Backstage Pass with Lia Chang

Lia Chang: The Making of the Flower Drum Song Cast Album

The hit Broadway musical Flower Drum Song starring Lea Salonga, David Henry Hwang’s edgy exploration of the American Dream by Chinese immigrants based on C. Y. Lee’s novel The Flower Drum Song is now available on CD.

Salonga heads up a terrific pan-Asian cast in this universal story of immigration and assimilation that has been entertaining audiences since the show opened on October 17, 2002 at the Virginia Theatre in New York. The Flower Drum Song cast album recorded on October 21, 2002 (DRG Records) is marvelous (Buy it online). Hwang’s relevant and contemporary American story combined with Rodgers & Hammerstein’s score features jazzy new orchestrations by Don Sebesky is to be cherished anew. The souvenir booklet includes a complete show synopsis, a treasure of exciting production photos and an essay from Ted Chapin, president of R&H. The album includes new orchestrations of such classics as I Enjoy Being a Girl, Sunday, A Hundred Million Miracles, Like a God, You Are Beautiful, Grant Avenue, and Love, Look Away in addition to My Best Love, which was cut from the original 1958 production.


For the cast and creative team of David Henry Hwang’s Flower Drum Song, it has been a flurry of activity — 4 days after opening at the Virginia Theatre on the Great White Way, everyone is riding high after a superb review in Time Magazine as they assemble for an all day session to record the cast album at the Clinton Recording Studio in New York. On my way to the studio, some of the ensemble members are headed out for a break. Once on the premises, I’m ushered into the green room and meet up with the show’s talented stars — Lea Salonga who plays Mei-Li, Jose Llana, who plays her love interest Ta and Sandra Allen who plays brassy showgirl Linda Low. They are bright-eyed even though they’ve been laying down tracks for a number of hours and will go well into the night.

Just down the hall, Grammy award winning producer Hugh Fordin (Mel Brooks’ The Producers) and Cynthia Daniels call the shots from their control panels in the booth where some of the major players are assembled — Ted Chapin and Bert Fink from R&H, playwright David Henry Hwang, director Bobby Longbottom, and Don Sebesky. I have photographed many artists, musicians and singers, but this is the first time I am shooting the making of a Broadway cast album. Since I love the score, I could sit here all day but I’ve been allotted three hours to photograph. A double dose of adrenalin and tension fills the air, time is money and eight hours is the usual time allotment to record an entire cast album.

One can see into the large recording studio through the floor to ceiling windows that are double paneled for soundproofing. Jose is at the mike and musical director David Chase conducts the orchestra while Sandra Allen belts out I Enjoy Being a Girl from the small recording booth not visible from the control room. Right after Jose and Sandra record their parts, the men’s ensemble position themselves at the mikes. While the orchestra takes a break, Hugh Fordin gives me the okay to shoot for a few minutes in the main studio. I cannot shoot while the actual recording is taking place and it is a tight fit as I navigate my way between the panel that separate the singers from the musicians.

Alvin Ing’s lush rendition of My Best Love is up next, then before the dinner break, the company packs into the studio to record the finale-A Hundred Million Miracles. David Chase, David Henry Hwang, Bobby Longbottom join the cast members inside the panel to arrange each singer in front of the right mike for the heartfelt moment when the actors reveal where they were born, America, Asia, and Canada. The cast lives out their own American stories on the stage of the Virginia Theatre every night and in the studio today there is a giddiness and a swell of Asian American pride in the air until I hear someone crying behind a music stand. Cast members are comforting petite ensemble member Yuka Takara who is so caught up in the moment that she has begun to cry.

Back in the control booth David greets his wife actress Kathryn Layng who has slipped in. My three hours with the Flower Drum Song Company are over. As I exit the control booth, Lea and Jose are in the small recording booth singing You Are Beautiful. But for another ten minutes to document this historic day…!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow Backstage Pass with Lia Chang on