Review by Brittany Crowell
SIA and Kung Fu, what could be better? Unfortunately, the answer is “much” for Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, which is playing at the newly opened theater, The Shed, in Hudson Yards this summer.
I was excited to see the performance, which marketed 9-time grammy winner Sia, movement by Akram Khan, and martial arts coordinated by Zhang Jun. However, I was disappointed at the lack of kung fu in what marketed itself as a “kung fu musical.”
What I got instead was a show that was -musical, part Kung Fu, part dance piece, part theme park attraction. The story was trite and over-complicated, its ambition leading to confusion, large plot jumps and dis-jointed-ness, and the technical elements worked too hard to compensate. We saw fire and water appear on the stage as performers flew up and out of it, creating beautiful images, but the confusing landscape of this production dimmed their brilliance.
The direction (by Chen Shi-Zheng) straddled between styles and tones, at some moments leaning into campy audience direct-address, while at others going for a more serious musical theater ballad approach, further confusing the story and tone of the piece and, in the end, performing neither to much degree of success.
The performers were asked to do far too much. Being not only talented Kung Fu artists, but also dancers, singers, and actors, they felt too torn between mediums and while all incredibly talented in their own ways, their talent was unable to shine through. The dancing and kung fu took precedence over the singing and acting, which felt secondary and less fully realized than the movement elements at the focus of the piece.
Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise’s setting felt wholly unclear as well. Were it not for the program note and the obvious mention of “Flushing, Queens,” I would not have known where we were. Set design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams depicted a long, raised passageway (reminiscent of a subway line through the space) cutting its way through the cavernous platform painted like marble which was wonderfully animated by video designer Leigh Sachwitz in a beautiful, if not narrative way. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes simultaneously emulated tacky club attire, sexy dom attire, and ancient religious group. While individually, each design element was generally beautiful, they further confused the narrative and left the audience feeling in every place and no place, every time and no time, all at once.
I wish I could recommend some portion of Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, but in trying to be everything, it accomplished very little. The songs, the acting, the dancing, the kung fu, the design, none were exceptional or proved to be the focus of the piece. Instead, all tried to take focus, but did so at the detriment of each other, creating a mediocre and unfocused evening,
DRAGON SPRING PHOENIX RISE – Co-conceived and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, Co-conceived and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger
WITH: PeiJu Chien-Pott (Little Lotus (Prologue, Act I, Scenes 4-5; Act II) ; David Patrick Kelly (Lone Peak); David Torok (Doug Pince); Jasmine Chiu (Young Little Lotus (Act I, Scenes 1-3), Little Phoenix); Ji Tuo (Little Dragon); Dickson Mbi (Lee); Kacie Boblitt (ens); Conner Chew(ens); Erika Choe, (ens); Coral Dolphin (ens); Yuriko Hiroura(ens); Abdiel Jacobsen(ens); Elijah Laurant (ens); Carley Marholin (ens); Marla Phelan (ens); Raziman Sarbini(ens); Jacob Thoman (ens); Xavier Townsend (ens); Bret Yamanaka(ens); Lani Yamanaka(ens).
Original production design concept by Tim Yip; movement choreography by Akram Khan; martial arts choreography by Zhang Jun; songs composed by Sia; original score and remixes by Bobby Krlic (The Haxan Cloak); original club music and remixes by Arca; set design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams; costume design by Montana Levi Blanco; video design by Leigh Sachwitz/flora&faunavisions; lighting design by Tobias Rylander; sound design by Brandon Wolcott; special effects design by Jeremy Chernick; hair, wig and makeup design by Cookie Jordan; casting by Kristen Paladino, Paladino Casting. Produced by THE SHED: Alex Poots, artistic director; Laura Aswald, producer; Marc Warren, director of production; Isaac Katzanek, production manager; Sarah Pier, production supervisor; Joe DiMartino, technical supervisor; Stephanie Quaye, associate producer; Jason Brouillard, production stage manager. At The McCourt Theater (545 West 30th Street) theshed.org; through July 27. Running time: 90 minutes.