Conrad Ricamora on Why ‘Soft Power’ Is Ambitious and Timely
If the idea of a country’s “hard power” is its economic and military strength, then its “soft power” is its cultural currency and international influence. Such is one of the concepts discussed in “Soft Power,” the bold, political satire penned by David Henry Hwang. Directed by Leigh Silverman and featuring music by Jeanine Tesori, the production is currently in its world-premiere run at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, playing through June 10. It will then move to Curran in San Francisco from June 20 through July 8.
Conrad Ricamora — of the ABC drama “How to Get Away With Murder,” and previously seen in the Broadway revival of “The King and I” and the beloved off-Broadway musical “Here Lies Love” — stars as Xue Xing, a Chinese film producer who, in a musical dreamscape, falls in love with Hillary Clinton. He performs numbers that discuss everything from Asian-American identity and the tones of the Chinese language to the right to bear arms and how America’s voting system works.
TodayTix caught up with Ricamora to talk about leading the intellectually ambitious stage show, attempting to master a Chinese accent, and finding optimism after the presidential election.
When you first heard about “Soft Power,” what was your initial reaction to the project?
I was really skeptical about the show. I mean, “Hillary Clinton singing and dancing” reads as a tough thing to pull off. But I’m such a fan of David, Jeanine, and Leigh’s work that I was willing to jump in, and I’m so glad I did. It’s one of the most important shows i’ve ever been a part of.
I submitted a tape from Los Angeles (where we film “How To Get Away With Murder”) because I couldn’t make it to New York City. A few weeks later, I happened to be in NYC for a movie premiere, and I was able to meet all of the creative team in person. And I’ve known most of the cast for years, so they are family. I love them.
This show discusses a lot of ideas. Personally, what resonates with you most?
I think a lot of articles will be written about how political this show is because it tackles current headlines more than any other show I’ve been a part of. But I think the thing that resonates the most with me is, hope that is alive and well — these characters are trying to make sense of a sometimes senseless situation. And at the end of the show, I feel the hope that I think is not only in the show, but also underneath all of the chaos of our current situation.
Your role requires you to sing, dance, speak with an accent, do physical comedy, and more. Technically, which has been the toughest to master?
The accent was the toughest. I started working on it months before rehearsal started, and then we had to pare it back for intelligibility’s sake. So finding that middle ground of authenticity and intelligibility was a challenge.
What do you hope audiences of “Soft Power” take away from watching the show?
I don’t want to impose any lesson on anyone. Mostly, I want people to be entertained and for us all to be able to laugh at ourselves. I think just the act of coming to the theater to see and hear a story with a group of strangers every night — and to laugh and cry and get angry — that is an experience that transcends any lesson or moral takeaway. Our hearts grow bigger because of it.