'Monkey: Journey to the West' Breaks Down Barriers In NYC

    Director Chen Shi-zheng's modern take on an ancient Chinese tale recently opened in New York City, and Jing Daily was on the scene to hear both Chinese and American perspectives on the show.
    A scene from Monkey: Journey to the West.
    Oujia Wang and Jasmine LuAuthor
      Published   in Finance

    A scene from Monkey: Journey to the West.

    Created by Chinese-American director Chen Shi-zheng in partnership with British artists Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett, the hit musical Monkey: Journey to the West made its New York premiere at Lincoln Center on July 6. Although the show has been onstage in New York for merely a week, it has performed before sold-out audiences and received favorable reviews. It not only attracts Chinese audience who know the tale well, but also fascinates an American audience curious about Chinese culture.

    Creators of the musical adapted one of the four great classical novels of Chinese literature—the 16th-century Journey to the West—into nine scenes. Chen retells the fantasy story of the adventure to a “Western Paradise” in an uncomplicated and modern way, aiming to make audience of all ages and cultures understand its plot. The show combines the beauty of Chinese martial arts, acrobatics, folk dance, contortion, and opera with stunning Western animation and visual effects. Boasting ravishing sets and a captivating story, Monkey is a feast for the eyes.

    After the performance on July 12, Jing Daily had a chance to interview several audience members and hear their thoughts on Monkey.

    The audience was especially impressed by the authentic, adept acrobatics and Chinese martial arts. When asked about their favorite scenes and characters, several audience members said they most enjoyed the “Spider Woman” and “Princess Iron Fan” scenes.

    The challenge Chen took—making a Chinese classic understandable for people from various backgrounds—was truly ambitious. However, teenage audience member Paula said she was familiar with the Chinese tale, and she believed it was well-known in a cultural melting pot like New York, where she remembered learning about it in a museum. Unlike Paula, many of the interviewees had not heard about the tale before seeing the show, but consistently agreed the creators and performers did a great job breaking down the cultural barriers. Audience member Elsa, who took her whole family to see Monkey, told us she did not know about the story before, but she found it understandable and philosophical. “Although I could not understand Chinese, I love the way it sounds—the music and the poetry of the language, ” said Elsa. “The combination of modern technology—the video and the music—with Chinese arts was very well done.”

    Chinese audience member Hope, who is an incoming film and television student at New York University, told us he came to the show to see how Chen integrated Eastern and Western cultures and made Chinese literature easy to understand. Having grown up in China, Hope is very much familiar with the classic, but he was impressed by the outstanding adaptation and how modern humor was integrated into Chinese traditional performing arts. Unlike most interviewees, the part he liked the most was not among the major scenes, but a humorous scene when the Monkey King and Sandy, another main character in the story, speak English.

    Monkey: Journey to the West made its debut in 2007 at the Palace Theatre in Manchester, England, and later staged at Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris. In 2008, the show ran at Spoleto Festival in Charleston, South Carolina. The spectacle will be staged 27 times at the Lincoln Center through July 28.

    This article originally appeared in Chinese. Translation: Jasmine Lu.

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