By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Bringing a character to life before a live audience proves challenging enough for most actors. But alternating between two very different languages each night, as any of the actors in the new show “Eastbound” do, adds yet another challenge to the work.
“A huge challenge for me during this process was navigating my character’s speech,” said Jonny Lee Jr., who plays a character called Yun. “Not only do I speak Mandarin for half the show, I also speak with an accent. Practicing Yun’s speech has really helped me dig deeper into the character.”
“Eastbound,” with a book by Cheeyang Ng and Khiyon Hursey, music by Ng, and lyrics by Hursey, currently plays at the Village Theatre’s First Stage Theatre in Issaquah. The director, Desdemona Chiang, earned her Master of Fine Arts from the University of Washington, and she’s worked in local live theater ever since.
The show features talking and singing in both English and Mandarin, although non-Mandarin speakers need not fret. All Mandarin dialogue and lyrics get translated into supertitles visible above the stage.
The action follows two brothers moving in opposite directions across the globe.
Calvin, diagnosed with a serious health problem, travels to China in an anxious attempt to reconnect with his birthplace. Yun, starting out from the East, moves to the U.S., trying to break free from the straitjacketing customs of home.
Kennedy Kanagawa, who plays Calvin, says the special nature of the show drew him in.
“The number of contemporary musicals in existence, which center on the AAPI experience, is negligible. ‘Eastbound’ is a powerful story with a gorgeous score, and I couldn’t be more thrilled to be a part of it.”
He admits readily that as a Japanese American, he couldn’t follow the Mandarin sections of the show, although he did have fun picking out the Chinese characters overlapping Japanese characters.
“In a lot of ways, I identify with Calvin,” Kanagawa confessed. “The clash of cultures and the desire to find where you ‘belong’ is something I’ve struggled with my whole life. That said, there is the added layer of Calvin’s illness, which amplifies his stakes exponentially. One of the highlights of this process has been navigating that narrative arc with the other actors and the creative team.”
Musing on his own character, Yun, Jonny Lee Jr. found “that the most interesting thing about my character is the internal struggle he faces navigating his life, and trying to find balance between two cultures all the while dealing with conflict in trying to be his true self.
“In the second act, I sing a song titled ‘Tradition.’ I sing about the importance of cultural traditions, but also how they can be shackles that keep you from living your true self.”
Other local talent on display includes Cristin J. Hubbard as Caroline, Shuyan Yang as Tian, Ya Han Chang as Qing, and Derek Hoyden as Alec.
Behind the scenes, besides Chiang, the show features choreographer Kathryn Van Meter, music director/conductor R.J. Tancioco, scenic designer Timothy Mackabee, lighting designer Robert J. Aguliar, costume designer Johanna Pan, sound designer Natalie Kinsaul, stage manager Rachel Miller, and assistant stage manager Leila Cheung.
The musical remains in development, and audiences are encouraged to provide feedback through post-show talkbacks with the authors, or online surveys. In the words of Village Theatre’s Associate Artistic Director Brandon Ivie, “‘Eastbound’ is the perfect example of why this step in the process [of developing shows] is so important.
“Audiences will see that ‘Eastbound’ does not live on the page, it lives on its feet and in space. And those audiences will give so much input on how to best tell this story. I think the show is going to make some huge strides because of this process.”
“Eastbound” plays through June 12 at the Village Theatre’s First Stage Theatre, 120 Front Street North in Issaquah. For showtimes, prices, COVID-19 policies, and other information, visit villagetheatre.org/new-works/beta-productions/eastbound.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.