Chinese American actors, Chinese American entertainers, Musicals, Asian American actors, Asian American theater;Race in musical theater
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2017.032.010 Oral History Interview with Chao Li Chi, August 14, 2003

Chao Li Chi was part of the original cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1958 musical “Flower Drum Song.” Chi begins the interview by describing the rehearsal process for the show’s theme song “A Hundred Million Miracles,” and the cultural significance of flower drum song as a folk dance style from Anhui Province, where C. Y. Lee, the author of the Flower Drum Song novel was from. According to Chi, he was initially cast as the father of Mei-Li and supposed to perform with her in that number, however, Gene Kelly, the director, recast him into two understudy roles after it became clear that Miyoshi Umeki, the actress cast as Mei-Li, had two left feet and Chi’s dance skills would upstage her. Chi then provides a critique of the show’s writing. He describes the script as put together piecemeal and made into a burlesque by others after Oscar Hammerstein had to go into the hospital. Chi also explains the circumstances around the firing of certain cast members in Dallas, which led him to file a case with Actors’ Equity challenging the termination of his friend in the ensemble. He also shares his thoughts on the movie and David Henry Hwang’s revival. This interview is one of a series of 18 interviews that author David Lewis Hammarstrom conducted in 2003 as part of research for his book, Flower Drum Songs: The Story of Two Musicals (2006).