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Off Broadway

The Shed’s Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise Stumbles Up High on its Dialogue

The Shed’s Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise Stumbles Up High on its Dialogue

The space is astonishing. Expansive, just like the Park Avenue Armory, but with the added technology and contraptions that will elevate any creative mind into something magically undiscovered and inspiring. That’s a truth that must be said. The Shed’s McCourt Theater is as perfect a space for this kind of theatrical endeavor as one could image. The height and depth invigorates unbelievably, giving almost endless panoramas and a broad canvas to paint an experience that is only restricted by ones imagination and expertise. Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise, the kung fu musical conceived and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng and commissioned for The Shed’s opening season, tackles the air space with determination. Co-conceived by “Kung Fu Panda” screenwriters Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger, the story is almost Shakespearean in texture and construction, and although you can feel their steadfast belief in its wildly spectacular importance, the entertainment piece falters in its dialogue and its presentation, reducing what could have been awe-inspiring to chuckles of uncomfortable laughter for its juvenile clumsiness.

The Shed
PeiJu Chien-Pott (Little Lotus) with members of the chorus (guardians of the House of Dragon). Photo: Stephanie Berger. Courtesy The Shed.

As the rock and scaffolding landscape is unveiled, the overly simplistic mythology unfolds with a determination for grandness. As directed by Chen Shi-Zheng, Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise stumbles forward aerobically, stalling the momentum with arrangements of songs by Sia (with additional remixes by composer, musician, and producer Arca), messy and inarticulate movement choreography by Akram Khan, and campy wooden vocal and line reading performances by its tenacious cast. Ultimately, the saving moments of grace come from the martial arts choreography by Zhang Jun which is co-currently well orchestrated but never fully rises up to the same level as the video promos suggest. Some of the visual aerial creations are beautiful and thrilling to register, giving us moments of ocular joy as warriors float like fallen angels in a majestic aquarium. I just wish the creators had taken this element, a dynamic that fits so well in The Shed‘s towering space, and expanded the aerial gymnastics with more creative fluidity and graceful motion. This is especially true during the musical numbers which lacked any visual appeal and connectability. You get the sense that the creators had such a strong belief in the power of these songs that nothing else was needed, but they are sadly misguided. If these song moments could have embraced a Cirque du Soleil feel and balletic sense of wonder, the vocals and lyrics might have brought our heart into play, but as it stands, Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise grinds to a halt far too often.

The Shed
Left: David Torok (Doug Pince), center: Jasmine Chiu (Little Phoenix), right: Ji Tuo (Little Dragon). Photo: Stephanie Berger. Courtesy The Shed.

The principal performers do their strident best to bring intensity to the battle, but most line readings feel too much like canned sound, rather than authentic interactions.  PeiJu Chien-Pott (Lotus), a principal dancer for Martha Graham Dance Company, and David Patrick Kelly (Lone Peak), a veteran actor of stage and screen who is best known for his role as Luther in “The Warriors“, get lost in the wasteland of poor writing. The other featured performers, Dickson Mbi (Lee), David Torok (Doug Pince), and Jasmine Chiu (Young Little Lotus/Little Phoenix) and Ji Tuo (Little Dragon) as the destined twins, do the task in front of them when in battle, but also seem awkward in the clumsy modern day settings of a nightclub, where an ensemble of twelve highly trained contemporary, modern, hip hop, and street dancers flail around like annoying club kids. Each and every one of the cast members needs a stronger guiding hand, both in word and movement, to find that secret of mortality outside of the kung fu-mode, that could turn all those silly erratic moments of real life into something that might resemble magic.

The Shed
David Patrick Kelly (Lone Peak) and PeiJu Chien-Pott (Little Lotus) with members of the chorus (guardians of the House of Dragon). Photo: Stephanie Berger. Courtesy The Shed.

With an original score by composer, musician, and producer Bobby Krlic (The Haxan Cloak), the wonder in this Dragon Spring lies within the original production design concept by Tim Yip. Kudos go to the technical design team made up of video designer Leigh Sachwitz, lighting designer Tobias Rylander, sound designer Brandon Wolcott, and special effects designer Jeremy Chernick. Their work here is what paints the overall picture so gorgeously with grace and power. The detailed lighting refracts off the fluttering ribbon clouds like bubbles in champagne, and etches the ripples of water with mystic sensibilities. Within the team’s eclectic vision, the art of the Phoenix resides. The rest is a muddle, from the grandness of the underutilized scaffold walkway down to the overused repetitive slide down the ladder handrails. The stilted dialogue incited groans and snickers from the spectators around me, making it clear that the folly wasn’t fully formed. It’s such a shame, that Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise never was given the chance to live up to the promise of what could have been. Maybe the next commission will float up to the heavens inside that spectacular space, and give us the piece that will define its worth.

The Shed
PeiJu Chien-Pott (Little Lotus) with members of the chorus (guardians of the House of Dragon). Photo: Stephanie Berger. Courtesy The Shed.

Co-created and directed by Chen Shi-Zheng
Co-created and written by Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger Original production design concept by Tim Yip
Movement choreography by Akram Khan
Martial arts choreography by Zhang Jun
Songs composed by Sia
Original score and remixes by Bobby Krlic (The Haxan Cloak) Remixes by Arca

Set design by Mikiko Suzuki MacAdams
Costume design by Montana Levi Blanco
Video design by Leigh Sachwitz
Lighting design by Tobias Rylander
Sound design by Brandon Wolcott
Special effects design by Jeremy Chernick
Casting by Kristen Paladino, Paladino Casting
Special thanks to martial arts choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping

Principal Cast:

PeiJu Chien-Pott: Lotus (Act I and Act II)
David Patrick Kelly: Lone Peak – Grandmaster David Torok: Doug Pince – Billionaire
Jasmine Chiu: Young Lotus (Act I), Little Phoenix Ji Tuo: Little Dragon
Dickson Mbi: Lee – Rogue Monk


Kacie Boblitt, Conner Chew, Erika Choe, Coral Dolphin, Yuriko Hiroura, Abdiel Jacobsen, Elijah Laurant, Carley Marholin, Marla Phelan, Raziman Sabrini, Jacob Thoman, Xavier Townsend, Bret Yamanaka, Lani Yamanaka

The Shed
Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise,​ 2019, The McCourt Theater. Left: David Torok (Doug Pince), center: Jasmine Chiu (Little Phoenix), right: Ji Tuo (Little Dragon). Photo: Stephanie Berger. Courtesy The Shed.

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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