Growing up, Julia Riew ’21 dreamed of writing musicals. She looked for inspiration in her favorite Broadway productions, but couldn’t find many stories on the stage to which she could relate.
“Most shows on Broadway are about underdog white guys who go on adventures. That was the show I was trying to write, and it didn’t really work,” said Riew, who is pursuing a joint concentration in history of science and Theater, Dance & Media. “I never considered telling a story about myself because that isn’t the kind of show I had seen before.”
Last year, Riew decided to change that approach. The result is “The East Side,” a student-produced musical about cultural authenticity, gentrification, and dumplings. Riew co-wrote the book with John Lim ’20 and Emerson College senior Jared Leong, and serves as co-music director with Ian Chan ’22.
“The East Side,” at Farkas Hall from Thursday through Sunday, follows Ryan, a Chinese American teenager working at his family’s restaurant in New York City’s Chinatown and getting ready to leave for college. As the neighborhood changes around them, Ryan and his family must adapt their recipes to the tastes of their new neighbors, or face impending bankruptcy.
“We wanted to make the show funny and upbeat, so it could be enjoyed by everyone,” added Riew. “But it also has a special meaning and certain jokes that will hit close to home for a lot of people.”
“The East Side” is the first production mounted by Asian Student Arts Project (ASAP), a new pan-Asian organization on campus. Since its establishment in October, the group has started an online community, hosted a fall open mic night, and co-presented a songwriting workshop with composer, lyricist, and librettist Timothy Huang through the Office for the Arts.