Queens Theatre presents ‘The Monkey King: A Kung Fu Musical’

Monkey King
(Courtesy of Irina Island Images)

“The Monkey King: A Kung Fu Musical,” an action-adventure fantasy, is coming to life at Queens Theatre in February.

When 16th-century Chinese novelist Wu Cheng’en wrote “Journey to the West,” he could not have imagined that one day, a dynamic, 21st-century husband-and-wife team from Queens would conjure up a memorable musical based on the legendary mythical figure from his beloved novel.

Don’t miss the amazing escapades of the first-ever female Monkey King, as this brave warrior battles heaven and earth to free her tribe from tyranny. You can experience this original production, on stage at Queens Theatre in Flushing Meadow Park, on Saturday, Feb. 11, at 3 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 12, at 3 p.m. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased by visiting queenstheatre.org or by calling the theater’s box office at 718-760-0064.

“The Monkey King,” choreographed by Max Erhlich, is an epic tale, jam-packed with great acting, compelling music and skillful martial arts. There are awesome sound effects and instrumentation that create a fantastical world. You’ll see wonderful dancers, and even some exciting kung fu action. It’s fun entertainment for the whole family! Songs can be heard on YouTube.

QNS caught up with the show’s Forest Hills-based creators and co-writers Kimbirdlee Fadner, who plays the titular Monkey King, and composer/music director Jonathan Fadner, to find out more about their new endeavor.

“My husband and I used to read this book to our first son, Jack, when he was a baby. We both thought this story was fascinating and would make a good musical, even before we thought of our modern take on the main character being a girl,” Kimbirdlee said. “As for maintaining the integrity of the original 16th-century novel, Monkey King still faces the Demon of Havoc, the Immortal Teacher, Dragon King of the Sea and Jade Emperor; meets Guan Yin; and visits familiar places, such as Flower Fruit Mountain, the School for Immortals, the Dragon of the Sea’s palace and the Heavenly Peach Orchard. Our Monkey King follows a very similar journey as the original Sun Wukong, but each step of the way, has to deal with the backlash of being a woman instead of a man.”

The Monkey Tribe has waited a long time for someone to lead them to the promised land. Then the prophesied legendary Monkey King appears and to the surprise of everyone, it’s a courageous girl!

“I love the world of possibilities of musical theater. Through this story-telling medium, we explore many genres – rock, jazz, classical, hip-hop, folk and any setting – a barren stage, an opera house, a puppet show, a street corner,” Jonathan said. “That being said, there are gaping cultural holes in the musical canon. We wrote this empowering show to fill those holes with principal roles for Asian women in musical theatre.”

“And the source material is so fun and so epic,” he added. “It feels like a comic book, or an action-adventure movie and a beautiful novel all rolled into one. The characters feel modern and classic at the same time.”

The entire cast and mostly everyone involved in the show, is Asian, according to Jonathan, who added that director Steven Eng, who is co-founder of National Asian Artists Project, is a Queens resident, as is Astoria-based costume designer Erin Black. Everyone else is from other parts of New York City.

(Courtesy of Irina Island Images)

The Fadners are proud to have a predominately Asian cast for their production.

 Asian women are among the least represented population in the theatre and TV/film industries. Historically, they have been cast as villains, comical stereotypes, victims, or objectified as an exotic ‘other’ (think: Anna May Wong). Society was not able to imagine Asian women in strong leading roles,” Kimbirdlee told QNS.

So, the Fadners are now taking the next step toward creating actual lead roles, specifically for Asian female actors.

As for “The Monkey King,” the Fanders are hoping to deliver a very specific message to audiences.

“Our ‘Monkey King’ looks at current issues of gender equality, social conditioning and oppression – in the eye – with humor and music. Musical theater is such a great mode of expression that can speak to young and old alike in a language that is fun and spirited. It can really get to the heart of a matter in a way that an audience can easily absorb and, hopefully, fall in love with,” Kimbirdlee said. “I want folks to remember our message – while singing the songs throughout their day.”

According to the Fadners, their inspiring production is directed toward girls and women, minorities and oppressed populations “and really anyone who doubts that they can be just as powerful and strong as the men that have historically held up our society, while also having compassion and love for humanity.”

“The show has music and adventure, and it’s both familiar and new. The creators are fantastic artists and they’re also parents – they know what children want to experience,” said Queens Theatre’s Executive Director Taryn Sacramone. “We have known and worked with Kimbirdlee and Jonathan Fadner for a number of years and have seen how the show has evolved. We presented a reading of an earlier version, and the audience response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic. We wanted to be a part of nurturing the show to a full production that would delight our audiences at Queens Theatre, and I’m sure, will find audiences across the country in the future.”

The musical was previously performed during the pandemic in 2020 after Queens Theatre asked the Fadners to create a virtual production.

In 2018, the theater hosted a developmental workshop of “The Monkey King” at their Black Box Theatre, and have been supportive since its inception.

“Writing ‘The Monkey King’ with Jonathan is my single most meaningful project that highlights my own culture, empowers my world as an Asian woman, and creates much-needed opportunities for the Asian theater community here in New York City and beyond,” Kimbirdlee said.

“Our hope is that our musical becomes an annual Lunar New Year event at Queens Theatre, for school children and families to enjoy for years to come,” she added. “Beyond that, I envision another path, eventually leading to Broadway. Dreams can come true, and with patience, perseverance and the incredible support of our community, anything is possible.”

This Lunar Year is the Year of the Rabbit, promising good luck and hope.

“The monkey and rabbit are known to be compatible zodiac signs, and we are hopeful that the rabbit spirit will bring good luck to our musical,” the Fadners shared. “We’re so grateful that our production is a feature of the Queens Lunar New Year 2023 celebration! It’s such an honor.”

The production is scheduled to debut in February, with performances scheduled for Feb. 11 and Feb. 12 at 3 p.m.

Tickets are available for $18 each and can be purchased as a package of four tickets for $60 with code 4FOR60.

For more information, visit queenstheatre.org/event/the-monkey-king.