Posted in music | pictures on July 12, 2013

photos by Stephanie Berger; words by Bill Pearis

Monkey: Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013
Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

The centerpiece to this year's Lincoln Center Festival, Monkey: Journey to the West is a now a week into its run at David H Koch Theater. The show was created by Gorillaz partners Damon Albarn (music) and Jamie Hewlett (animation, design) and Chinese opera director Chen Shi-zheng, and comes off as a hodge-podge of Chinese opera (performed by Ensemble Signal), kung-fu, anime and Cirque du Soleil.

The story, about a wild monkey king who eventually attains spiritual enlightenment via the titular quest with a rag-tag group of friends, dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is one of China's most famous fables. It's been adapted numerous times on stage, film, television, and manga. Here, the plot is pretty reductive -- those familiar with the tale will get it, the rest will muddle through thanks to expository animated segments. But plot is really secondary to the general spectacle of it all.

Of that, some of the set-pieces -- involving scores of Chinese acrobats -- are indeed pretty dazzling. The highlight of the whole show involves the gang's tangle with seductive spider-women via silk acrobatics. It's beautiful and thrilling. There's also some amazing wirework, and even a sequence with plate-spinning (which is cooler than that might read). The episodic nature of the story drags a little but you are never lacking eye candy.

As for the music, Albarn does inject a little Gorillaz-style analogue funk, but mostly he aims for more traditional Chinese opera compositions. I can't say I left humming any of the songs, though, which were sung -- like the dialogue -- in Mandarin. (Subtitles are projected above the stage.) But some of the images linger.

Monkey: A Journey to the West continues through July 28. Tickets are still available. A few more pictures from the Lincoln Center production are below.

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Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

Monkey's Journey To The West @ Lincoln Center - 6/28/2013

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Comments (20)

Wait... the monkey is not actually played by a real monkey? Bullshit!!!!

I'll be sticking with the snow white porno show this summer, thank you very much.

Posted by Anonymous | July 12, 2013 12:16 PM

So now the sophisticated, elitist Lincoln Center has succumbed to Cirque du Soliel-type entertainment. Can't wait to see the Met Opera Ice Capades show.

Posted by Anonymous | July 12, 2013 12:26 PM

This performance is an insult to Monkeys everywhere. Demeaning and immoral.

Posted by Anonymous | July 12, 2013 1:07 PM

12:16 said sticking. Heh, heh.

Posted by Anonymous | July 12, 2013 1:42 PM

12:26 said cum. Heh, heh.

Posted by Anonymous | July 12, 2013 4:06 PM

This was real sophisticated. Sort of like adding capers to a hummus platter.

Posted by Anonymous | July 12, 2013 4:31 PM

Just saw it tonight Fri, Jul 12 and I must say its really horrible. Worst show I've ever seen. This is Lincoln Center? I wanted to like it. To be fair, yes, it was an eye candy experience. But that was it! No real story line. The characters never appealed or connected to me. The scenes seemed fragmented and never really amounting to a coherent story. If there is a plot or even a real theme, my 4 year old could have written a better one. You are left flumoxed, bored and annoyed because you wasted an evening let alone your money. Who decided this should be shown at this prestigious location? The best joke is that it's being shown for an extended period luring unsuspecting victims. The acrobatics were mediocre at best. The show never met my expectations of what I know can be superb Chinese acrobatics. Don't waste your time and money. There are plenty of other good show around. If you do decide to go, don't say I didn't warn you :-)

Posted by JerryCG | July 13, 2013 3:40 AM

How is this not racist??

Posted by Anonymous | July 13, 2013 8:59 AM

Thanks Jerry! Good comments and I will stay away,

Posted by Anonymous | July 13, 2013 9:15 AM

I would suggest ignoring the pedantic, immature comments above and going to see this unusual and FABULOUS performance. Gee whiz Jerry, I hope you picked up a program while you were there, because it fully explains what you were apparently unable to glean from the show itself. Given that Monkey is derived from an ancient text of over 100 chapters (maybe thinking of Homer's Odyssey might help a bit?), the storyline presented on stage is an annotated version of the epic tale. There's really not much one can say to help other people get it if they don't already, but it isn't intending to be a "Chinese acrobats" show. You can see that elsewhere. Monkey is pleasing to the eyes and ears, the skill level of the performers is nothing short of amazing (yes, they SING too), the story is humorous and engaging, and the show appeals to all ages. Go see it while you can.

Posted by Beth G. | July 13, 2013 2:30 PM

Beth G, I read the program before it started and am even fully aware of the story so before I got there. Please don't patronize me. I was merely reviewing the show itself. With proper script (annotated or not) and direction, it could have been good. I don't claim to be an expert critic, however, I can refer you to the Daily News and New York Times reviews. The monkey may be pleasing to the eyes, but his constant shrieking and crouch-scratching antics seemed out of place, wiered and annoying. I'm not going to argue with you if you liked it and are glamoured by it's theatrics. All I'm saying is that for a majority of people, it's not worth their money. I don't know how it got to Lincoln Center, but I suspect it's because it's state sponsored (China) with lots of money behind it. I'm not racist either (I'm part chinese). Duh.

Posted by Jerry | July 13, 2013 5:51 PM

How is the hummus in China?

Posted by Anonymous | July 13, 2013 7:03 PM

Hi Jerry, I don't wish to argue with you either, but your own words were: "No real story line...The scenes seemed fragmented and never really amounting to a coherent story." There is really only one way to interpret that, and it indicates that you did not follow the story. I noticed you've copy/pasted these same comments around the web, so I think it's more than fair to offer a dissenting voice here. So, some other critics agree with you? These are opinions, and mine differs from yours in that I did understand the story (which was essentially the journey itself), and I did find the acrobatics to be impressive. The show meandered at times, just as the Monkey did, and it was a bit of a kaleidoscope...but that's kind of what I expect from the Festival.

And I don't know who called you a racist, but it wasn't me. As a footnote, I grew up in the Pacific and have visited China, Japan and Taiwan many times. Perhaps that is also why I liked the show so much. It's rare that a show captivates me, my teens, and my 10-year-old, but this one did it. It's summertime and we didn't want anything too heavy. Monkey kept it light, and we were entertained throughout.

Posted by Beth G. | July 14, 2013 1:02 PM

BethG:
I noticed he copied the same comment as well (made a reference to it on the variety site). I'm actually shocked he responded.

Anyways, before this turns into a giant flame war, here are my questions.

1.) Are there any asian readers who have seen this and can comment?


My wife's family is Taiwanese and I have always loved JTTW and most of its incarnations (movies and series) I've seen quite a few, rarely in English.
2.) Would someone who loves Monkey and his band of friends be disappointed as this being an attempt to bring JTTW to non-asians (like the really bad SyFy version or the JackieChan / JetLi version)?

Thanks.

Posted by Don | July 14, 2013 3:04 PM

The story does feel a bit fragmented because of the apparent necessity to jump around a bit for the sake of brevity. I did find the story aspect to be a bit thin. In part I wish it wouldn't have been translated into English so I could just imagine whatever I felt like. I'm not much of a musical theater goer, so I don't know what the norm is with regards to cohesive narrative. I love the sets and the skill of the performers, though and the music was often good. Overall, aesthetically, I thought it was quite enjoyable. As for the trolling comments above, go out and get a life. What else can be said?

Posted by fluxkit | July 14, 2013 6:22 PM

I read this review and the comments before seeing Monkey last night and I was so sure that I would disagree with JerryCG's opinion. But then, after seeing the show - I get where he is coming from. The show could have been great. The storytelling was weak, disjointed, and felt incomplete. They could have used a dramaturg. They employed storytelling devices but then abandoned them halfway through. Transitions were lacking between scenes and the translations were subpar. The acrobatics were okay.

I would say it's still worth seeing, but not at full price. It's definitely inspiring.

Posted by NC | July 15, 2013 11:18 AM

I went to watch the show yesterday. The visual effects and the music are fantastic. My four year old son pretty much sits quietly through the whole show. As to the story telling, I understand it's fragmented and even difficult if you had no prior exposure to the story/novel. After all, it is adapted from a novel with near 100 chapters, and my 4 year old of course knew and loved the Monkey King since I read the story book to him since he was 3 year old. If you blame the storyline of the show, it only means your mentality is not ready for something from a culture you are not familiar with.

All that said, where the heck does state sponsorship of China come from? This show haven't even played in mainland China yet, not to mention sponsorship from Chinese government.

BTW, I am a Chinese.

Posted by Y | July 15, 2013 11:53 AM

Y,
I'm Chinese too and am very familiar with Journey to the West. I'm also a writer and what I was criticizing is the actual production and not the original story. I think people are way to defensive about all this.

Posted by NC | July 15, 2013 1:12 PM

chinese government has nothing to do with the show. use your brain. are you a 14 year old?

Posted by jay | July 20, 2013 3:06 PM

Beth, while entitled to her opinion, is not an educated theater patron. Reasoning that it deviates from what is typical at Lincoln Center isn't justification for disapproval. How would theaters ever evolve if keeping to usual fare. This show was groundbreaking. While not without its flaws, it was breathtaking. Alas, Beth, it was not Neil Simon.

Posted by stevie netwoek | August 14, 2013 5:40 PM

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