NYC Theater Review: “Green Card: A New Musical”

GreenCardGreen Card: A New Musical takes on immigrant artists and the American dream in a new musical from young director Dimo Kim. Playing at Theatre at St. Clement’s until August 26, it focuses on the story of Han, an actor and a South Korean immigrant living in Harlem with an expired visa who, as a result, can’t find work. And because he can’t find work, he can’t get an artists visa. Hijinks ensue. Han finds himself entering a fake marriage for a green card with Mia, in exchange for a sizable sum of money. They fumble through immigration interviews and the turmoil of a new relationship, fake or not. As to how Han’s girlfriend Kim feels about it? You’ll have to watch to find out.

This is an energetic musical with young talent and carries a relevant and provocative story in need of telling.

Green Card brings new talent to the stage, including leads Garett Taketa as Han and Daniela Benitez as Mia. Much of the cast and crew–including Benitez–is foreign born and without green cards. Benitez explained how difficult it was to land parts without a green card, recounting her frustrations with the anxieties and uncertainties her immigration status caused. But Benitez is a standout talent in this musical, with a great singing voice and ability to dive into the attitude befitting the wild, yet sweet Mia. It is always refreshing to see actors and actresses at the start of their careers bringing innovative and little told stories to the stage.

Julia Lim (Cathy), Garett Taketa (Han), and Daniela Benitez (Mia) in Cathy's Deli

Julia Lim (Cathy), Garett Taketa (Han), and Daniela Benitez (Mia) in Cathy’s Deli

The other actress I want to call out is Myoungjin Choi, the understudy for Cathy, a South Korean deli owner and friend to Han. Though Cathy is normally played by Julia Lim, Choi had great comedic timing. It was in a fun-filled scene with Cathy, Han, and Mia, bellowing karaoke together in her empty deli where the cast’s chemistry truly shined. At other times, relationships felt less believable, the acting slightly forced, but here was a moment that felt real (or as real as a theatrical moment can).

A few dances, in particular those involving Han’s girlfriend Kim (played by Yonji Ham) seemed pulled out of a Girls Generation video, not the usual fare, and a bit jarring to me, but I can imagine the appeal to certain audiences (this show pulled in more Asian and Asian American audience members than I’m used to). Whether intentional or not, Kim is a rather unsympathetic character, making the drama of this potential love triangle less evocative and dramatic than I initially expected.

Ensemble of Green Card: A New Musical

Ensemble of Green Card: A New Musical

This is a musical chock full of ensemble numbers (and members), minor story lines, and heavily choreographed dance numbers. At times, it was overwhelming, jumping rapidly from place to place. Scenes involving the immigration officer, Mia’s criminal ex-boyfriend, Kim, and her roommate Paul were funny and dramatic, but they distracted some from what I felt was the show’s heart–the burgeoning relationship between Han and Mia. Theirs is a story which begins in an alley way, becomes the business of a fake marriage for Han’s green card with monetary strings, and then later, a real friendship. Following their growth proved the most compelling and rewarding aspect of the musical.

Alex Notkin (Officer Augustus), Daniela Benitez (Mia), and Gerett Taketa (Han)

Alex Notkin (Officer Augustus), Daniela Benitez (Mia), and Gerett Taketa (Han)

This is the second musical written and directed by Dimo Kim, born in South Korea. Comfort Women: A New Musical was, according to him, the first Off-Broadway musical to have an all-Asian cast and be directed by an East Asian national. Green Card brings another predominantly Asian and Asian American cast to the stage. In a great write-up on the show by NBC News, Kim says that he created his own theater company to do just that–bring more Asian and Asian Americans to the stage. And that Green Card is based on the story of his roommate, a South Korean who moved to New York to make it as an actor, only to be repeatedly rejected, or accepted until it came out that he only had a student visa and not a green card. His roommate later committed suicide after a fake marriage plan fell apart.

Green Card: A New Musical, book by Dimo Kim and Ishmael Robinson, directed by Dimo Kim, is playing at the Theatre at St. Clements on W. 46th Street in New York City until August 28, 2016. Tickets available here.

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About Lily

East Coast Chinese American. I like thick-skinned dumplings and hard-covered books.
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