Rehearsals for “Tiananmen: A New Musical,” a rock musical critical of the Chinese government’s massacre of students at the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, have begun.
The rehearsals kicked off in New York on Tuesday with two dramatic reading performances set to take place on Sept. 20. “Tiananmen: A New Musical,” which has a stage production budget of $750,000, will premiere at the Phoenix Theater Company in Phoenix, Arizona, on Oct. 6, 2023, before going on a five-week regional tour with hopes of taking the rock musical to Broadway.
Directed and choreographed by veteran Broadway actor Darren Lee, “Tiananmen: A New Musical” will feature rock music created in collaboration with composer Drew Fornarola and author Scott Elmegreen. The musical pieces will pay homage to the 1989 music scene, when rock singers showed their support to student protesters.
“‘Tiananmen’ is a brave and necessary work to remind us all of the hinge of world history that happened in Tiananmen Square at a time when China is trying to erase all that happened there from memory,” Lee, a Chinese American, said.
Wu’er Kaixi, a Chinese dissident who led a group of students to protest on Tiananmen Square in 1989, serves as the production’s conceiver and creative consultant.
“I believed in democracy when we took to the streets in 1989, and I still believe it is the right thing for China,” Kaixi, who now works as a pro-democracy activist in Taiwan, told The Washington Times. “I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the events as a musical and I hope it serves to ensure that the world doesn’t forget.”
“It would be as if Lin-Manuel Miranda had Alexander Hamilton alongside as he created Hamilton,” Emelgreen said of Kaixi’s involvement in the musical. “He has made our script better, more authentic and more powerful since we presented Tiananmen in New York last September and as we get ready for our World Premiere at The Phoenix Theatre Company.”
The musical’s all-Asian American and Pacific Islander cast includes Cáitlín Burke (“The Sound of Music”), Kai An Chee (“Miss Saigon”), Grace Choi (“Avenue Q”) and Karl Josef Co (“Pacific Overtures,” “Classic Stage Revival”), to name a few.
Musical producers advised cast members to refrain from commenting on the show to prevent potential retaliation from the Chinese government, as lead producer Jason Rose noted, “There’s a fear factor in this show because some of the actors have family in China. This is clearly a show China will not be enthusiastic about.”