By Wayne Harada
Cole Horibe’s signing as the leading character of “Kung Fu,” a Broadway drama blending martial arts action with staged choreography, likely will jumpstart renewed interest in Bruce Lee, the master of the form.
Horibe, 28, will be the second Hawaii performer portraying the legendary Hong Kong action star, albeit in live theater form in New York. Jason Scott Lee earlier played the title figure in a 1993 film, “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story,” which tracked the Chinese superstar’s career. Though the surname was the same, actor Lee was not related to the martial artist Lee.
Horibe is expected to put his own spin on Lee when the show, written by renowned playwright David Henry Hwang, premieres Feb. 4 in a limited engagement at the Irene Diamond Stage at the Pershing Square Signature Center off-Broadway, at 480 W. 42nd St., between 9th and 10th Ave., several blocks west of the hubbub of Times Square.
Horibe, a Hawaii actor who had been known primarily as a dancer thanks to his success of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance” last year, when he finished as the second runner up, told me after copping the role in the New York production: “My initial response that this was simply fate. I have so many similarities to Bruce Lee and have always shared his dream of combating the Asian male stereotype in Hollywood cinema. Next occurred the realization of what a tall order it is to be the actor representing THE legendary martial arts icon that is Bruce Lee. But the honor of being chosen to portray Bruce Lee far exceeds the intimidation.”
Before competing on “So You Think You Can Dance,” Horibe was en route to becoming a musical theater trouper. He had done a number of community theater shows here, the last being “Flower Drum Song” at Diamond Head Theatre in 2008, in which he played Chao.
But he realized that focusing on what he calls martial arts fusion was to be his goal. Prior to landing “Kung Fu,” he competed on the Fox reality show and did the requisite post-competition tour, then “moved to L.A. and began pursuing my acting career 100 per cent, training in both acting and martial arts class,” he said.
The payoff was securing the coveted part, gaining notice from playwright Hwang, who had been preparing his script and searching for a leading man.
“We feel incredibly blessed to have found in Cole a star who can bring a legend to life,” Hwang said.
“Kung Fu” will be a portrait of Lee’s meteoric, though brief, journey from troubled Hong Kong youth to martial arts legend. The production will embrace dance, a strength of actor Horibe, along with elements of Chinese opera, martial arts and drama — a new hybrid and potentially powerful theatrical form.
And Signature Theatre, the producer of the project, has set ticket prices at $25, part of the organization’s groundbreaking Signature Initiative: A Generation of Access, a program that ensures and guarantees affordable and accessible tickets to every Signature production, through 2031. Broadway tickets have escalated to the $150 level, more at VIP or premium status with such hit shows as “The Book of Mormon” and “Kinky Boots,” two current hits.
If “Kung Fu” materializes and connects with audiences, will the show move from Signature to a legit uptown Broadway house and continue an expanded run?
Horibe didn’t know, saying: “As far as Broadway, there is no word on that yet.”
For tickets, visit signaturetheatre.org or call the box office at (212) 244-7529.