Presented by Adelaide Cabaret Festival
Reviewed 7 June 2019
Dragon Lady is a term used stereotypically to depict Asian female characters as strong, deceitful, domineering or mysterious women who always came to a sticky end. It is a name said to have been inspired by the characters played by Anna May Wong.
As we travel through her life, in the more than capable hands of the devastatingly talented Fiona Choi, we learn what a truly remarkable survivor Anna May Wong was. Starting work as a film actress as a child and progressing through a career that spanned the world. We are allowed to see behind the gloss that makes a Hollywood star and experience some of the hopes, fears, love affairs and shattered dreams that come when her ethnicity makes her an object for derision and the studios would never offer her anything other than supporting roles. Something she would experience not only in her own country but also in every other country Ms May Wong tried to reclaim her fame in. Lauded in Hollywood then ignored when she became too clever at the Hollywood game. Leaving for Europe in the late 1920’s, learning to act, sing and love in several other languages she took Europe by storm only to be derided by the press. It’s a fascinating story and the storyteller Choi doesn’t miss a beat
Choi is a consummate performer who has the ability to transform in a heartbeat. Her first appearance as the Dragon spirit that drives her (she was born in the year of the dragon) morphs seamlessly into Anna May Wong and we see a proud confident woman who captivates and invites us on a journey through her life. Her Black satin dress emblazoned with a gold dragon holds light beautifully and shows off her ability to use her body as an asset, embodying Anna May Wong. Choi’s Anna May Wong sometimes sings with the voice of an angel and then sometimes lets us hear the devil in her heart. She sings in English, German, French, Chinese and every moment is filled with passion and emotion of a woman who dared to dream big. The show spans stories from her life from 1905 to her tragic death in 1961 at the age of 56. It was still shocking to see the degree of racism that is instilled into the casting of talented actors of the correct ethnicity into the entertainment industry. One hopes it has changed; one fears there is still a fear of ‘different’ that is exacerbated by the fear instilled into our communities by ignorance.
This is a beautifully told story told through the eyes of Anna May Wong and several other characters that infuse the story with wit, excitement and an infectious charm that never let you off the hook. The acting is transformational, the singing is an emotionally fulfilling addition to the journey of the story, and special mention must be made here of the musicians who add such integrity to the journey of this work. Led by Andrew Patterson who also played piano and guitar were Emile Ryjoch on Saxophone and clarinet and Hilary Kleinig on Cello; sensitive and intuitive support at the highest level.
Thank you, Cabaret Festival, this beautifully crafted piece of work is another must see in a stellar line up. The beauty of a Cabaret Festival is the breadth of work we are privileged to see. Thank you for your vision Frank Ford. The downside is that in order to get variety, we lose the ability to see things because of their short seasons.
A request: can we please get a full list of credits for each show please. A photocopied A5 on the table or at the door with who’s in it, a song list and credits for the other hard workers who put a show together. Cabaret is a collaboration. I couldn’t find the very talented director of this show anywhere in the publicity material to congratulate him of a really good job.
A thoroughly enjoyable entertainment.
Reviewed by Adrian Barnes
Rating out of 5: 5
Cabaret Festival, Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Anna May Wong, Dragon Lady, Fiona Choi, Andrew Patterson, Emile Ryjoch, Hilary Kleinig