M. Butterfly heads back to Broadway

By Hong Xiao in New York | China Daily USA | Updated: 2017-10-09 09:41

M. Butterfly heads back to Broadway

Screenshot of the website for M. Butterfly.

M. Butterfly, a drama that won Chinese-American playwright David Henry Hwang worldwide fame when it premiered in 1988, will come back to Broadway on Oct 7 directed by Tony-winner Julie Taymor, known for her work on The Lion King.

M. Butterfly is inspired by the true story of a French diplomat who carried on a 20-year affair with a Chinese opera performer (and spy), without realizing the true gender of his lover.

The new production will feature Oscar-nominee Clive Owen as Rene, the French diplomat, and Jin Ha playing his lover Peking Opera soprano Song Liling.

Premiering in 1988 in a production directed by John Dexter, the romantic drama won the Tony Award for Best Play.

The play closed after 777 performances at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre in January 1990.

In 1993, an adaption of the play into a movie directed by David Cronenberg and starring Jeremy Irons and John Lone grossed a modest $1.5 million in domestic box office.

Considered one of the more celebrated American plays, M. Butterfly was the first by an Asian-American playwright to open on Broadway. The new revival will differ from the original in several ways.

During a talk at the China Institute on Sept 26, Hwang discussed the challenges of reviving shows that did well 30 years ago. "How do I begin to create a production that can stand on its own today?" he said.

The playwright recalled that 30 years ago was a time when the public was not very open to same-sex relationships and the show triggered passionate, often vehement discussion.

Today the public does not resist homosexuality as strongly as before, he explained.

So Hwang rewrote the main characters' relationship for the new production making the intimacy more explicit and romantic.

Also, in order to emphasize the opera performer's hidden identity as a spy, the new production adopts ballet movements from the "cultural revolution" era (1966-76).

As for the music, Hwang said that although he is not an excellent musician, he was born into a family where everyone loved music, so he has contributed to that part of the show as well.

Asked if he thought the new production will be as successful as the original was 30 years ago, Hwang said that won't be decided by him, but by the critics.

The production officially opens on Oct 26.


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