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Building a cultural 'railroad' between East and West

By Oasis Hu | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-07-10 14:41
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The creative and production team behind the musical work on the details. CHINA DAILY

Inspired by the character, Tan brought his full humanity to the role and used it as an opportunity to challenge anti-Asian sentiments, combat stereotypes, and promote empathy.

"In the show, the railroad won't happen unless people bring their different cultures together. In many ways, the team that put the show together has to do exactly the same," Tan says.

Like Tan, Coco Huang Yike, a supporting actor in the musical, was also deeply motivated by the musical's relevance. The 19-year-old Beijing-born actor left her hometown in 2022 to explore the US musical-theater industry and to learn as much as she could.

"Although my experience can't be compared to that of the early immigrant workers, I found the spirit in these stories resonating and inspiring. Who else would work to bring the story of Chinese railroad workers onto the Broadway stage, if not me?" says Huang.

After days of intense rehearsals, the group was finally ready for the show. To them, it was more than just a piece of entertainment; it was a chance to make a statement, and to express their hopes for a fair world.

From the start, the audience was immediately drawn in by the passion of the cast. They fell into a hush, immersed in the unfolding drama, with attention focused on the characters who took them back to the distant past.

Following the performance, Jamie Bernstein, a writer, filmmaker, and daughter of Broadway titan Leonard Bernstein, told the producer she appreciated the show.

"The musical confronts the tough truths about racism while offering the built-in hope and optimism that music always brings," she said.

Stimac noticeably choked up on a few occasions during the performance. The director revealed a mixture of happiness and regret for the long-awaited realization of the project, and the absence of Louis to share the joy.

Despite the bittersweet emotions, it was a powerful testament to the transformative power of dedication to a shared vision for the creative team. Moving forward, the team is actively exploring collaboration with a US educational foundation, to bring Railroad! to US schools and raise awareness of an often overlooked history.

Just as the Chinese immigrants of the 19th century had to overcome discrimination as they built a railroad linking the US from east to west, the group of ethnically diverse artists is also bridging divides, by building a cultural "railroad" between the global East and West.

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