Angela Chan was excited and nervous, last Sunday at Theatre7, when the musical she co-wrote with Michael Manly, Legacy of the Tiger Mother— an exaggeration of her own experience being raised by strict Asian parents in America—was about to begin. Excited because the show, directed by Lysander Abadia, had sold out seats on its second day. Nervous because her own Tiger Mother was about to see it for the first time.
Cultures clash in this story about Asian-American parenting. Wanting more for her family, Lily presses her daughter, Mei, to more forcefully discipline her granddaughter, Kim. Then the lights dim to reset the stage: It’s 1986 (a calendar tells us) where Mei, in ponytails and a girl’s jumper, plunks away at the keys, and Lily, in curlers and ironing, demands another two hours. Flashbacks to this room, behind Mei’s Chinese laundry, make up much of the story, before the conflict peaks at Kim’s present-day piano recital.
Despite the three characters, Legacy is a two-person dramatic-comedy (Kim is present in voice over only) that feels much bigger for the thoroughness with which it explores complicated parenting issues.
The writing is smart, subtle and funny. Celeste Lero does a terrific job of portraying the young Mei of 1986, and an even better job of depicting the emotionally troubled woman she becomes. Christine De Chavez exposes the Tiger Mother in Lily with a sincerity that highlights underlying suffering.
Chan, who composed the music, and co-wrote the lyrics to satirize the Tiger Mother, also played piano—mere feet from where her mother sat in the front row.
Did the real Tiger Mother like the show?
She hasn’t said yet. But she isn’t a character in a one-act musical, forced to reach a happy conclusion before the curtain falls—which is the only part of Legacy that rings false.