Legacy of the Tiger Mother

Satomi Hofmann (left) and Lynn Craig.

It was during the song "Something Better" that I realized something bigger potentially lurks within Legacy of the Tiger Mother, Angela Chan and Michael Manley's musical comedy about the relationship of a first-generation American-Chinese and her demanding mother. Chan (credited as writer, composer, lyricist, musical director and producer) and Manley (writer, lyricist) have extensive musical and theatrical experience and it shows with this expertly placed song within the play's narrative arc. The song itself, like most of the play's tunes, sounds just about ready for a Broadway stage. I don't necessarily mean that as a compliment, but rather just a fact. Ever since The Lion King it seems Broadway musicals have produced little more than an endless chain of pleasant tunes that go down easily, aren't terribly challenging to sing, fit perfectly into the dramatic moment unfurling on stage, and are almost impossible to recall within ten minutes of leaving the theater (it's no surprise jukebox musicals do well- the songs are simply better than 99% of what's being written for the stage today). It's an odd irony, and a testament to Chan and Manley's skills, that the only song I found annoying in the play was also the most memorable- "Little Miss 1986," and another, "Lazy White Children," could become a viral sensation overnight with the right recording and accompanying YouTube video. Don't scoff- weirder things have happened. But how many one-hour plays have at least two tunes that stick in your head after they're over. Or let me calibrate it another way- Legacy of the Tiger Mother [currently] has only five original songs in it (along with a healthy dose of excerpts from Beethoven and Mozart sonatas) and two of them are stand outs- that's a pretty decent percentage.

So they have the formula down for what currently makes a "show" tune. They also have two very strongly written and acted lead roles an audience can empathize with (whether or not one is Asian and/or female) and there's clarity in the play and especially in this production that makes me think with another forty-five minutes of material and a couple of more characters (a father, an additional child, and a neighbor would do nicely) this show could easily be something bigger, and better.

But it's pretty damn good as it is, and I wasn't even planning on going to see it. The description initially put me off- I thought why would I, a middle-aged white guy, want to go see a play about an Asian woman's mommy issues? But late on Sunday I was willing to catch one last play and I'm glad I did- so far it's been the best show I've seen at this year's Fringe. Sure, Legacy will have entirely different elements that Asian audiences can debate/relate/adore or abhor, but it worked for me as a straight piece of well-crafted, expertly acted (by the marvelous Satomi Hofmann and delightful Lynn Craig) piece of theater- period- and I'd love to see a bigger version of it someday- with additional characters to make what's already good that much better.

Now playing at the San Francisco Fringe Festival- two more performances on 9/11 @ 10:30 PM and 9/15 @ 7:30. Strongly recommended.