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NY1 Theater Review: 'Kung Fu'

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Accomplished playwright David Henry Hwang returns to the New York theater scene with the new dance play "Kung Fu," a work about the life and times of Bruce Lee. NY1's Roma Torre filed the following review.

The Signature Theatre's new play about Bruce Lee honors the late kung fu star in one key respect. His incredible martial arts skills are recreated on stage in sensational style. But while lead actor Cole Horibe demonstrates incomparable talent as a martial artist, he is a novice actor and it shows. And it doesn't help that acclaimed playwright David Henry Hwang is not in his best form either.

The true stars of this production are Sonya Tayeh, credited with choreography, and Emmanuel Brown, the fight director. Creating an inspired hybrid of dance and kung fu, their combined contributions would almost serve as entertainment enough. They even managed to whip the ensemble into fighting shape. Fortunately the choreographed sequences are aplenty in the production, but much of what lands in between is subpar.

41 years after his untimely death at the age of 32, Bruce Lee remains an iconic figure. His legacy is huge, transforming pop culture through his immensely successful kung fu movies. But as written for the stage and portrayed here, his ascendance from frustrated son of a Chinese opera star to martial arts instructor to movie star is a by-the-numbers treatment that ends much too abruptly.
 
The predominant message in the play seems to be that Lee's early struggles were the result of prejudice more than anything else. Perhaps true, but as evidenced here, his heavily accented English and limited acting would seem to hold him back more than anything else.

Horibe has many virtues. His action sequences are poetry in motion, but it's perhaps unfair to expect him to carry a lead role with no apparent acting experience.

Director Leigh Silverman works hard to overcome the show's limitations, but between the shortcomings of the script and leading man, "Kung Fu" the play simply lacks punch.

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