An all-Asian cast of Broadway veterans and newcomers started rehearsals Tuesday in New York City for a rock musical criticizing communist China’s massacre of student protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
Chinese dissident Wu’er Kaixi, a student leader of the 1989 protest who now works as a pro-democracy activist in Taiwan, came up with the idea for “Tiananmen: A New Musical” and is the production’s creative consultant.
“I believed in democracy when we took to the streets in 1989, and I still believe it is the right thing for China,” Mr. Kaixi said in an email. “I’m looking forward to seeing and hearing the events as a musical and I hope it serves to ensure that the world doesn’t forget.”
Announced Thursday, the cast of Asian American and Pacific Islander performers includes Cáitlín Burke (“The Sound of Music”), Kai An Chee (“Miss Saigon”), Grace Choi (“Avenue Q”) and Troy Iwata (“Be More Chill”). It also features Austin Ku, a 2021 Grammy nominee for the musical theater album “Soft Power.”
Producers said cast members asked not to comment on the show, citing concerns over possible reprisals from the Chinese Communist Party.
“There’s a fear factor in this show because some of the actors have family in China,” said lead producer Jason Rose. “This is clearly a show China will not be enthusiastic about.”
The production will feature original rock songs as an homage to the music of 1989, when it was trendy for rock singers to support the student protesters. Author Scott Elmegreen and composer Drew Fornarola collaborated on the songs, which include the refrain, “They will hear us.”
“At a time when democracy faces heightened challenges in America and around the world, we hope that this show will move audiences to reflect on love, freedom, and the big ideas that are worth fighting for,” said Mr. Elmegreen, a playwright whose credits include the off-Broadway show “Straight.”
The New York cast will perform two dramatic readings of “Tiananmen” on Sept. 20. The $750,000 stage production will premiere in Phoenix, Arizona, on Oct. 6 of next year, kicking off a five-week regional tour that producers hope will lead to Broadway.
Veteran Broadway actor Darren Lee will direct both the reading and the premiere tour. He will also serve as the choreographer of the Phoenix production.
“‘Tiananmen’ is a brave and necessary work to remind us all of the hinge of world history that happened in Tiananmen Square at a time when China is trying to erase all that happened there from memory,” said Mr. Lee, a Chinese American.