Utah Shakespeare Festival premieres musical in northern Utah based on Transcontinental Railroad workers – St George News
Jonny Lee Jr. at a concert performance of “Gold Mountain,” Ogden, Utah, May 2019 | Photo by Lia Chang, St. George News
NS. GEORGE – There is a picture in the heart of Jason Ma’s new musical, Gold Mountain, developed by the Utah Shakespeare Festival and opening Thursday at the West Valley Performing Arts Center.
Gold Mountain tells the story of the Chinese workers who worked on America’s first transcontinental railroad. The workers, recruited by the Central Pacific Railroad Company, used only hand tools and dynamite to lay more than 160 kilometers of track through the Sierra Nevada.
But the souvenir photo taken at the Promontory Summit in Utah in May 1869 doesn’t show any Chinese, Ma said.
“Gold Mountain is an attempt to refocus, refocus and expand this shot,” Ma told St. George News. “Sometimes you have to make up your own mind.”
For Ma, the journey that culminated in “Gold Mountain” began in the mid-1990s when he starred in “Miss Saigon” on Broadway. The inspiration came unexpectedly, he said while waiting in the theater one day.
Head shot of Jason Ma, place and date not given | Courtesy Jason Ma, St. George News
“I heard this tune,” he said, “which eventually turned out to be a song about two people who fall in love. Then the story and its people came to me. Usually I would make up the story first, then map it and develop songs. This came out of the blue. “
To capture that inspiration, Ma said he spent a lot of time writing in restaurants and phone boxes all over Manhattan. His friend and roommate from UCLA, Alan Muraoka, was also in the “Miss Saigon” cast. Muraoka longed to be part of works like Ma.
“Back then, Asian Americans didn’t have the opportunity to tell their own stories,” Muraoka told St. George News. “We had to do it for ourselves.”
Muraoka, a Japanese-American actor and theater director who plays the owner of Hooper’s Store on Sesame Street, said he was excited to see his friend worked so hard to tell the story.
About two years ago, Ma and Co. performed a concert version of the show in Salt Lake City. Actress Ali Ewoldt, who played roles in Broadway productions of “Les Misérables”, “Phantom of the Opera” and “The King and I”, was part of this cast.
“Jason asked me to see May while he was developing the show,” Ewoldt said. “Since then I’ve been involved in the development of the piece.”
LR: Jonny Lee Jr. and Ali Ewoldt at a concert performance of “Gold Mountain”, Ogden, Utah, May 2019 | Photo by Lia Chang, St. George News
She told St. George News that Ma shaped the role according to her strengths, and the result is a complex, layered character who feels joy despite the trauma she has suffered.
“She’s a real person who has a real story to tell,” said Ewoldt. “For those who are willing to listen, she tells a story that speaks to our common humanity.”
The director of new plays for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Derek Livingston, said he was intrigued by Ma’s way of telling a complex story about love and work. Livingston also acts as a “Gold Mountain” dramaturge, literary advisor or editor for production.
“What makes this story so powerful is the way this man and woman come to America with hopes and dreams,” he said. “But they have come to work and that threatens to tear them apart.”
All of the artists involved said they looked forward to the show opening in West Valley City, which they believe is the most racially diverse city in Utah.
“So this show is a natural fit for the community,” added Livingston. “There may be people in this audience who are aware that their ancestors helped build this railroad, but they have been pushed aside.”
Scene from a concert performance of “Gold Mountain,” Ogden, Utah, May 2019 | Photo by Lia Chang, St. George News
And that, Muraoka said, is the point.
“Even today there is anti-Asian sentiment in the US,” said Muraoka. “But we helped build this nation. We are an integral part of the fabric of the United States. “
Gold Mountain was created as part of the Utah Shakespeare Festival’s commitment to developing new American plays. It opens on Thursday at the West Valley Performing Arts Center at 3333 Decker Lake Drive in West Valley City and runs through November 20. Ticket and appointment information can be found online.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.
David is a journalist, educator and playwright. He has written for Zenger News, the Christian Science Monitor, the Barton Chronicle, North Star Monthly, and The Northland Journal, among others. He has covered a variety of beats including breaking news, court and crime, sports, and arts and entertainment. His theater-related texts appear regularly in American Theater Magazine, Contemporary Theater Review (UK), ConJunto (Cuba) and HowlRound.com. David’s play 800 Days of Solitude about the effects of solitary confinement on young people and their families was awarded the Christian Moe Dramaturgy Prize in 2018. He earned a BFA with summa cum laude honors from DePaul University and an MFA in Dramaturgy from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.