Soft Power (musical)


''Soft Power'' is a musical (also referred to by its authors as a "play with a musical") with book and lyrics by
David Henry Hwang David Henry Hwang (born August 11, 1957) is an American playwright A playwright or dramatist is a person who writes play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity), an activity done for enjoyment * Play (theatre), a work of drama Play ...

David Henry Hwang
and music and additional lyrics by
Jeanine Tesori Jeanine Tesori (known earlier in her career as Jeanine Levenson) is an American composer and Arrangement, musical arranger. She is the most prolific and honored female theatrical composer in history, with five Broadway musicals and five Tony Award ...


It began performances at the
Ahmanson Theatre The Ahmanson Theatre is one of the four main venues that compose the Los Angeles Music Center. History The theatre was built as a result of a donation from Howard F. Ahmanson, Sr, the founder of H.F. Ahmanson & Co., an insurance and savings and ...
in Los Angeles in May 2018 and at San Francisco's
Curran Theatre The Curran Theatre, located at 445 Geary Street between Taylor and Mason Streets in the Theatre District, San Francisco, Theatre District of San Francisco, California was opened in February 1922, and was named after its first owner, Homer Curran. ...
in June. The musical began performances off-Broadway at The Public Theater on September 14, 2019, directed by Leigh Silverman, and closed on November 17, 2019. The show was nominated for 11 awards at the 2020 Drama Desk Awards, the most of any show that year, but didn't win any.


''Soft Power'' was intended as a "reverse ''The King And I''". Instead of exoticizing an Asian country, ''Soft Power'' exoticizes America by looking at it from a hypothetical future China, Chinese musical. It also serves as a quasi-sequel to Hwang's 2007 play ''Yellow Face (play), Yellow Face'', featuring the same DHH character who appeared in said play. Partly based on Hwang's real life (particularly an actual event from 2015 where he was stabbed in the neck), the play with a musical features a fever dream with a Chinese businessman, Xue Xing, who travels to America for work. There, he meets and becomes close to Hillary Clinton. Many of the details about America are "as hilariously inexact as most Western stories set in Asia". For example, Xing travels to the "Hollywood Airport" and Hillary performs a number while revealing a Wonder Woman outfit in a glitzy McDonald's. It also examines the nature of democracy, cultural identity, appropriation and racism. In particular, most of the "white" roles are played by Asian actors in Whiteface (performance), whiteface and incorrect accents, a reversal of the movie version of ''The King and I''.

Cast and Characters

Musical numbers

Act 1 *Overture *Dutiful — Xuē Xíng, Jīng *Welcome to America — Airport Greeter, Ensemble *Fuxing Park — Xuē Xíng, DHH *I'm With Her — Hillary, Betsy, Xuē Xíng, DHH, Ensemble *It Just Takes Time — Xuē Xíng, Hillary *Election Night — Chief Justice, DHH, Bobby Bob, Ensemble *I Am — DHH, Xuē Xíng Act 2 *Entr'acte / Song of the Campaign — Hillary *Happy Enough — Xuē Xíng, Hillary *Good Guy with a Gun — Randy Ray, Ensemble *The New Silk Road — Xuē Xíng, Ensemble *Democracy — Hillary, Xuē Xíng *Democracy (Reprise) — Company

Critical response

Sam Hurwitt of ''The Mercury News'' called it "marvelously clever", also saying that Alyse Alan Louis as Hillary Clinton "tears the roof off the place", and Frank Rizzo of ''Variety (magazine), Variety'' said it was "subversive as well as funny, touching and thoroughly entertaining". In more mixed reviews, Jackson McHenry of Vulture said that it tended to be fascinating and messy, with the musical within the play being "occasionally too clever by half", and Jesse Green of ''The New York Times'' said that it was "something of a miracle but also something of a muddle", and "it's the kind of show that deserves, and unfortunately needs, to be seen at least twice."

Awards and nominations

''Soft Power'' won six of Los Angeles' 2019 Ovation Awards, including ''Best Production of a Musical (Large Theater)''. The Public Theater production of ''Soft Power'' was nominated for five Lucille Lortel Awards, including Outstanding Musical. The musical was named 2020 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist, with the committee cited the show as "A multi-layered and mischievous musical that deconstructs a beloved, original American art form to examine the promise and the limits of representation in both the theatrical and political senses of the word."

Original Off-Broadway production


The original cast recording was released on April 17, 2020 through Ghostlight Records. The album peaked at number 11 on the Billboard charts, Billboard Cast Albums chart.


{{David Henry Hwang Musicals by Jeanine Tesori Off-Broadway musicals 2018 musicals Plays set in the 21st century Plays about race and ethnicity Plays set in China Plays by David Henry Hwang Metafictional plays Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential campaign