Ethnic pride can be a dangerous thing. It can burst out in civil unrest, or, at its most bloodless, in historical pageants—benign propaganda masquerading as drama. Making Tracks (Taipei Theater) is a display of Asian American boosterism, clunkily constructed as a series of tales told by a lovable grandma, now dying. She imagines herself as characters—Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese—who landed or lived on American shores from 1865 to the present. As the stories are enacted and sung by about a dozen cast members, the old woman’s Gen X granddaughter inputs them on a Web site for posterity. We are given glimpses of the cruel dangers faced by the Chinese laborers who built the railroads, the Japanese “picture brides,” harsh detention in World War II camps, and San Francisco’s “Forbidden City,” where “the Chinese Frank Sinatra” sang. During large choral numbers, archival photos are projected onto screens.
Costumed in outfits from coolie to geisha, folks recite noble sentiments like, “I have seen love endure and patience survive.” There are also lame stereotypical jokes, which the mostly Asian audience I saw this with laughed at like indulgent parents. Woody Pak’s music, sculpted by David Jenkins and Tom Kitt’s musical direction, is one of the show’s few highlights. The performers are strong singers, whose sweet harmonies blend quite pleasingly at times. Welly Yang, who conceived this project, also puts his Broadway talents to work as an insouciant immigrant. The old black-and-white photos provide some interest as well, but their gritty authenticity only points up how synthetic this Pan-Asian collage is—generalized, idealized, sanitized.