Theatre Review: Monkey: Journey to the West

The musical “Monkey: Journey to the West” is awesome. I loved the music, with hints and references to other works. The stage show is incredible, involving many different genres: acrobatics, wires, staged martial arts, and aerial dance. The costumes are amazing. It was engaging from start to finish.

It’s a curious mix of Chinese and Western. The musical is directed by a Chinese producer and features a Chinese cast. The music is composed by a Brit, using both Chinese and Western instruments. While the monkey journeys to the West, what he finds there is Buddha – a quintessentially Eastern icon to Westerners. In fact, to a Chinese government that reveres its past but is uncomfortable with religion, the story of the Journey to the West might be problematic. Despite not having been staged in China yet (so far England, Paris, and New York), the songs are sung in Mandarin.

What intrigues me most about “Monkey” is its potential as a cultural bellwether. It is an optimistic model for future integration and cooperation of China and the West. We have a work of art, produced by a mixed team, which does not stereotype China, but respects it by adapting one of its most famous classical stories and presenting it in its native tongue in a modern, Western form to Western audiences. I’m curious what the future will bring.

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