BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA — The Musical! (Project Reveal w/soundtrack)
I’ve been teasing the damn thing for what feels like forever, and now that this bucket list beauty is one step closer to reality, it’s time for a deep dive into BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA: The Musical!
Embedded above and below for your sonic seduction (plus as text transcript), this special episode of my podcast takes the first real look at what Tobias and I have been covertly brewing the past few years — we’re talking nearly HALF a soundtrack for an honest to goodness stage show, featuring vocals by Mr Tinker, yours truly, and guest star Chrystal Leigh of Sons of Daughters fame.
So let’s get to it! And if, like us, you’re already a fan of the 1985 action, comedy, supernatural, Kung-fu, Carpenter/Russell B-movie masterpiece, then you can skip the yada-yada preamble and get straight to the good stuff. Get clicking, gang, ’cause when you’re facing Big Trouble in Little China…it’s all in the reflexes 😀
7:40 – (It’s All In The) REFLEXES
16:00 – THE STORMS (Part 1)
18:00 – THE STORMS (Part 2)
19:00 – HE’S A DEMON!
23:20 – MAN’S WORLD
27:00 – GREEN EYES
35:30 – BURNING BLADE (Somebody to Love)
42:30 – EPIC RAP BATTLE (In Little China)
48:45 – ???
‘BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA: The Musical’ Transcript
I don’t care how old you are. How rich or how poor. How far you’ve travelled, or how close you’ve stayed to home. The dreams you’ve manifested thus far, or the spectacular failures and flame-outs that haunt you still. You can snack on a live Scorpion, or flush a month’s salary on that Michelin Star amouse bouche. I do not give a shit…because the bell tolls for us all eventually…and therefore we all have a secret list of things we hope to do, to see, to achieve, and to experience before we shuffle off and join the choir invisible.
Me? I still have a continent to step foot on, and most of the Holy Land to explore. I still NEED to make a feature length film, even if it’s done on a smartphone and gets boo’ed out of festivals. I still want to do a TED Talk at some point, just for the thrill of it – I don’t know on what…but I’m pretty sure storytelling and spirituality and maybe a dash of sexy stuff would be involved.
But more than anything else on my Bucket List?
I want to make a Rock Opera. No shit, Wang…I wanna shake the pillars of Heaven and write, produce, and direct something that gives the punters that same obsessive musical hook and inspirational thrill as something like The Who’s Tommy, or the Wall, or how about Hedwig and the Angry Inch. Is that nuts? Mayyybe…but it’s something I’ve wanted to do forever…or for 15-20 years, at least. I remember working on a movie pitch for a producer at SONY over a decade ago…I called it The Buddha of Beverly Hills…and we fought about how smart or deep or cool the lead’s transformation would and could be. The producer wanted more of an Adam Sandler wacky romcom non-growth experience…whereas I had sold it from the beginning by focusing on emotion and spectacle…and I used the language and structure of musicals to help sell the journey.
‘THEN MAYBE YOU SHOULD MAKE ONE OF THOSE,’ he grunted.
And I thought about it. Even wrote a couple of songs for it. Used 90’s pop and grunge as the backbone. But, as with so many creative endeavours, you lose the passion when you force things, or when you’re not fully invested. When you don’t utterly LOVE the idea, or are ALONE in loving it.
Which brings us back to the bucket list…to the rock opera…to an idea that was sparked a few summers back with my cousin in Berlin – yup, the maestro himself – which I alluded to at the end of the last podcast. For those of you that stayed thru to the closing medley tease? You asked for this. You wanted to know and HEAR more. And for the rest of ya? Well…thanks to the blockbuster trend of cult films and TV series getting adapted as Broadway musicals? Evil Dead? Beetlejuice? Spongebob??? With the move to sweep up built-in fanbases hungry for an in-the-flesh experience, along with the hordes of pop-culture zealots caught in the thrall of all things 1980’s?
Tobias was the first to say it. I laughed…and then I didn’t. Because it was, and is, a brilliant idea. A fully immersive and shamelessly cheesy action movie meets smoke and lasers stage musical meets balls-out 80s rock concert. THAT is the vision for our take on John Carpenter’s 1985 cult classic: BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA.
So…what I’m gonna do now is walk you through the concept…through the vibe of the show, the key set-pieces and stage cues…the main characters and the songs we cobbled together for them — HALF a soundtrack’s worth! — written as parodies of (and homages TO) hit songs from the era. Rock. Glam. Metal. Pop. Dance. Hip Hop. It’s all comin’ at ya raw…so lean back, feather that hair, and raise your BIC lighters in the air for the sweet 80s stylings of everything from Billy Idol and Def Leppard to Tina Turner, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, AC/DC, RUSH and more. Because we are never gonna give you up, and never gonna let you down. THIS…is Big Trouble in Little China: the Musical.
Imagine pulling up to a grimy old warehouse in New York, or Toronto, or London. Maybe there’s a small neon sign out front, flickering with a Chinese character. Step inside and the experience begins – paper lanterns and wide-eyed dragons hanging from the ceiling. Food carts brimming w steam and noodles and mystery meat. Spray painted warnings on the walls. LO PAN WAS HERE. More neon…an arrow, pointing down a darkened hallway to the main stage. A mix of theatre seats and mosh zone, concert style. A 5-piece live band — doing riffs on the film’s synthy and muscled guitar themes – is perched on a platform behind a chain-link wall. Tattered drapes hang down in arc’ing thirds, forming a crescent above the stage that will become the show’s projection screens featuring movie clips, key lyrics, animations, and live close-ups of the actors and band during the show.
The room goes dark. A tight spotlight fades up. Egg Shen, the old mystic, is downstage center, being interviewed by a booming voice over the PA. Just like the movie. We’re prepping the audience to believe, like the lawyer voice needs to believe…in magic. A small prop makes a spark of lightning between Egg’s hands: That’s how it always starts. Small. Then we drop to darkness again.
Rolling highway on the screens, the endless road in a rainstorm. The guitars kick in and the real star of the show emerges in a puff of stage smoke — it’s the life-sized fibreglass rendition of the PORK CHOP EXPRESS, complete with airhorn, blaring headlights, CB Radio, and it’s driver – JACK GODDAMN BURTON. His favourite band? AC/DC. And this is his main theme – It’s All…in the Reflexes:
So that was kinda cool, right? It was a fun one to sing, and for a true rock and roller who nabs the role it’ll be a dream part. And it also helps us show how key plot and character beats could translate musically. In 5 minutes, we’re able to show Jack’s truck rotating onstage to convey ‘travel’ – have it ‘arrive’ in Chinatown amidst bustling extras/dancers – and then have the gambling face-off where his buddy Wang tries to cut a beer bottle in half and fails, setting the story in motion. At this point, you’re either a fan of the original and keen for what comes next, or you’ve never seen the flick and seriously need to download it – ‘cause I don’t have the bandwidth to summarize every story beat for you slackers — gotta keep things brisk and rock out with our cocks out!!!
Jack and Wang hop in the truck, it rotates to stage right and heads for the airport. Here’s where we start a running gag of Wang, the true hero of the story, longing for his green-eyed love from home who he barely knows…Mau Yin, she’s essentially the main macguffin of the film…so, he breaks into this earnest 80’s power ballad, and gets shut down in every scene before he gets to the first chorus. It just keeps happening, and hopefully gets funnier every time, especially when the villains join in on the fun. He’ll have the last laugh, though, as the song will become the big ensemble number to close the show. More on that later…
So yeah, our mullet-headed doofus alpha Jack stops his buddy from singing, and they arrive at the airport to pick up the girl in question. We know it’s the airport, because Arrivals and Departures are scrolling on the overhead screens, along with some looping footage of planes landing and taking off. And it’s here that they meet Gracie Law, the wannabe lawyer-of-the-people and independent feminist who deep down hates herself for really craving a monosyllabic Neanderthal ‘tween the sheets. We tease her theme here, a little nod to Tina Turner’s Thunderdome, before Wang’s girl gets snatched by some gang members, there’s a little staged kung fu fightin’, SON OF A BITCH MUST PAY, and our heroes ‘give chase’.
The truck rotates again. Horns and rumbling. Dialogue. Film footage helps shift the scene to an alleyway in Little China. The good gang funeral. The bad gang shows up. Chinese standoff. Gunfire and flashes. Big choreographed kung fu madness set to Carpenter-inspired synth played LIVE. And then…our Greek Chorus arrives:
THE STORMS PART 1 PLAYS
If I’m excited about anything in the show actually getting made? it’s having the three Storms – the caped elemental demigods of Wind, Thunder, and Lightning – do wirework while singing snippets of 80’s classics and break the fourth wall more and more until the finale. And sure…a Tesla coil for the lightning effects wouldn’t exactly be ‘safe’….but it’d sure as shit blow the live audience away.
At this point, the spectral version of our villain – LO PAN – has appeared to Jack, almost blinds him, our heroes escape back to Wang’s family restaurant, where we make a little change in the story and have Egg Shen be the owner, and Wang’s uncle. Keeps things tight. He’s a classic 80’s ‘stoner mystic’ with a thing for hip hop, and tries to educate Jack and the audience on the demonic history of David Lo Pan. But Jack’s dumb. He wants to do the whole whorehouse raid, get Wang’s girl back, and get paid. Comedy scene with the madam, blahblahblah, we make some timely jokes about the plight of immigrants and sex slavery and the kinda men who have ‘yellow fever’…and then the storms show up again to snatch Wang’s girl, Mau Yin, into the night:
THE STORMS PART 2 PLAYS
Back at the restaurant, Jack, in his wife-beater and stonewashed jeans, is predictably dumbfounded — the fireballs and flying and supernatural shit? That can’t possibly be REAL, right? Seems like the perfect time for an homage to a Def Leppard black magic hair-metal classic, this time starring Jack Burton and the supporting cast chorus in…HE’S A DEMON.
‘HE’S A DEMON’ PLAYS
Had to slip in that PERFECT last line from the original screenplay: If we’re not back by dawn? Call the President. And this drives us into the big set-piece before the intermission. The good guys storm the Wing Kong exchange to free the girl slaves being kept underground. Our boys get their asses handed to them by female ninjas, as Gracie Law and the girl chorus in three levels of cages belt out her main theme — MAN’S WORLD — inspired by Bonnie Tyler’s hit anthem, HERO.
‘MAN’S WORLD’ PLAYS
Big thanks to my pal Chrystal Leigh of Son’s of Daughters fame for lending her pipes to that scratch track – she seemed to really dig the shift in tone between the man-stomping open and the vulnerable yet sex-starved Turner-esque bridge. But yeah, this is where the gang escapes through the ‘sewers’ — which we’d likely portray with watery lighting and the projections screens — before Gracie gets snatched by a MONSTER MAN-IN-SUIT HIDING IN A GIANT BUDDHA STATUE.
Blackout! END OF ACT ONE!
Not gonna spoil much for you here, other than the second half is pretty much all Dave Lopan. Such a great villain, so I wanted to give him the showcase singing role, with 80s metal, pop rock, dance, and more. His first meeting with Gracie Law will be so fun to stage, as he arrives as this feeble dude in a motorized wheelchair – with the three storms watching from above and sing an almost-racist line from the movie to the tune of Van Halen’s JUMP — before transforming into the charming robed and high-hatted demon we know and love, as he croons about the search for his destined love, in GREEN EYES:
‘GREEN EYES’ PLAYS
Yup…that was indeed Billy Idol’s Eyes Without A Face, the perfect 80s synth-rock fromage for our Lo Pan. He’ll go on to wail an Iron Maiden classic in the next scene, chasing Jack and Wang around the stage and educating them on his soul-bargain with the Demon Chang Dai – all of them in wheelchairs as they ‘run to the hills’ AHEM. Bit of a music break after that, as we get into physical comedy and stagecraft and more than a few jokes about culture differences and Chinese-US relations and how the west is pretty much fucked in the end…
Probably my favourite number from a visual standpoint will be how we portray Gracie and Mau Yin under the kung fu ballet thrall of the Storms, who are preparing them for the Burning Blade ritual, to determine Lo Pan’s wife. Think smoke and lasers and a giant paper mache dragon with a mirrorball in its mouth. The thumping dance hall music that builds and builds til both girls on wire rigs, holding on to a glowing ‘sword’, are lifted up to touch the dragon’s mouth as a bunch of 80s style green lasers strike the mirrorball and fill the theatre with strobing emerald light at the ritual’s and the song’s climax. And that song…we call it BURNING BLADE, and I’m pretty sure you’ll recognize the homage we have in mind:
‘BURNING BLADE’ PLAYS
Frankie Goes to Little China! Man…that could be a showstopper if everything comes together like it did in our heads! But that’s always the way with these things. You gotta have the crew, gotta have the vision, gotta have the budget…gotta have a BAD GUY’S LAIR WITH A GIANT NEON SKULL AND ESCALATOR AS YOUR DEMON HENCHMEN SING IT’S THE FINAL COUNTDOWN!!!!
Time for the big action scene. Every trick in the book here. On the tech and choreography side, it’s gonna be fake gunfire and stage trampolines and wire work for the Wang and Wind swordfight and gang kung fu spilling into the theatre aisles and using the projection screens to help the audience follow the action. On the music side, I’ve always NEEDED to do a big pre-climax medley like West Side Story’s TONIGHT where everyone comes together through the song and it gets you totally pumped! Right now we’re playing with fusing parts of Rock You Like a Hurricane w/ Trooper’s Raise a Little Hell and Madonna’s LIKE A VIRGIN. I know. Bonkers.
And then…? We get the big mystical showdown between Lo Pan…and Egg Shen. It’s good vs evil. It’s a battle centuries in the making. It’s deliciously bad Youtube style graphics and FX up on the big screens. It’s Mortal Kombat meets Broadway. It’s RAP BATTLE IN LITTLE CHINA!!!
‘RAP BATTLE’ PLAYS
And that’s it. That’s what we’ve got together so far, at least in a presentable state. Sure, we’ve got sketches and storyboards on how it’ll all come together. Sure, the script is coming along, and turned out a lot funnier than we expected. And sure…we still haven’t decided whether the BEHOLDER will make an appearance or not. Betting on yeah…but y’know…we’ll see. This shit ain’t easy, kids. Which makes me think of Egg Shen, after the big battle, being asked how he got out of the subterranean lair, as the only surviving storm – Lightning – stalks them all with murderous intent. Shen says, on how he escaped: WASN’T EASY.
But do you know what was easy? Putting in one last 80s nod, a MUST HAVE, before the big foam rock drops on our favourite storm’s head:
The gang celebrates their victory back at the restaurant. Everyone joins in on Wang’s big number – CHINA IS HERE – in the style of a gloriously maudlin 80s power ballad. Jack says his goodbyes. We tease that he’s probably more into his buddy than the girl when all is said and done…and then bring it full circle. Back on the road at night. A brewing storm. Pork Chop Express rotating and honking onstage. Jack storytelling into his CB for anymore who will listen. And then….MAN IN MONSTER SUIT SITS UP IN TRUCK CAB BESIDE JACK AND THEY BOTH SCREAM CUT TO BLACK.
So..whaddya goddamn think?
Is that bucket-list worthy?
Do you dig the tunes and homages?
Got 80s and favs you’d die to hear in the show?
Any dream casting?
Or, if you’re feeling particularly talented and/or generous…wanna help get it MADE?
Hit me up. Don’t be shy. Keep the faith. And, as always, thanks for listening.
Until next time, remember this, true believers…if we’re not back by dawn…Call the President.