Personal criticism, as opposed to aesthetic distance, usually gets a critic in trouble. But sometimes there's no other way to go. "Canton Jazz Club" at the East West Players, big sprawling mess that it is, captivated me.
It is a musical about a glamorous hot spot in L.A.'s Chinatown in 1943. When I was kid in the early '40s, my mother's favorite movie was "Limehouse Blues," with George Raft (as an Oriental roustabout) and Anna Mae Wong. I was dragged to this movie half-a-dozen times and the routine that followed was a trip to a subterranean nightclub in L.A.'s Chinatown.
For a 10-year-old Anglo boy, it was a heady experience. The music was swing, the men sleek, the women unbelievably gorgeous. So, decades later, "Canton Jazz Club" hits me with the force of a hammer. It's my club. It's also anyone's club who was influenced by the stereotyping in Charlie Chan movies and Hollywood's portrayal of smoky dens of iniquity.
The book by Dom Magwili is unfocused, riddled with steamy subplots and an obligatory murder, but Magwili does skewer racist myths in a minority culture.