‘Kung Fu’s’ kicks, dances draw rave reviews

21 Sep

Rick and Teri Casey hadn’t been to a  Branson show in a long time.
“We live here and it’s nice to see something different,” Teri Casey said after seeing the first half of “Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu.”
“I haven’t been to a show in five years, but this made me buy a ticket. It’s so refreshing to see something different.”
Rick Casey, her husband and a martial arts fan and practitioner, said he was impressed by the new show, too.
“You have to be in good shape to do those moves,” he said. “I really enjoyed it.”
While Rick Casey was taken with the martial arts performed during the show and the skill level demonstrated by the young Chinese cast of more than 60 martial artists and acrobats, his wife was moved by the dance.
“The female dancer is so good,” she said. “I think she’s the best in the show and the best dancer I’ve ever seen in Branson. Hopefully it will take off.”
Standing ovations
That hope is shared by Pam Critchfield, who coordinates marketing for the new production.
“Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu” tells the tale of a young Chinese boy sent by his family to live at a monastery and train in the ancient warrior art of Kung Fu.
“The audiences’ response has been much bigger and better than we could have ever imagined,” Critchfield  said of the production. “We had one of the writers, Mr. Gao, come from China for the show’s opening. He was here expressly to meet people after they had seen the show and to talk to them and see what their opinions were and what they liked.”
After talking to many audience members, Critchfield said only a few minor changes were made.
“The American audiences in Branson just overwhelmingly loved the show as it was. The kids in the audience are loving it,” she said. “At every single show we’ve had a standing ovation. The Chinese have not experienced standing ovations. It’s very rare in China, so to have that response in Branson with American audiences has shown them a great deal of respect.”
Critchfield said the cast is “in awe” of how the Americans have embraced the show.
“It’s very heart warming for them,” she said.
Logistics challenge
In order to bring “Kung Fu” to the United States as a permanent production, China Heaven Creation, the private company that organized and produced the show in cooperation with the Chinese government, had to accomplish some acrobatics of their own, jumping through hoops to arraigning travel documents for the cast and crew of more than 60 performers and technicitions.
“It took some time because of sheer numbers,” Critchfield explained. “The paperwork itself took quite a few months. When they first got here we had 82 people. We now have about 68 in the cast and crew.”
Getting the cast and crew to the United States wasn’t the only logistics challenge.
The production company purchased the White House Theatre in Branson, customize it for the show and imported the set and costumes from China.
“All of the costumes and scenery and lights … everything came from China in huge crates,” Critchfield said. “It took six semi trucks to bring it all from the port where it arrived. Everything was built there; even the cement blocks and metal bars you see them break in the show came from China.”
Unexpected
After the show, Olya and John Czerkas of St. Petersburg, Fla., said they were glad they made time to see the show before heading home to the Sunshine State.
“We see a lot of theater and this was unexpected for Branson,” Olya Czerkas said. “I’m very impressed with the acrobats and gymnastics and the music adds to the mood and the tension. I think this gives Americans a great look inside the Chinese culture. It’s so nice to see another culture. It’s kind of like an Asian opera or ballet, I think. It’s good for us to see how other people live and think and dance.”
John Czerkas said he thinks shows like “Kung Fu” will help Americans understand how to “better get along in the Global society.”
“There is so much about the Chinese we don’t understand,” he said. “This will help. It’s good for us to be more familiar with their culture.”

Want to go?

Chun Yi: The Legend of Kung Fu runs through Nov. 30
at The White House theatre in Branson. Call 417-335-2396
or go to www.kungfubranson for show and ticket ionformation.

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