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Honolulu dancer to play Bruce Lee
BY GARY CHUN / firstname.lastname@example.org
Hawaii-born dancer Cole Horibe is becoming the action star he’s always wanted to be ever since before high school.
Thanks in part to his recent appearance on Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” the martial-arts fusion dancer came to the attention of celebrated Tony award-winning playwright David Henry Hwang.
Horibe, 27, will star in the lead role of Bruce Lee in Hwang’s upcoming production of “Kung Fu.” The world premiere play will be staged off-Broadway as part of a career retrospective of Hwang’s during the fall/winter season at the Signature Theatre.
The play will incorporate dance and music as it tells the story of Lee’s coming to America from Hong Kong in the 1960s to try to become a movie star.
After a couple of callbacks to audition for the play — flying between Los Angeles, where Horibe lives, and New York — he said by phone from L.A. early Friday evening that he found out he got the coveted role Thursday morning.
Before the auditions, Horibe was busy being on the road as one of “SYTYCD’s” top 10 dancers who did a national tour from late October through early December. After the tour, Horibe included some of his televised dance routines in his video submitted to the New York casting agency that was helping with the Hwang play.
“At the first callback, David said he was impressed by my dancing,” said Horibe.
“I’m excited to get the part. It’s motivated me to take classes in Wing Chun and Jeet Kune Do (the martial arts form created by Lee that stresses economy of motion). I’ve also been watching a lot of videos of him in action, plus I’m taking acting classes from a couple of studios here.”
While Horibe has come to respect Lee in recent years, especially in light of his going to play the legendary star on stage, he said he grew up admiring the work of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Tom Cruise’s starring role in “Days of Thunder.”
Horibe will be working with Hwang and director Leigh Silverman, who last worked together on Hwang’s 2011 comedy “Chinglish,” named the best new American play of that year by Time magazine. After his preparation, Horibe will fly back to New York in April to first do a two-week read-through of the script and then do rehearsals leading up to the play’s opening in the fall.
(Coincidentally, Horibe appeared in Diamond Head Theatre’s 2008 production of Hwang’s version of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic “Flower Drum Song.”)
The Hwang play developed from an original idea for a musical from 2008 entitled, “Bruce Lee: Journey to the West.”
“I admire what Bruce Lee has done, especially the influence he’s had on Asian-American male roles,” Horibe said. “The stereotype beforehand was that the men were weak, but Bruce Lee showed that we can be really strong. As a martial arts star, he was so far ahead of his time. We’re only catching up to him now.
“I think this will be a great show. The script is so well-written, and you can see the time and effort David put into it. It’s the first play to incorporate martial arts fight scenes, so it should be exciting.”