DRAGON SPRING, PHOENIX RISE – The McCourt at The Shed

WTF is the response to “Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise” - not only as in “what was that all about?” but also “why was this made?” This senseless, colossal nothing in the colossal The McCourt (the enclosed, interior performance space at The Shed in Hudson Yards), promoting itself as a King--Fu musical, wearily strings out a threadbare plot. An underground spring, infused with the power of eternal life, is guarded over by an exiled sect of King-Fu warriors. The daughter of the sect’s grand master elopes with a strange outsider and they have boy and girl twins but he conspires to control the spring, attempting to kill one child, causing the twins’ separation. Eighteen years later the siblings are reunited by chance, identities revealed, and truth confronted. A battle to save the spring - and the world, I guess - ensues. The setting is supposed to be the near future in Flushing, Queens and Manhattan, but if I hadn’t read that in the program I’d never know.

The lifeless show is embalmed with a deadly potion of third-rate, rock concert lighting, plodding direction, gyrating ensemble dance numbers, and bad acting and singing. “Dragon” purports to be a musical based on the insertion of seven musical selections (two reprised, some remixes not written for the show, only three discernible “songs”) variously credited to composer/artist Bobby Krlic and Grammy-winning Sia.

The lyrics to the songs are insipid. The electronic musical arrangements, like much of the banal dialogue, reverberate around The McCourt’s vast, airy, empty space; sound design doesn’t compensate. The large, elevated, three-quarter thrust stage is flanked by limited seating on three sides; steeply raked arena-style on the front side accommodates most of the audience. The McCourt’s customized set-up for this show recalls the seating for Cirque de Soleil’s "O” in Las Vegas, except that spectacle was exciting.

The roof of the cavernous McCourt rises 80 feet above the stage; by aerial hook-up Kung-Fu warriors descend onto the battleground or principals ascend to the heavens. There are three such maneuvers; deadly slow, they only add to the interminable runtime of almost 2 hours, including an unwanted intermission.

In a stupidly flattering exercise of pre-publicity The New York Times reported, based on an interview with Chen Shi-Zeng, who co-conceived and directed the show, that “the core themes of ‘Dragon Spring Phoenix Rise’ (are) geographical and spiritual dislocation, hybridized identity and the weight of heritage…” If that’s what “Dragon” is all about then so is “My Fair Lady’.

The cast and its trainers deserve credit for martial arts battles that, although not thrilling, are safely executed. The most interesting fight involved a bullwhip, which must have required extra practice.

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