Aja Naomi King, Charlie Weber and Liza Weil take in and celebrate Conrad Ricamora's work in 'Soft Power'
By Ellen Olivier
May 21, 2018 | 1:25 PM
Charlie Weber, Liza Weil and Aja Naomi King gathered in the lobby of the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles last week before seeing Conrad Ricamora, their fellow cast member from ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder,” on stage during the May 16 world premiere of the new production “Soft Power.”
“We found out that Conrad got this job while we were wrapping up our season and we told him then that we’d be here,” said Weil, adding that although they had performed in the same community theater, their paths didn’t cross then. So this would be the first time she would see him on stage.
“Conrad is one of the most profoundly talented people I have ever met,” said King. “And so I am excited to see him in this show — for him to utilize all his talents: singing, acting, emoting, just all of it. He’s such a precious person to me. He deserves all the glory and accolades that I know he’s going to get for this show.”
Following the opening night performance, a jubilant by-invitation crowd joined the cast at Vespaio on Grand Avenue to celebrate over Champagne, cocktails, canapés, pizza and desserts.
Stars shining at the premiere included Ming-Na Wen (“Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”), Leonardo Nam (“Westworld”), Vincent Rodriguez III (“Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”), Frances Fisher (“Titanic”), James Kyson (“Preacher”), Zoe Lister-Jones (“Life in Pieces”), Parvesh Cheena (“Outsourced”), Loretta Devine (“The Carmichael Show”), Oscar-winning actress Marisa Tomei and Olympic figure skater Michelle Kwan.
“Soft Power” by David Henry Hwang (play and lyrics) and Jeanine Tesori (music and additional lyrics) is a contemporary comedy that morphs into an over-the-top musical fantasy about Hillary Clinton and the presidential election of 2016, all in the guise of a character’s fever dream. The play then jumps into the future, after China has become the world leader, for a 50th-anniversary, made-in-China production of the mythologized version of the events surrounding Clinton’s electoral loss.
At the after-party, Alyse Alan Louis, who plays Hillary Clinton, said that although she hasn’t met the former First Lady, she made her sentiments clear. “I’d love to,” she said.
Clinton hasn’t seen the production, but Hwang said she has been apprised of the show through an intermediary. “Out of respect, we wanted her to hear about the play from friends before it got out in the news.” He then added, “We’re hopeful to A.) be in New York and B.) that she will be able to see it and that she will like it.”
In declining to name the vice president character, Hwang said he took a cue from “The King and I,” which defines the king by his title only. Also, a fictitious version of President Trump doesn’t appear in the show, and his actual name isn’t spoken.
Said director Leigh Silverman of the production, “It’s like a delicious piece of chocolate with a razor blade inside. So, to make people feel like they want to taste this delicious chocolate … it’s a daunting task. But it’s one that I feel proud of … as it stands in opposition to what’s happening right now politically in our country.”
Entering the restaurant with his French bulldog Wilbur, Ricamora took a moment to explain his four-legged companion, “He’s registered as an emotional-support dog. I bring him to the show. He helps with my anxiety.”
About his role as a Chinese filmmaker, Ricamora said he “had a great time telling a story with Asian faces involved. You don’t always get the opportunity to do so unless you’re doing ‘King and I’ or ‘Miss Saigon,’ which are written through a white lens. This is so unique because David is at the helm, and it’s been nice to be able to turn those shows on their head a little bit.”
Praises for the show could be heard throughout the evening. Said Wen, “It’s incredible how [Hwang] was able to weave together his personal journeys as an Asian American, a horrific incident that happened in his life and the political environment that we’re living in now, into a funny, entertaining musical play.”
Nam said: “It’s so important that shows like this one about topics that people resonate with and relate to are being supported.”
Rodriguez III called the show “one of the most groundbreaking musicals I’ve ever seen … in having our political landscape discussed in such a digestible way that is humorous and thought-provoking and poignant, focusing on love and celebrating musicals.”
“I’m so blown away by ‘Soft Power,’” Fisher said. “Even if I could speak about it, I would not tell anyone anything because I want everyone to be totally surprised.”
As the actor portraying Hwang in the play, Francis Jue said, “I’m grateful to be part of this because [the play] says what I want to say because it’s what art should be saying … that we all need to be talking to each other a lot more,” and by “we,” Jue said he meant both people and countries. “It’s also saying we need to be judging each other less … that we shouldn’t have to prove who we are constantly,” he said.
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