Bryan D. Leys

The Dragon Empress of China


Political conspiracy meets show biz intrigue in a mixture of show tunes and swing music with a Chinese flavor. A bloody historical drama is enacted in the friendly confines of a campy Asian nightclub. Competitive characters battle on stage and backstage as politics and show biz collide.

The Dragon Empress of China is the story of Tz'u-Hsi, the 19th century figure who rose from a palace concubine to become the de facto ruler of China for over 40 years. Tz'u-Hsi uses sex, deception, manipulation and cunning intelligence to rise in a society dominated by men. By controlling the royal children, she extends her power for decades, leading her country into revolution, war, and finally to ruin though her desperate lust for power. Yet the unrepentant and defiant empress still serves as a feminist role model.

Sixty years later, in 1942, due to the wishes of powerful Chinese refugee, Madame Toy, the story of Tz'u-Hsi has been transformed into a nightclub show at San Francisco's Forbidden City. The intrigues and power plays of China are acted out as a series of songs and scenes as the MC of the show is forced to turn history into entertainment.

At the Forbidden City, Asian performers mimic American celebrities while seeking their own identities. Billy, the MC, is king of the stage, but secretly terrified of the FBI because he is Japanese. Judy, who plays Tz'u-Hsi, is dealing with the prospect of her third abortion. Tommy, the magician, is a struggling drag performer and the minor players, Johnny and Sally, are pushing for their chance to move up the show biz ladder. Above all the mysterious Madame Toy struggles to bring her historical message to an indifferent crowd. On stage, emperors, empresses, princes and generals struggle for power. Backstage, singers and dancers confront racism and the hard knocks of show biz. Dragon Empress features six actors playing over 18 roles in a story that covers nearly a hundred years.

Tz'u and Dorothy Fong Toy
Tz'u Hsi, Empress of China; older Tz'u Hsi; Dorothy Fong Toy, Asian entertainer.

Cast of Characters (in order of their appearance)

Billy Chen (Chan) 30's, Japanese, MC/Performer at The Forbidden City Nightclub. Known for singing like Bing Crosby. Plays Emperor Xian Feng and several other male characters.
Judy Moon A 30's, A young Chinese actress with a sultry nightclub persona, but hard as nails. She plays young Tz’u Hsi.
Sally Cho (Chow) 22, a young Chinese actress from Arizona with ambitions to play non-Asian roles and a drinking problem. Plays Princess Alute.
Tommy Wu 40's, a very gay Chinese actor, who is also magician and drag performer. A lonely guy. Plays Empress Sheng and others.
Johnny Fong 18, an ambitious Vietnamese actor and dancer, learning the ropes of show business. Plays Prince Ch’un, Prince Kwong and others.
Madame Soo Ping Toy 50's. Chinese performer and playwright. Severe and judgmental with a tragic past. Plays older Tzu.

NOTE: Except for Sally, these are all stage names.

NOTE: All Chinese names are spoken with Cantonese pronunciation.

Tz'u (Two)
Emperor Xien Feng (Hang Fung)
Prince Kung (Kong)
Prince Duen (Tuen)
Empress Sheng Xian (Sung Hang)
Prince Ch'un (Chung)

Music Excerpts

Music Score: Donald Stark