ENTERTAINMENT

'Soft Power,' Which Set New Precedent For Asians In Theater, Has Vital 2020 Message

The off-Broadway musical's cast album will be released Friday. HuffPost has a first listen to one of the songs.
Alyse Alan Louis (left) and Conrad Ricamora starred in "Soft Power" at the New York Public Theater.
Alyse Alan Louis (left) and Conrad Ricamora starred in "Soft Power" at the New York Public Theater.

As his stint on ABC’s “How to Get Away with Murder” comes to a close, Conrad Ricamora is getting back to his musical theater roots.  

Last fall, the actor returned to the stage in “Soft Power” at New York’s Public Theater. Written by playwright David Henry Hwang and composer Jeanine Tesori, the “play with a musical” had been received enthusiastically in Los Angeles and San Francisco prior to its New York debut. 

Ricamora starred as Xue Xing, a Chinese theater impresario who accompanies DHH (Hwang’s alter ego, played by Francis Jue) to a 2016 presidential election gala for Hillary Clinton (Alyse Alan Louis). 

When the election doesn’t turn out in Clinton’s favor, DHH is brutally attacked on a Brooklyn street corner after being mistaken for an Asian food delivery person. In his comatose state, the character is transported — “Wizard of Oz” style — into the plot of a Broadway-esque musical in which Xing and Clinton are cast as the romantic leads. The show’s cast album will be released Friday via Ghostlight Records. 

At the time of its 2019 premiere, “Soft Power” was getting buzz not just for its satirical look at American politics, but also for offering an Asian playwright’s perspective on current events, and featuring a predominately Asian cast.

The "Soft Power" cast and creative team will be celebrate the release of the show's cast album with a virtual listening party
The "Soft Power" cast and creative team will be celebrate the release of the show's cast album with a virtual listening party on April 17.  

A report released last year by the Asian American Performers Action Coalition found that while 33% of all roles on New York stages went to minority actors in the 2016-17 season, Asian American performers filled just 7.3% of those roles. Asian American playwrights wrote 1.5% of all plays produced during the same time frame, according to that survey

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hwang feels the show’s message has taken on renewed significance as cities across the world report an alarming surge in anti-Asian hate crimes and acts related to COVID-19. 

“A vital America will continue to reinvent itself, face new challenges, and struggle to live up to its ideals,” Hwang told HuffPost. “This show asks both why we love democracy and what we must do to keep it alive [and] celebrates our American identities and deep commitment to ensuring a better future for all in this country.”  

Hwang, Ricamora and Tesori will be at the virtual listening party — to be streamed on YouTube at 8 p.m. — when the Public Theater unveils the “Soft Power” album on Friday. The event will also serve as a fundraiser for the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which is dedicated to “protecting and promoting the civil rights of Asian Americans.” 

On Tuesday, the show was nominated for five Lucille Lortel Awards, which honor outstanding achievements in off-Broadway theater. For now, however, New York theaters are closed through June 7 as part of a statewide ban on gatherings of 500 people or more, to help curb the spread of COVID-19. 

Once the curtain rises, however, Ricamora hopes to reprise his “Soft Power” role wherever the show travels next, whether that is on Broadway or elsewhere. 

“The show’s message is one that is so relevant with this current political climate that it can’t wait,” he said. “It demands to be heard. I just want to continue to tell the story, and hopefully we will be able to do that soon.”

Listen to Conrad Ricamora and Alyse Alan Louis singing “Happy Enough” from the “Soft Power” cast album below. 

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