I headed to the new performance space The Shed to see Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, the kung fu musical, commissioned for The Shed’s opening season. I was excited, as from the looks of the pictures it looked like “Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon”. It was not, but more on that later.
From the moment I entered the space it became anxiety ridden. I passed through the doors and was walking to the ticket booth, when I was roughly pulled back by a security guard. He forgot to check my bag. He never asked, he just pulled my bag and me along with it. Considering there were few people entering, this was uncalled for. Next I went to get my tickets. There was a mix up, but I pulled my confirmation up on my phone and still the ticket agent couldn’t seem to fix the problem. In the meantime there were over 30 people on-line with only two agents. With the show starting in 10 minutes, the people on-line started getting upset, as I was not the only one who the agents had a hard time pulling up confirmations and the line was not moving. My guest arrived and seeing all the agitated people on-line called for a manager. That brought 2 more helpers to the line.
Next we went to get in the huge line of people who had tickets. The time was 2:57 and the show started at 3:00, but the house was not open. One of the security guards starting taking people out of the line and putting them in a second line. No one argued because we though he was being efficient and that two lines meant sooner, quicker, faster. What happened next was the most appalling thing I have ever witnessed. The house opened and the first line went in, the the security officer turned the line around and the people who had gotten there last were now ahead of all the other people, he had pulled from the middle of the line. When we questioned him, his response was everyone will get in. I asked his name, but he refused it, so I took a photo with my i-phone.
This was all before the show started, however my guest and I calmed ourselves down, made friends with the couple next to us and waited to be entertained. This was not to happen. Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise is confusing from the moment it starts. A woman appears with a flashlight baby and does this awkward modern dance and then dies. Next we are in a kung fu house called dragon, where a character named Lee (Dickson Mbi) cannot talk, sounds muffled and cannot act. The members of the kung fu house do choreography that is neither together or synchronized. Starting with this number there was one dancer, who just seemed so self indulgent. He sticks out like a sore thumb and he did so even more in the next scene which takes place at a disco and throughout the whole show. The dancer’s name is Abdiel Jacobsen and he can dance, but he is like Cassie, only he does not want to be in the chorus line. The choreography here was disjointed and so amateurish. I have seen better dancing in clubs. The house of dragon run by Lone Peak (David Patrick Kelly, the only real actor in this piece) loves his daughter Little Lotus (PeiJu Chien-Pott), who is rebellious and the reason we are at the disco. There she meets Doug Pince (David Torok). After six months of dating behind her father’s back, Little Lotus is pregnant and leaves to marry Doug. After singing a non-discript Sia song, Little Lotus finds out her husband is evil and in league with Lee. They kill Little Lotus and her child (again flashlight babies). During this segment is one of three short arial feats that are actually the saving grace of this piece.
When Little Lotus and her child die (ahh the first scene was a forewarning of this. Still it makes no sense as to why they showed this to us instead of letting it unfold) Lone Peak screams and instead of the audience feeling his pain there was laughter, because this is all too cheesy for words. What is cool, is the center stage fills with water as Lone Peak brings Lotus and her child back to life. Again we get another really short arial moment.
In the program and on -line it states the show is 90 minutes without intermission, however that is not true. There is an intermission and the show is almost two hours. By intermission half the audience has left, including my guest and the couple we met.
Act two is 18 years later and more generic songs by Sia, decent martial arts choreography by Zhang Jun, as we meet Little Phoenix (Jasmine Chiu) and Little Dragon (Ji Tuo) the destined twins, whose parents are teaching how to fight each other. Like their parents they meet again in a horrid disco scene and kiss, only to find out their siblings. As the show ends Lee wounds or kills (not really sure) Lone Peak, Doug and Little Lotus fight and when their mom is defeated, the twins fight their father, thus winning over evil. They rise in the end and thus the last arial.
The space seems too big and rather empty in attendance. Conceived and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and co-conceived by “Kung Fu Panda” screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise seems like too many hands spoiled the pot and nobody knew what the other was doing. Nothing is coherent and the show just seems juvenile and unprofessional.
The music seemed canned and the sound design by Brandon Wolcott keeps us from even standing a chance at understanding dialogue or lyrics. Bobby Krlic and Arca are credited along with Sia for an original score and original club music, which at best is forgettable.
The technical design team of video designer Leigh Sachwitz, lighting designer Tobias Rylander and special effects designer Jeremy Chernick at times got the visuals right but really too little too late.
Commissioned for The Shed Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, had to have cost a fortune. With very little redeeming qualities, one hopes that The Shed will get it together in how they treat their audience and the shows they offer. Until then this is one hot mess.
Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise: The Shed 540 West 30th St. until July 27th