Soft Power by Professor David Henry Hwang Opens at The Public Theater

BY Robbie Armstrong, October 9, 2019

Faculty member and Tony Award-winner David Henry Hwang and Barnard College alumna and Tony Award-winner Jeanine Tesori ’83  bring a new high concept musical-within-a-play to The Public Theatre for its New York premiere. Hwang wrote the book and co-wrote the lyrics with Tesori for the musical. 


Soft Power is an exploration of America's current place in the world, told through an East-West musical from China's point of view, in which a theater producer from Shanghai forges a powerful bond with Hillary Clinton. Soft Power is a fever dream of modern American politics amidst global conversations, asking us all – why do we love democracy? And should we?


Soft Power was well received in its Los Angeles premiere with a review from the Hollywood Reporter stating “[It] might be the most creatively and intellectually ambitious musical of the year.” Hwang’s play includes a self titled character who is attacked and stabbed while walking on the streets of Brooklyn. After being rushed to the hospital, the character hallucinates a Chinese musical based on the current events circulating through the media. The musical is a fantasia of sorts, with a version of the United States of America where everyone is blond and brandishes a gun. The fantasia continues with familiar foods and familiar faces as Hilary Clinton enters the stage riding on a Big Mac. 


Hwang’s recent success was a revival of his play M. Butterfly in 2017 with direction by Julie Taymor and assistant direction by Columbia alumnus Rory McGregor ’17. Often writing about Asian-American people, Hwang’s plays have been praised with awards including a Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize nomination for M. Butterfly and a Pulitzer Prize nomination for Yellow Face.


Featuring the choreography of Tony nominee Sam Pinkleton, Tony nominee Leigh Silverman directs the New York premiere of Soft Power. The Los Angeles Times calls it “smart & wonderfully funny. A meeting of dauntingly innovative theatrical minds.” 


Soft Power began previews on September 24th in the Newman Theatre at The Public. The show opens October 15 and plays through November 10th.