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[Theater Review]: Shanghai Bund, The Musical

A Chinese West Side Story is showing on Beijing Xi Lu in a great theater you’ve never heard of, with subtitles in something that resembles English.
By Jun 10, 2015 Arts


With the exception of circuses like ERA: Orgy of Acrobatics, Shanghai Bund (上海滩): China Musical may be the longest running show in the city. It opened last September and continues to be performed four nights a week at the heretofore unheard of Yunfeng Theater, which was restored especially for The Bund. It’s no Book of Mormon, but the show has its charms.

The plot is adapted from a popular Hong Kong TV series starring a baby-faced Chow Yun-fat and Annie Chiu. People called it "The Godfather of the East", at least until Infernal Affairs was released. In the TV series, a Japanese spy called Yamaguchi Kaoriko gets killed, but this version has been cleverly adapted to address the tear in China’s social fabric spreading from Yongkang Lu -- Frenchmen.

Set in the 1920s, Shanghai Bund《上海滩》 tells the story of an entrepreneurial Frenchman portrayed by a Chinese actor in traditional whiteface — a ginger wig. Despite his hard work and good faith attempting to grow his startup, a profitable real estate development called the French Concession, the Frenchman is gunned down by anti-trade activists in the second act. From then on, attention shifts to the love story between Cheng Cheng, the daughter of the Frenchman’s wealthy Chinese business partner Feng Jingyao, and Xu Wenqiang, a young man torn by his desire to get rich and his love of China.

Setting aside the grim comparisons to another foreign businessman killed in the crossfire between rival Chinese factions, the show is a real knees-up. Singing performances are strong, as is the stylized dance fighting, which the Brazilians call "Capoeira".

The wardrobes are an especial highlight. Rarely have stripes of such different widths and color combinations featured in one performance. Moneyed male characters are often seen in a classic pin stripe, while the members of Axe, a gang named after their antiperspirant of choice, wear stripes so broad the characters have been described as “colorful watermelons”.

One singer is decked out so densely in highly reflective sequins, it's as if, in the absence of any reasonable investment options, she has elected to stitch her entire personal wealth to her dress.

English subtitles are provided, but a little reluctantly. They’re projected onto screens high and wide from the stage, making it impossible to watch the action and read the text simultaneously. This passive aggression also extends to the words themselves, which include such accidental hipsterisms as "Bro Wen do not make me in a pickle", "what a sad", and "okay, that’s a whack".

Though there’s only one foreigner in the show, played by a Chinese actor, and he gets only two lines before he’s gunned down in cold blood, the night culminates with an epic chorus of "in a metropolis infested with foreign adventurers — how can I not lose my direction?"

And if you are a foreign adventurer, how can you leave the theater without getting the shit kicked out of you? Well, that’s not going to happen. But Shanghai Bund has just enough campy, anti-foreign sentiment to have you consciously suppressing the silly suspicion that you’re in personal danger. Mercifully, the Junyao Theater convenience store sells 4rmb silver Tsingdaos, and no one tries to confiscate them from you if you bring them inside to ease your nerves.

Shanghai Bund opened last September at the Yunfeng Theatre, 1700 Beijing Xi Lu, near Jiaozhou Lu. Tickets are 180-680rmb, but it’s not that popular -- buy a cheap ticket and sit where you like.

Photos by Brandon McGhee / SmartShanghai



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  • 4 years ago Unverified User

    It's an azmazing musical. Stylish! Old-fashion style and totally out of my expectation.

  • 4 years ago iConyu Unverified User

    If you want to have the most authentic local taste condensed with traditional Shanghainese culture, as well as one of the most impressive theater musical productions in China, this is definitely the one you are going to. 
    Yes, for musical play in China, I could be criticising, but it was such an incredible theater experience tonight to taste what the true Shanghai Bund is really about when you are in the Shanghai Bund. You’re talking about the top-notch musical production in China. Very professional and memorable team efforts being able to put on such a great show, from the vintage and luxury costumes to the nostalgic melodies, and to the vivid stage performing out from each actors. Regardless of one of the most successful plots that many Chinese audience might be already familiar with, the classic story took place in early 20th century in Shanghai. And it contained such as historical, adventurous, romantic, and all the touching points that you would demand for a show. 
    Enough said without further spoil alerts, it was all-in-all a night that made me just feel magical and enchanted, and cultural immersed. Definitely a five-star rating. Highly recommended.

  • 4 years ago RobinYAROSE

    it is a amazing music theatre,and i enjoy the music and the dance in this theatr. i am a dance lover ,i like the ideas in the shanghai boud ,and the background also is good

  • 4 years ago SherryShen Unverified User

    I think Shanghai Bund Musical represents Shanghai in the best way I've ever seen. The elegant sometimes luxury costumes reflect the sceneries I've often found in old shanghai movies, and the classic hits of 1930s are another highlight.

  • 4 years ago Gabry Unverified User

    An amazing story in the Shanghai of 20's. Actors play magnificent and make you follow them from the beginning to the end with wonderful songs and dances.

  • 4 years ago margo1989

    I love theaters and everything that connected with it. And when my friend recommended it to me i didn't expect that GOOD. I think Shanghai Bund Musical represents Shanghai in the best way. The elegant luxury costumes showed us old shanghai fashion, and the classic hits of 1920-30s drive us to the old Shanghai times and let us to feel the atmosphere of big love and not always happy ending. Love between young girl and a gangster are sooo touching, you're starting to believe in the power of love ! Amazing show with amazing actors and singers!!!

  • 4 years ago JYLKuan

    As a fan of the TV series when I was growing up, it was great to know that there is a musical adaptation of the Shanghai Bund story. The entire production was quite close to its TV source material, and it worked well translating the TV version into the stage version. The casting, performance (singing and dancing), costume and stage design are impressive, almost to Western musical production standards.

    However, one big caveat when going to such shows is to remember that one is still in China. I would say one third of the performance on the night I went to was quite ruined by other audience members. Guests were allowed to come in late, stand around blocking my view during one of the highlight performance numbers (this was about a good 30-40 minutes after the show has started), getting up and about their seats when they got restless. One guy 3 rows in front even had a Wechat conversation on speakerphone going on! Perhaps the theatre management should do a better job managing audiences, especially latecomers and disruptive ones.

    The cast and production crew are doing a fantastic job. They deserve a better and appreciative audience.

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