Article by Dominick Principe
“Sound of the Silk Road” premiered to thunderous applause on July 23rd 2021, in Xi’an at the Shaanxi Grand Theater. The production was a collaboration begun under the leadership of Dr. Zhou Bing, chairman of the Shaanxi Tourism Group Co. who originally envisioned the production, US production company Nederlander, Broadway Executive Producer Don Frantz (of Lion King fame) who expertly organized both Chinese and American talents, and Broadway director Gabriel Barre (Amazing Grace, The Wild Party). The musical honestly revealed the magnificence that can be created when Western and Eastern cultures bring together their unique strengths and talents to collectively design something amazing.
“Sound of the Silk Road” captured all the splendor and wonder associated with the ancient Chinese Silk Road and brought to life a tale showcasing historical beauty but seen through modern eyes. The production follows the tale of Joey, a typical teenage boy who grew up in the modern day who visits an excavation site in Xi’an, and is teleported two thousand years into the past when the Silk Road was at its zenith. Over the course of two hours of musical numbers (Courtesy of Peter Kam and Liang Mang), phenomenal dance numbers which combined Eastern and Western styles, and impressive acrobatic feats, Joey is able to reconcile the different parts of himself to become a complete person while surviving attacks by the corrupt Crown Prince, put the rightful Emperor on the throne, and return to his own time with a deeper understanding of himself and that our lives don’t begin and end with our phones.
The musical was a festival of colors, with the lives and exquisiteness of Han culture fully brought forth into the modern world with intricately designed period costumes and sets brilliantly combined with 3d special screen effects which illustrated the history and majesty of Chang’an when it was the source of the wealth of the Silk Road. In addition, the cast truly demonstrated the range of their abilities, with almost every cast member having both a modern incarnation at the opening and closing of the production, and an ancient incarnation throughout the majority of the play. They also demonstrated their capability by flawlessly combining Mandarin Chinese with the English language throughout the performance.
The story evoked moments of hilarity, such as Joey fending off the attentions of a guard when he is hiding as a woman in a silk factory, horror when the true crass and cruel qualities of the Crown Prince are revealed, and a sense of optimism when the heroes look to the dawn and the stars to find hope.
Yet the final message of the play seems to be one of acceptance. It is the Crown Prince’s refusal of the foreign, his own sense of superiority, and his abuse of both animals and humans which eventually leads to his downfall as he ignores those he considers foreign and beneath him which brings about his collapse. And it is the true Emperor’s understanding and inclusion of all those who reside within Chang’an that brings him to his destined station in life.
Without a doubt, “Sound of the Silk Road” will continue to find success as it shows across China, and eventually begins its World Tour. With plans for the play to be performed in multiple languages and in different countries, there can be no doubt that the universal story depicted in this musical can be enjoyed by all.
Dominick Principe: NJ, USA. Degrees in Education and Writing Arts, Foreign Teacher Supervisor at Williams English School; lived in Xi’an for 7 years. He is dedicated to English education and culture, and is always striving to build a bridge between American and Chinese Culture.