Posts Tagged Asian American

Pogi’s Back – in Baskerville!

Park Square favorite Eric “Pogi” Sumangil returns to the Proscenium Stage in Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing both Inspector Lestrade and Sir Henry Baskerville, among many roles. He caught up with blogger Vincent Hannam to share what excites him about this play and working in Twin Cities theatre.

Eric "Pogi" Sumangil

Eric “Pogi” Sumangil

What was your path to the Twin Cities and Park Square?
I was born and raised in Minneapolis. I had some aspirations to go to college somewhere out of state, but ultimately decided to go to St. John’s University in central Minnesota. My freshman year, I wrote the annual comedy sketch at the Asian New Year celebration. Rick Shiomi, then Artistic Director of Theater Mu, performed at the same event with his Taiko group, and approached me afterward. I started taking workshops at Mu in Minneapolis over summer break and I stayed in touch until I graduated. I began auditioning around the Twin Cities, but for over a decade, getting cast in a show at Park Square eluded me. Suddenly, in 2016, I was cast in The Realistic Joneses, Flower Drum Song, and Macbeth in the same season.
What other work do you do around town?
I am a playwright and teaching artist, I also have done some event planning, marketing and social media, and administrative work, most recently for the Minnesota Theater Alliance. Otherwise, I work for a couple of food trucks around town as well: Bombon, and Fun Fare.

Sara Richardson, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, and McKenna Kelly-Eiding. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

This isn’t your first show at Park Square, so what keeps you coming back? What excites you most about this show?
Park Square is one of the few places in the Twin Cities that features performers of color in non-traditionally cast roles with relative consistency. It’s an opportunity for me to perform roles for which I might not be considered at many other theaters. While I believe that the theater work that is centered around identity is important, I also believe that as someone from a community of color that is often assumed to be foreign, it’s important for me as an actor to be seen in roles that don’t specifically address my ethnic origins.

This show is a classic story with a contemporary feel. It has an American sensibility to the humor, and the challenge of playing so many characters is going to be a lot of fun. I’m also excited to work with a female Holmes & Watson because they’ll both bring great things to those roles.

Ricardo Beaird, Eric “Pogi” Sumangil, Sara Richardson. Photo by Petronella J. Ytsma

What do you hope people come away with after watching it?
Accessibility, and relatability. The film & TV world is now trending toward rebooting past shows and movies, but that’s nothing new in the Theater business; there are adaptations all over the place with a new take or different spin on familiar stories. I’m hoping that people come away with a renewed interest in something that they may have dismissed as being old and irrelevant.

Beat the heat this summer and see Pogi in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, playing until August 5. Tickets can be found here!

Baskerville graphic - red text on white background

Tea with Toy: Chatting with the Star of the Chop Suey Circuit

“Why don’t you come over for tea?” She asked.

Through the course of our conversation she invited me over two more times, each time being reminded by her assistant that I was not, in fact, in the Bay Area.Toy_and_Wing

“Thank you, Dorothy, but I’m calling from Minneapolis. In Minnesota.”

Her assistant, Mark, had warned me that she has a tendency to repeat herself. She was just about to celebrate her 90th birthday, and sometimes she forgets when she had already mentioned something. He said that his job was to help her keep her mind on track, in addition to answering her phone and handling her email.

There was a slight ringing in my ears as we talked, not from any technical problems with my phone, but from the shock that I was actually talking to THE Dorothy Toy, star of the famed Chop Suey circuit of vaudeville; THE Dorothy Toy, of Toy and Wing, the most successful Asian American dance duo in the 1930s and ’40s; THE Dorothy Toy, who I had been reading about for 6 months prior to this phone call.

dorothytoy12  Toy-Dorothy-on-Point

I had reached a point in my career where I, recognizing the dearth of substantive roles for Asian Americans, was considering writing my first full length play. After considering my skill set, I googled “Asian Tap Dancers” and what came back were several news articles, book references, and grainy video clips featuring Toy & Wing.

If you haven’t heard of Toy & Wing or vaudeville’s Chop Suey Circuit, you’re not alone. I hadn’t heard about either of these things until I started my research. I became motivated to tell Dorothy’s story by the mere fact that I hadn’t heard of Dorothy Toy & Paul Wing, despite learning of their many successes on stage and screen.

Toy & Wing were billed as “The Chinese Fred & Ginger” even though Dorothy was born Dorothy Takahashi and was of Japanese descent. She simply thought Takahashi was too difficult for most people to pronounce and that they had a better chance of getting on a marquee with a shorter name, so she changed her stage name to Dorothy Toy. They were the first Asian Americans to dance at the London Palladium, and the first Asian Americans to dance on Broadway just prior to Paul Wing being drafted into the US Army in 1943 during World War II.

Though she was referred to as The Chinese Ginger Rogers, Dorothy always thought this was a misnomer. She thought of Ginger Rogers as very smooth and graceful, while Dorothy thought of herself as a strong, athletic toe dancer. As you watch this next clip, keep an eye on Dorothy’s feet. She does the majority of the dance on her toes. And if Paul Wing’s dancing looks somewhat familiar, he danced Legomania, a style made popular by Ray Bolger, the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz film.

FullSizeRender 2Their success was only one side of the coin, however. Just as they had begun to make a name for themselves both here in the US and internationally, they were invited to perform in a film with Chico Marx in 1942, but a rival dance duo outed Dorothy as being of Japanese ancestry, and in light of the then-recent attack on Pearl Harbor, Toy & Wing were not allowed to appear in the film. They moved to Chicago to regroup, according to Dorothy, while her family was sent to an Internment Camp near Topaz, Utah.

After the war, Toy & Wing got back together and became a regular act at the flagship of the Chop Suey circuit, Forbidden City night club, the setting for C.Y. Lee’s novel upon which Flower Drum Song is based. Dorothy noted that Paul was never quite the same, but they continued to tour and perform across the country.

22eadb0de862766ca957cc7a66128520Dorothy and Paul eventually married, but mostly out of convenience; during lean times, they could save money by booking one hotel room instead of two, and being married helped them justify booking only one room. Dorothy recalled that Paul would often pawn his tuxedo to pay for the room, and buy it back just in time to perform.

This is only a fraction of Dorothy Toy & Paul Wing’s story. In May of 2007, I had the honor of meeting Dorothy in person when she–you guessed it–invited me over for tea at her place in Oakland, CA. We sipped sencha while she gave me a tour of her basement ballet studio where she has continued to teach well into her 90s, showed me pictures of her from the 30s and 40s through the 60s, and regaled me with stories of life on the road with Paul, who had passed away in 1997.

Dorothy Toy still lives in Oakland, and is gearing up to celebrate her 100th birthday this May 28, 2017. She is the subject of the documentary, “Dancing Through Life; the Dorothy Toy Story.” She is a living legend; hers are the footprints we walk in, and the shoulders we stand on as Asian American performers. And yet, most Americans don’t know about her. Let’s change that, shall we?


Dorothy Toy and Me, 2007


  And if you’re wondering if I ever wrote my play, I did. It’s called Kicking The Gong Around, which is a reference to a line in Cab Calloway’s song, Minnie the Moocher:

He took her down to Chinatown
and he showed her how to kick the gong around.


The box office is currently closed. Please email with any questions.

Stay in Touch!

Get the latest updates and offers from Park Square Theatre.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

    Park Square on Instagram  See Park Square Videos on Vimeo