Political, manga-inspired musical focuses on shared experiences of Asian immigrants

REDWOOD CITY, CA — Harmonic singing, tailored to choreography, and featuring dramatic acting punctuated with comedic timing — this was TheaterWorks Silicon Valley’s world premiere of “The Four Immigrants: an American Musical Manga.”

Min Kahng adapted the musical from Henry Yoshitaka Kiyama’s graphic novel, “The Four Immigrants Manga: a Japanese Experience in San Francisco, 1904-1924.”

Director Leslie Martinson says the story focuses on the shared experiences of various immigrants who came to America.

“The story of growing up in America as an immigrant is intertwined,” said Martinson. “In this particular case, the story of Japanese immigrants, many of whom went to work in the farms of the central valley, is quite parallel to the Filipino experience.”

Martinson says that the current socio-political climate, particularly around the immigration debate, plays a significant factor in the interpretation of the musical.

Last week, President Trump announced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment Act (RAISE) which aims to cut legal immigration by half from the current level of more than one million green cards granted per year.

“Part of the doing the play is to enter into a conversation about those issues, and let people reflect on it from their point of views,” said Martinson. “The play is political because all theater is political, and because we are raising important issues.”

Fil-Am actresses Catherine Gloria and Rinabeth Concepcion Apostol say the theater is another form of communicating issues that are unfamiliar for some people.

“Because we take a broader look, and use a broader lens to kind of dissect everything that’s going on, it allows people to really have the time to sit and digest what it is they’re seeing and what it is they’re hearing,” said Apostol.

“A lot of audience members, and a lot of people who have seen the show, and been involved in the show are saying ‘Oh wow, we didn’t really know this story existed,” said Gloria. “And it kind of just branches out to other stories that exist, and other things people go through that we may not know.”

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