When one of the characters in Velina Hasu Houston's stirring, surprisingly fiery world-premiere musical, Tea, With Music, mentions an estimate of how many Japanese “war brides” there were after WWII — 100,000 — your jaw drops. The musical, based on Houston's 1987 play, focuses on five such women who married and moved to Kansas. As the show opens, the group has gathered for tea to mourn Himiko, who recently has committed suicide.
What follows is a probing of the women's difficulties of adjusting to the heartland of a brand-new country and overcoming the general consensus that they were prostitutes. But more troubling are the deeper implications of what becoming an American after being considered one of the country's great enemies entailed.
Setsuko (Yumi Iwama) marries a black man on the cusp of the civil rights movement, and Chizuye (Janet Song) marries a Mexican; both encounter double doses of racism. Atsuko (Tiffany-Marie Austin) has a Japanese-American husband, which sounds easy yet is almost as difficult. And Himiko (Joan Almedilla) is abused by her husband and ridiculed among her own community.
The addition of songs, from the poetic and touching “She's Gone/I Was Born in a Storm” to the satirical “This Is My Country,” feels natural — no small feat for an already successful play.
Adam Blumenthal's hazy lighting is emotive, and each member of the cast's emotional ascent to the play's climax is flawless. As the five of them, forces joined, appear upstage, the last shred of that stereotype of the meek and mild Japanese bride is eradicated — reason enough to see this powerful, polished premiere.
Wednesdays-Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 2 p.m. Starts: Nov. 14. Continues through Dec. 9, 2012
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