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Brides and Prejudice: Turn-of-the-last-century picture brides in 'Making Tracks.'

Tracking Changes

New musical at San Jose Rep presents a rock remix of Asian American history

By Todd Inoue

'MAKING TRACKS' composer Woody Pak grew up on classical guitar and heavy metal. A career detour ensured his big debut was not Madison Square Garden but off-Broadway. "I never really expected to be involved in musicals, ever," says Pak, during a break in rehearsals. "I'm not so influenced by the tradition. I'm coming from someplace fresh. That's what I tell myself."

Pak's fret-shredding background helped give Making Tracks—a rock musical based on Asian American history—a razor's edge. Written by Welly Yang and Brian Yorkey, Making Tracks (which opens this week at San Jose Rep) tells the tale of a young, rebellious musician named Dylan, who gets schooled in his heritage through voices of his ancestors. Important cultural markers like the building of the transcontinental railroad, Angel Island immigration, picture brides and the Japanese-American internment up to the proliferation of Silicon Valley software engineers are placed within a new rocking context. "We don't know if it'll ever hit the Great White Way, but we know it's a piece—on the local level—that will do well," Pak says. "People connect with the history and a lot of universal things with family relationships."

Making Tracks is much like Rent or Jesus Christ Superstar, with loud musical segments and choreography driving the narrative. The score also dips into swing, gospel and R&B to reflect America's changing cultural and political landscape. Pak conducts a five-piece band as if it were an orchestra. Two keyboards allow a bank of atmospheric sounds while cymbals sizzle and guitars strike illusions of grandeur. "It's a synthesis of contemporary music," he says. "I want to bring those wonderful influences. The character's learning all this stuff as if he's scoring his own personal film."

Making Tracks debuted as a collection of different works in 1997 at the Pace Theater in New York. The story was streamlined in 1999 at the off-Broadway Taipei Theater and then introduced the Dylan character in 2000. Over the years, Dylan (played in the Rep production by actor Mike Lee) has coalesced from angry young man to Internet genius to what he is today: a rock musician. This suits Lee and Pak fine. Lee grew up a fan of Judas Priest and Winger. Pak was on his way to becoming a physicist or a doctor, making it to his fourth year at MIT before following his heart and pursuing music.

The relevance of Making Tracks doesn't only apply to Asian Americans. Generational struggles and identity searches are universal themes. And with the Patriot Act and growing fear of Americans of Middle Eastern origin (don't think the government isn't far from reinstituting the internment policies of World War II), Making Tracks shows that Asians are part of the national landscape. "A lot of different cultures can relate to some of the stories. The culture is a background; the piece is about the relationships of families and appreciating your heritage. Anybody can relate."

(P.S.: San Jose Rep acquitted itself with honors at this month's San Francisco Bay Area Theatre Critics Circle Awards, winning nine awards for its production of Major Barbara, including director Timothy Near and lead performer Stacy Ross.)

Making Tracks runs March 18-April 17 at the San Jose Repertory Theatre, 101 Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. Previews are Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2 and 7pm, Wednesday (March 23) at noon and 8pm and Thursday (March 24) at 8pm. Regular shows are March 25-April 17. Tickets are $22-$52. Call 408.367.7255 or visit www.sjrep.com for more information.

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From the March 16-22, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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