Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Story of the Buddha Off-Broadway (musical)

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis (Lion’s Roar); Amber Larson, Crystal Quintero (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly

A. Jesse Jiryu Davis and Jennifer Keishin Armstrong* reviewed and photographed “Under the Bodhi Tree” last year for Lion's Roar.

On a Tuesday night [May 2017], an audience of about 50 settled into a small, black box theater less than a block from Broadway.

Over the next two hours, they’d learn about the life of the Buddha the same way patrons of other nearby theaters were getting to know Alexander Hamilton or Sunset Boulevard’s Norma Desmond -- through original, rousing song-and-dance numbers.

We'll turn round and round in this insufferable samsara forever until we wake up.
Under the Bodhi Tree started as a Korean script written by Jingoo Lee and Julie Song.

It follows Prince Siddhartha from his royal childhood, through his noble [origins] marriage, and eventually on his journey temporarily away from his family and toward enlightenment.
  • [NOTE: Siddhartha left to find why we suffer and thus bring all suffering to an end. He came back seven years later with answers and saved his family and many, many others].
The diverse, ten-person cast finished a 12-day run at the Royal Family Performing Arts Space, and producers are hoping to bring the show to festivals and regional theaters throughout America as well as to create a Korean tour.
The production aims to make Prince Siddhartha’s life and teachings accessible to young, modern audiences, with an introduction set in current day featuring characters suffering over everything from pennilessness to lack of likes on Instagram.

Why do we suffer, and how can we end it?
As the play moves into Siddhartha’s time, the future Buddha comes across as timeless.

He wears a simple white cotton and is played by Joshua Grosso with naturalism -- not to mention a killer Broadway voice and a luminous presence.

Many of the other characters are blatantly styled in Rent-like punk and played with a modern edge.

Siddhartha’s childhood sidekick, Channa [who cared for Sid's white pony Kanthaka], wears a pink sweatshirt and moto-style jeans, providing comic relief -- though not all of the audience, many of whom were clutching Korean translation sheets, seemed to get his jokes.

(For instance, “You look like you need some moral support. I’d offer, but my morals are questionable.”) Jordan J. Ford appears as Siddhartha’s snarky tempter, Mara, in a kilt and combat boots.

Lion's Roar (
Those boots would be at home in the current Tony-darling Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812. One of the cast members wears a Nirvana band T-shirt throughout -- get it?
Even if it doesn’t become the next Jesus Christ Superstar, Under the Bodhi Tree is a delightful way to spend an evening -- and remember why we practice. Source


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