mei-Ling by flirting, but he gets nowhere fast. TJ and Liana go off to speak further. Eddie chases after Mei-Ling, leaving Jessica alone, bemoaning her all too familiar lot in life (Odd Man Out). Meanwhile at the Zhongnonhai, the Chairman, Ming, Kai, and the ministers are discussing the humiliation of the tank incident. rearing that the students are persuading the military to join them, Kai suggests that they take even more extreme measures. Ming persuades the Chairman to warn the demonstrators first. Later that evening, as the protesters are sleeping, the sound of helicopters grows louder and louder. Flyers are dropped on the students. TJ And Mei-Ling read the warnings and urge the crowd to stand its ground, reminding them of their victory a few days before (We Are Almost There). Ming arrives at Liana’s hotel room. She attempts to interview him about the most recent events, but he is unresponsive. He finally reveals that he checked with Peter Sanders and confirmed that she must be his long-lost daughter, Liang. He also describes the markings on the inner portion of the jade she is wearing around her neck. Liana is shocked and uncertain. Ming comforts her by singing a bit of her childhood lullaby. Instinctively, she sings the next line, confirming for herself that he is her father. She tells him of her confusion over the years, but also of the faith in him that she never lost (Papa). After, Liana tells her parents over the telephone about her discovery. She is both happy and confused, and they comfort her. After the phone conversation, they decide to fly to Beijing where Peter will do a live broadcast, and they can both be with Liana.

 TIANANMEN SQUARE, June 3-4, 1989

The news team is busy setting up to cover the demonstration designed by the protesters as a defiant response to the Party’s latest warning. TJ and Liana immediately gravitate to each other. Their mutual attraction has grown, and they walk away from the crowd and share their feelings and concerns (There For Me). Later that night, Liana is walking with TJ while most people are asleep. They are discussing how this romance can possibly work. Mei-Ling disturbs their intimacy, telling them that soldiers are approaching a few blocks away. TJ wakes up everyone. TJ and Mei-Ling address the crowd, urging then to stand their ground. Peter and Michelle appear and warn Liana of the danger. She asserts that she will run her own life and career. The Chairman and Kai comment from the balcony on the imminent arrival of the military. Ming also warns Liana of the impending danger. As she did with her adopted parents, she tells him that she will stay to do her job. The military appears. TJ stands his ground in front of the tank as before, but this time there is a flurry of shooting, Many people fall, including TJ.  Liana and Mei-Ling rush to his side. TJ tells them that he has no regrets, that he has lived for a cause, as Ming has done (What I Believe).  Ming pleads again for Liana to leave, but she insists that she will not leave without him. She argues that he must not want to be part of a government that commits such atrocities, that he should live out his life in America, near his daughter. He pauses, and the many conflicting voices in his mind, past and present, speak to him (Finale). Finally, he signifies that he must stay by walking away from her, through the Tiananmen gate, affirming that his life has always been and must always be lived for his country.

© Copyright 1996, Frey and Shapiro

 

  

 

Director's Notes

Tiananmen  is an original musical written by two teachers from the Roslyn High School.  Brad Frey wrote the music and Gary Shapiro wrote the lyrics to this story set in China. spanning the years 1949 to 1989. The genesis of the work was from Frey, who had been to China three times in the last 1 teen years and was fascinated with its people and culture. Brad had already written a musical about the recording industry Whammy!, and he was ready for another challenge. In the age of Broadway musicals set in foreign countries (Les  Miserables, Miss Saigon. Phantom of the Opera) it seemed timely to choose an exotic place to provide the backdrop for the story.

After doing extensive research on modern China and writing story ideas sufficient to fill  nine hours of stage time, Frey took his work to Shapiro, his colleague and friend in the English department. He appealed to Shapiro to give literary form to his ideas, and Shapiro agreed.  With only a handful of published short stories to his credit, but with twenty years experience teaching English and directing student theater, Gary leapt rather blindly into the project. In one month, the story of Tiananmen was carved out.

Since the show was to be all sung, in the style of an opera, collaboration was needed to produce both arias (solos) and recitatives (speeches and dialogue set to music). Frey, a person for whom every living minute feels like a deadline, composed all the major themes in record time. Shapiro, more of a patient plodder, wrote the lyrics to the music that was handed to him on a floppy disc. With the help of a computer program called Cakewalk, Shapiro entered the lyrics right onto Frey’s musical score as it flowed across the screen. Concurrently, Shaprio would produce recitatives for Frey to set to music. Alter six months of faxes, negotiations, and tirade that made Oscar Madison and Felix Unger look like a marriage made in heaven, the work was completed.

Keep in mind that the show was created and tailored for the Roslyn High School’s theater company, The Royal Crown Players (RCP). Frey and Shapiro had teamed to direct six musicals in as many years, and they had always been in search of a vehicle that would suit these talents and provide enough parts to avoid breaking the hearts of so many worthy, aspiring stars. Tiananmen, if nothing else satisfies those requirements with fourteen different soloists (at least half a dozen more than the usual Broadway musical). Frey arid Shapiro also had the advantage of imagining exotic sets, costumes and dance members that their incomparable colleagues, Ron Weaver (Stagecraft Director) and Lvnn Jacobson (Choreographer/Costumer) would teach the students to produce.

In the first two months of rehearsal, the students worked overtime, traveling to Frey’s house on evenings and weekends to record a cast album in his home recording studio. The result was a one hundred minute, digitally mastered cassette tape filled with beauty and emoton.  Of course, that is the perception of Frey and Shapiro and the cast members, but one thiing is undeniably true about the Tiananmen  experience: like any successful theatrical project, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.