If you were the child who spent your afternoons inside practicing the piano (or another musical instrument) while you could hear other children running around in the sunshine you no doubt have an ache in your heart when now, as an adult, you hear other people discussing their memories of playing in the streets, or even watching endless hours of after-school cartoons. Sure, you may have agile fingers which allow you to type an error-free 75 WPM but aside from that, are you really any better off? Was it worth it?
Let’s take it one step further. Imagine you are Mei (Lynn Craig), grown daughter of Lily (Satomi Hofmann), who monitors her daughter Kim’s practicing from the other room. Distractedly tapping away on her blackberry she suddenly hears the words of her mother boom from her own lips as Kim prepares for recital day: “You will practice that piece until you can play it 20 times perfectly!” Stunned, Mei realized she has stepped up and taken on the Legacy of the Tiger Mother.
Written by Angela Chan (who also served as lyricist, composer, musical director and producer) who loosely based the story on her own childhood, it is easy to take a step back many times during the performance and evaluate what all those years of practice produced. As you hear Chan’s expert piano playing and excellent talent for composition and musical phrasing it deeply underlines the message that yes … all those afternoons behind the piano did well to form an accomplished musician. But remove that meta-information for a moment and let Tiger Mother stand on its own. You’ll find a touching, sometimes funny, sometimes poignant story about strong women who make sacrifices for their daughters because that is the legacy that is handed down, generation to generation.
Unseen, but intrinsic to the plot are granddaughter Kim (whose recital day opens and closes the play) and Lily’s own mother whom she speaks to in a moving monologue. Co-writer Michael Manley interweaves seamlessly with Chan to create a gift of a show that celebrates the mother-daughter bond through music.
Director Lysander Abadia does an expert job with these two strong female leads; Ms. Craig (Mei) must convincingly go from pig-tailed tween to eye-rolling teen to intrepid college girl to mother all in the span of an hour. Similarly Abadia coaxes all the subtle and necessary nuances from Satomi Hofmann (Lily) so that the Tiger Mother does not come off as a one-note shrew but rather embodies all the complexities of a hard-working woman who insists “Sometimes a mother must choose for her daughter” and then breaks your heart as the basis for this statement is revealed.
Fans of crazed-stage-mother shows such as Toddlers & Tiaras can recognized that Lily’s admonishment “First prize in your division is NOT the Grand Prize!” sounds dangerously familiar; yet this “parading of our youth” that they sing of in “Recital Day” is not about how pretty or poised a child is, but how disciplined, how focused, how diligent … how structured. The not-so-hidden-message is that only a child with goals can succeed in the world.
Ultimately Mei finds that she passes some of the Legacy of the Tiger Mother down to Kim … however not all of it. The show ends with a new style of parenting being introduced, and a new version of success deemed acceptable.
So, to go back to the original question – Was it worth it? In Angela Chan’s case I’d say the answer is: Yes it was. Without a doubt.
Legacy of the Tiger Mother was featured as part of the Times Square International Theater Festival at the Roy Arias Studios & Theatres located at 300 W. 43rd St, NY, NY.
~~~Legacy of the Tiger Mother
Book and Lyrics: Angela Chan & Michael Manley
Music: Angela Chan
Director: Lysander Abadia
Little Times Square Theater
Roy Arias Theatre Center
300 W. 43rd St, NY, NY