Everybody's Kung Fu Fighting On Broadway!

New York Post, 01-16-2009

SURE, meditation and spiritual harmony get their due in "Soul of Shaolin," the Chinese martial-arts extravaganza that opened last night. But let's face it: Most of us are there to see some serious butt-kicking.

This is the first production from the People's Republic of China to make it to Broadway, and the preshow announcements are delivered in English and Chinese. (And if that country buys up any more of our national debt, you can probably expect a lot more of that in the future.)

With a cast of 30, the show exists to showcase Shaolin kung fu, the brand of martial arts associated with the ancient Shaolin monastery but best known in this country for its huge influence on popular culture and its wide exposure in film and television, not to mention rap videos.

There's a story of sorts, involving a young boy who's separated from his mother by war and raised by the monks of the Shaolin temple, who school him in their rigorous arts.

But it's mainly an excuse for the impressive performers - you may have caught them at the Beijing Olympics - to provide a dazzling display of their skills, many involving staffs and sabers, but mostly their masterful control of their own bodies.

The athleticism on display is truly amazing, performed by everyone from small children to one particularly charismatic one-armed master. They do somersaults without using their hands, contort their bodies into all kinds of poses, and hang from poles outfitted with sharp blades. There's also an entertaining display of the sort of "Drunken Master" routine, complete with accompanying woozy music, popularized by Jackie Chan in several films.

Director Liu Tongbiao has choreographed the proceedings with a precision that would put the Rockettes to shame. It all culminates in a final raucous battle, and the most athletic curtain calls probably ever seen on a Broadway stage.

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