Flower Drum Song

Tuesday was Chinese New Year and while it may not be a major holiday where you are — it’s a full multi-week celebration here in San Francisco.  Our Chinese-American friends are feasting, enjoying family reunions, exchanging lucky money in traditional red envelopes, and oranges festoon every table.

Because of the holiday, our local television station aired Flower Drum Song late the other night, and I donned my PJ’s to stay up to watch the film.  This musical has a special place in my heart.  I was seven years old and it was one of the first films I saw in a real movie theater with my family.  I was totally smitten by its dancing, music, its depiction of Chinese-Americans and the scenes of San Francisco made a big impression upon me. It seemed a magical city and it’s no coincidence it became my home.

And while the current film Crazy Rich Asians is getting kudos for its Asian casting — 60 years ago, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song broke this ground by being one of the first films to ever feature a largely Asian cast.

Now that I’ve lived here in San Fransisco for more than 35 years, the grown up part of me cringed at the stereotypical portrayal of Chinese-Americans and the simplistic view of the immigrant experience. But, for many in 1961, it was their first exposure to the Chinese-American culture.

But I soon let go of my adult hang-ups and by the second musical number I was once again delighted.  Flower Drum Song is not considered to be one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best, it actually lost money at the box office, but it’s one of my favorite musicals.  Dated yes  — but the colors, the dancing, the costumes, the scenery, and music still transport me back to my seven year old delight.

For its time, it had some breakthrough special effects — the I enjoy being a girl segment has a three way mirror segment that is pure fancy. Here’s where the 60’s ideals of femininity really shine with the beautiful Nancy Kwan in her absolute prime.

The musical dabbles in the avaunt guard dance techniques of the time, with some especially energetic dance segments by a very young Patrick Adiarte who you may recognize from MASH episodes.

The interior sets are pure 60’s fun and there are some pretty realistic (yet Hollywood-recreated) scenes of Chinatown and San Francisco.  Jack Soo is so endearing in his Don’t Marry Me segment.   Just look at that face and try not to laugh when he begs — if you want to have attractive children — don’t marry me!  It was great to see the interspersed film clips of our Chinese New Year’s parade —  largely unchanged to this day and still part of our city’s celebrations.

Flower Drum Song is a light and lively musical, with all the classic elements: an enchanting plot, a wonderful sound track, exotic sets, and a nostalgic glimpse into 1960’s San Francisco. A fun choice for an evening’s entertainment.

If you have Amazon prime, you can stream/watch it anytime – until then

Gong Hei Fat Choy

3 Comments

  1. sally allinger
    Feb 13, 2019

    Just delightful ! I’m not a great fan of musical theater but now I plan to watch FDS. Thank you

  2. Maxine McGinnis
    Feb 7, 2019

    Interesting factoid about Jack Soo. He was born Goro Suzuki, and along with his family, was sent to Tanforan Assembly Center and Topaz. It is said that he took the stage name Jack Soo because of the discrimination against the Japanese.

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *