Graduate student Tan Sang composes and directs original musical
“An Artist’s Love and Success,” created by Tan Sang, will be performed by fellow SF State students.
May 3, 2023
After teaching international music in China, and watching great composers like Alan Menken, Claude Debussy, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, Tan Sang came to the US to further his studies.
“In China, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to get connected to musical theater because it’s still relatively under development,” Sang said.
Sang is a graduate student at SF State’s School of Music. All students in the music department’s MFA program culminate their studies with a final thesis project, allowing students to show off their latest projects at the end of every semester. For most, this means composing an original piece of music, but Sang chose a different path.
Sang’s original musical, “An Artist’s Love and Success,” premieres May 17 and will be performed by undergrad students. Sang wanted to showcase his culture in his works.
“It’s because of my culture, I am from China…I want to say what is more important [between] obligation and passion,” Sang said, focusing on the work-centric lifestyle that’s normalized in his culture.
Sang believes that the connection between these two things differs from culture to culture, including in his home country of China.
According to Sang, “An Artist’s Love and Success” touches on themes such as duty and obligation, comparing and contrasting them against passion and love.
“Maybe passions can be very sparkling and amazing, but can you imagine it bringing you peace?” He asked. “Passion can fade. People who you are infatuated with may backfire. Dreams and passion sometimes can turn people into monsters,” Sang said.
According to Sang, one of the initial difficulties was finding a place to rehearse. The school prioritizes main productions and Sang’s musical is just a student project.
“Students are busy sometimes with their work and classes, but most of the time they can show up and rehearse,” Sang said.
As the playwright, director, lyricist, composer and accompanist, Sang has devoted most of his semester to the endeavor. He created an original story full of characters that will be brought to life by Julia Sussman, Jazmin Thompson and Eric Ye — all in their final semesters at SF State.
Sussman remembers first hearing about the project back in the fall of 2022 after meeting Sang in a musical theater workshop class.
“I was willing to accommodate whatever it was he needed from me,” she asserted.
According to Sussman, she was on board with the project simply because Sang was behind it all.
Growing up in the performing arts, Sussman was comfortable auditioning for both female roles over Zoom, although she eventually found that she would prefer one over the other.
“I learned the main songs for each female character and I remember when I was singing the one for Rose, I sent Jazmin a text, ‘I feel like this one’s a lot more something I would do,’” Sussman reminisced. She would ultimately play Rose.
Thompson, a theater arts minor, is also a senior and will play the role of Camille.
“I’m not gonna lie, at first I was a little scared of the role,” Thompson said when recalling the audition phase. “I was really drawn to the role because Camille is a courageous, strong and independent woman.”
Out of pure admiration for his work, Thompson joined the project after just one email from Sang.
“You can put anything in front of him, any sheet music and he can just do it,” Thompson shared while recalling the influence Sang has had on her.
Also from the music department, Ye has a concentration in music composition, one of the many talents he sees in Sang.
“It is exceptional for a student’s effort. For this level of quality to come from SF State – from a student – he is really the cream of the crop,” Ye said while speaking of the sheer quality of work that Sang is able to produce. He even went as far as to call Sang the “Asian Sondheim.”
Although legendary American composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim has been an influence on his work, Sang is much too humble to accept such a moniker.
“Based on my culture, on my experience, I want to enrich, to redefine and broaden the view of American musicals,” Sang expressed when talking about how his work could impact others.
While the production will be a pre-show, also known as a semi-production, Sang hopes to take it to full production. He created the Rapture Theater Company to begin receiving grants to fund the project.
There will be live rehearsals in Creative Arts Building Room 146 on May 12 and May 15. Registration is free and can be found here. The official performance will be on May 17 at 7 p.m. in Knuth Hall and will also be free for all, only requiring a pre-registration.