Real-life transformations

Theatre Mu considers international, interracial adoptions in ‘The Walleye Kid’

Trying to incorporate a Korean folktale, an East-meets-West theme and the topic of interracial adoption into musical theater would have most directors and casts aching to return to “Kiss Me, Kate.”

“The Walleye Kid: The Musical,” Theater Mu’s first completely original musical, takes on all these elements and still manages to make it fly.

The result is like a good outing on a Minnesota lake in January – some memorable catches, a few that got away and plenty to look forward to next winter.

The tale begins as a stereotypical white Minnesota couple sits ice fishing, surrounded by neighbors and friends. The two lament their inability to have children of their own. The situation is magically remedied when the husband catches a “walleye,” which presents them with a Korean baby girl named “Annie.”

The reality of interracial Korean adoption in Minnesota is one that, though rarely addressed, is more common than one might think. Since the Korean War, more than 10,000 South Korean children have been adopted by white couples in Minnesota, more than in any other state.

Annie’s trials as an Asian girl growing up in a white community become the show’s next focus. Act 2 finds Annie confronting the racism of her white peers and exploring her Korean heritage. She does so with the help of a shaman, who we discover is actually the walleye metamorphosed.

There are many bright spots in “The Walleye Kid: The Musical,” as Minnesota audiences never seem to tire of hot dish and Norwegian jokes. Also clever is the attire of the actors in the first scene. With the exception of Annie’s future parents, they are all Asian actors in “white face,” each of them sporting exaggerated Anglo noses attached to their glasses.

Isabella Dawis, who plays Annie, provides another highlight with her wonderful renditions of many songs. Her voice, presence and timing balance maturity and childlike innocence. It is easy to see why Dawis was recognized by the Star Tribune as the outstanding youth performer in the Twin Cities in 2004.

It is also evident, however, that the musical format is a new one for Theater Mu. The show features many quick (or simultaneous) transitions in mood, which ask a lot of the audience. Should one be laughing at the dancing walleye or crying as a couple sings of the pain of infertility minutes later?

While these contradictions in tone might deliberately mirror the confusing experience of being a South Korean adoptee in Minnesota, they also begin to feel forced after a while.

One additional quandary involves the show’s target audience. Is it aimed at children, adults or both? An attempt to please all audiences ends up working best as a piece for children and young adults, with or without their parents present.

Though “The Walleye Kid: The Musical” leaves some room for improvement as a musical, Theater Mu deserves kudos for successfully addressing the issue of interracial adoption from multiple perspectives, which is a lot for any cast or director to reel in on one line.