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Review: “Kung Fu” at Signature Theatre

February 25th, 2014

Broadway blog editor Matthew Wexler gets a swift kick of theatrical brilliance at the visually stunning production of Kung Fu, a new play by David Henry Henry Hwang premiering at Signature Theatre. 

Cole Horibe as Bruce Lee in "Kung Fu" at Signature Theatre (photo: Joan Marcus) via the Broadway Blog.

Cole Horibe as Bruce Lee in “Kung Fu” at Signature Theatre (photo: Joan Marcus) via the Broadway Blog.

The American Dream has its price, and no Asian-American actor knew this better than Bruce Lee. Born in San Francisco but raised in Hong Kong, Lee returned to the United States at age 18 with $100 in his pocket and eventually made his mark as a master of martial arts (gung fu) as well as becoming a film and TV icon. Kung Fu, a new play by Tony Award-winner David Henry Hwang, brings Lee’s journey to life in a sensational theatrical production that merges traditional storytelling with Chinese opera, martial arts and stage combat.

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Cole Horibe as Bruce Lee in “Kung Fu” at Signature Theatre (photo: Joan Marcus) via the Broadway Blog.

Cole Horibe (So You Think You Can Dance) kicks it into high gear as Bruce Lee — a dynamic performance that catapults the play’s action with humor, intent and well-focused bravado. Following the course of Lee’s career from his arrival in San Francisco and return to Hong Kong and stints in Seattle, Los Angeles and scouting film locations in India in between, Hwang’s script efficiently propels forward while round-kicking back in time through flashbacks that offer insight into Lee’s childhood and the tense relationship with his father.

Francis Jue as Hoi-Chuen, Bruce’s father, appears in many of these scenes and lays the foundation for Lee’s work ethic and obsession for success. Jue matches the material with his sense of theatricality, as does the dream ensemble of actor/dancer/martial artists.

The creative team’s finely honed vision pulls together Sonya Tayeh’s choreography, Jamie Guan’s Chinese opera movement, Emmanuel Brown’s fight direction and Deborah Hecht’s dialect coaching — all under the watchful eye of director Leigh Silverman. While Horibe emits star power as the central character, the ensemble magically draws from an endless pool of talents to create Hwang’s world.

“This is America. Here is where change can happen,” says Lee at one point, but it was his return to Hong Kong that eventually enabled Lee to succeed in feature films. Hauntingly, Lee died at age 32, leaving the world to wonder what further dynamic creations he might have produced. Embodied by breakout star Cole Horibe, audience members can once again experience the legend of Bruce Lee.

Kung Fu
Signature Theatre
480 West 42nd Street
Extended through March 30

http://youtu.be/wwthVr0VvnQ

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