M. Butterfly @ The Cort Theater - Will's New York Nite Life

M. Butterfly @ The Cort Theater

M. Butterfly @ The Cort Theater

M. Butterfly by David Henry Hwang
Starring Clive Owen and Jin Ha
Directed by Julie Taymor
Cort Theater
138 W 48th St
Ongoing

Surprisingly, this is the first non-musical (and only the fifth Broadway show overall) to be directed by Julie Taymor (who won a Tony Award for The Lion King in 1997), and she has brought her enormous visual - and even musical - imagination to bear on what has become an iconic American play. Considered disturbing when it first premiered in 1988, M. Butterfly hasn’t lost any of its power to shock, in fact, it may be even more upsetting now. The idea of a relationship between two men is, of course, completely acceptable in the 21st Century, but in this current mindset of political correctness, where practically everybody is afraid to say practically anything, M. Butterfly remains a bold and daring statement. It is a dark, disturbing drama, and its message is heightened by a considerable sense of humor and a generous use of music. Indeed, it’s Ms. Taymor’s staging of the musical sequences - and the contrast, say between Italian opera, traditional Chinese opera, and Communist era Chinese ballet - that does much to illuminate the story points about the clash of cultures, as well as of familiar gender roles. From what I remembered of the original 1988 production and the furor it caused at the time, I was anticipating squirming in my seat (and not in a good way) during several key scenes (no spoilers here). Those moments are as uncomfortable as ever, yet the scenes depicting the Chinese Cultural Revolution are even more horrifying than they were back in 1988, at the tail end of the Cold War. The impact of the story is also enhanced by stunning performances by both of the leading men, Clive Owen and Jin Ha, but this may be one of the first productions I’ve ever seen of anything where the director is much more the star attraction than the actors or even the narrative itself.

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Author: Will Friedwald
Photography by: STEPHEN SOROKOFF

Author: Will Friedwald

Will Friedwald writes about music and popular culture for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL & VANITY FAIR, and reviews current shows for THE OBSERVER and THE CITIVIEW NEW YORK. He also is the author of eight books including the award-winning A BIOGRAPHICAL GUIDE TO THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP SINGERS, SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU, STARDUST MELODIES, TONY BENNETT: THE GOOD LIFE, LOONEY TUNES & MERRIE MELODIES, and JAZZ SINGING. He has written over 600 liner notes for compact discs, received ten Grammy nominations, and appears frequently on television and other documentaries. He is also a consultant and curator for Apple Music.

New Books:

THE GREAT JAZZ AND POP VOCAL ALBUMS (Pantheon Books / Random House, October 2017)

SINATRA: THE SONG IS YOU - NEW REVISED EDITION (Chicago Review Press, May 2018)