Sophie Oda to Star in ‘Flower Drum Song’

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Sophie Oda as Mei-Li. (Photo by Terry Miller)

SAN GABRIEL — Sophie Oda, known for her appearances in Disney’s “Suite Life” series, will be featured in San Gabriel Valley Music Theatre’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Flower Drum Song” on Saturday, Oct. 1, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Oct. 2, at 2 p.m. at San Gabriel Mission Playhouse, 320 S. Mission Dr., San Gabriel.

Based on a novel by C.Y. Lee, “Flower Drum Song” opened on Broadway in 1958 and the movie version premiered in 1961. Oda will portray Mei Li, the character played by Miyoshi Umeki in the original and Lea Salonga in the 2002 revival.

“To create something new, we must first love what is old,” claims Mei-Li in Tony Award-winner David Henry Hwang’s adaptation. The sentiment is obviously shared by the author himself, who has created something new while honoring the original material.

Mei-Li flees Mao’s communist China after the murder of her father and finds herself in San Francisco’s Chinatown. This naïve young refugee is befriended by Wang, who is struggling to keep the Chinese opera tradition alive despite his son Ta’s determination to turn the old opera house into a swingin’ Western-style nightclub.

A unique blending of American razzmatazz and stylized Chinese opera traditions creates a theatrical tapestry. The score, by turns lushly romantic and showbiz-brassy, retains all of its luster in this new version of an American classic. Mei-Li’s gradual assimilation is informed by her realization that the old and new can coexist when there is respect for both.

Janelle Dote as showgirl Linda Low. (Photo by Terry Miller)

The show is known for such songs as “Grant Avenue,” “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” “Love, Look Away,” “You Are Beautiful,” and “Chop Suey.”

The cast includes Janelle Dote as Linda Low; Timothy Ford Murphy as Wang Ta; Glenn Shiroma as his father; Linda K. Igarashi as Madame Liang; Paul Wong as Chin; Sam Chen as Harvard; and Joseph Andreas as Chao. The show is directed by Ray Rochelle with musical direction by Richard Allen and choreography by Rikki Lugo.

The ensemble: Peggy Chien, Alex Chester, Louise-Marie Cornillez, Jayson Lee, Achiamar Lee-Rivera, Kevin Ling, Shay Louise, Garrick Macatangay, DT Matias, Amber Quan and Kristina Reyes.

Born and raised in the Bay Area, Oda has been performing on stage since she was 6 years old. Her credits include “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee,” “Twelfth Night,” “Disney’s High School Musical,” “The Sound of Music,” “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Pacific Overtures,” “The Joy Luck Club,” “Annie” (as Annie, Kate and Molly in three different productions), “South Pacific,” “The King and I,” and “The Wiz.”

In 2003, at age 11, she sang “Don’t Rain on My Parade” for a national audience on “Star Search.” “I didn’t win, but the host, Arsenio Hall, told me that Britney Spears, Beyonce, and my musical idol, Christina Aguilera, were all chosen to be on ‘Star Search’ when they were younger, and they didn’t win either,” she recalled.

From 2005 to 2008, Oda had a recurring role as Barbara Brownstein on the Disney sitcoms “The Suite Life of Zack and Cody” and “The Suite Life on Deck” opposite twin brothers Dylan and Cole Sprouse.

Since moving to Southern California, she has appeared in a UC Irvine production of “Into the Woods.” Most recently, she was in California Musical Theatre’s production of “Miss Saigon” in Sacramento.

Tickets are $30, $40 and $50. To order, call (626) 282-1440 or visit www.sgvmusictheatre.org/flowerdrumsong.htm.

A VIP celebrity dinner honoring the life and work of Nancy Kwan, who played Linda Low in the 1961 film, will be held on Oct. 1 at 5:30 p.m. at Mission 261, across the street from the theater. For more information, call the above number.

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