Book, music, lyrics by Skyler Chin & Sita Sunil
Illegal is a new musical about America’s earliest illegal immigrants. It’s 1923. The United States is enforcing the Chinese Exclusion Act by systematically separating families and imprisoning them on Angel Island. Kee Lin, a budding Hong Kong martial artist, is wrongly blamed for her brother’s death and must flee to America with a good-for-nothing imposter “paper” brother, Slim Chin, in her dead brother’s place. If they can survive detention and convince interrogators that they’re siblings, they may get a shot at a new life. They cross paths with Chinese-American interpreter, Carter Lee, who must choose between success for herself and justice for immigrants. Inspired by family secrets and detainee poetry, Illegal asks the timely and timeless question, “What does it take to be(come) American?”
Development History & Awards
October 21-22, 2022 – Special Bay Area concert on Angel Island & presentation at UC Berkeley
April – August 2022 – Staged readings at Queens College, PS130, Bronx Science, Great Neck, and others!
March 11-12, 2022 – Concert Reading at Munsey Park Auditorium, Long Island, supported by Manhasset School District and Yaya Kids Theater, two sold out shows (1200 total in attendance)
October 9, 2021 – performance at Carnegie Hall, Music For Change Benefit Concert
May 2021-August 2021 – Virtual tour in partnership with AALDEF, AIISF, CAPA, OCA, AAARI-CUNY, Nueva School, Great Neck South High School, and more!
May 20, 2019 – Yale Pauli Murray Class of 2019 Outstanding Achievement in the Arts Award
April 29, 2019 – Yale Shen Musical Theater Curriculum showcase, “Pledge Allegiance”
April 19-20, 2019 – Yale workshop at the Lighten Theater (directed by Olivia Facini), supported by Yale Creative Performing Arts Award. Three sold-out shows.
April 6, 2019 – Asian American Students’ Alliance 50th Anniversary Gala, preview set
March 29, 2019 – Yale Tsai CITY Arts and Media Innovation Award and showcase, preview set
February 1, 2019 – MOCA NYC Lunar New Year show closer (by invitation), preview set
July 13, 2018 – Museum of Chinese America (MOCA) NYC open mic closer, preview set
While I was in college, the national debate over immigration took center stage and compelled me to create a passion project that would become Illegal: a musical inspired by my family secrets, set during Chinese Exclusion. In my senior year, it transformed from a few songs based on Angel Island immigrant detainee poetry into a full-length musical. For the Yale spring workshop, our production timeline was condensed, since we cast in January—once I’d written enough songs to audition each part. The cast rehearsed on the fly as I wrote; I finished writing and producing instrumental backing tracks for 26 songs by April 2019.
“The script is a balance of lighted-hearted humor and powerful emotion, and is always heavy with meaning…”Ashley Fan, Yale Daily News
“An emotionally satisfying story that resonates with contemporary politics. Full of catchy music and clever wordplay.”Dr. Elise Morrison, Yale Theater Studies
“We encourage you to see this exciting new show!”Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation
When collaborators told me Illegal was “the best experience they’d had at Yale” and “the coolest project they’d ever worked on,” I knew I wanted to give this experience to as many people as possible around the country. Currently, I live in New York and am working on developing this show. I’m looking for professional workshops, out-of-town tryouts at regional theaters, and off-Broadway productions, with the hopes of bringing it to Broadway one day. Please contact me if you’re interested in working together!
Current Character List (Cast 6+, flexible doubling)
SAM KEE LIN — Heroine mastering kung fu in Hong Kong against her parents’ wishes. Young with big dreams of teaching others who want to fight for themselves. Analytical, quick to act, and good at dissing people. Close with her big brother KAI CHUNG. ~17yo. Female. Important to rap clearly and embody a fighter. Performer doesn’t have to speak Cantonese, but ideally can learn one Cantonese poem.
SAM KAI CHUNG — KEE LIN’s supportive older brother working in America for the Sam-Wong Import Export Co. Confident, a good big brother and businessman. Unlike his sister, is bad at kung fu. ~25yo. Male. Present for just the beginning.
SLIM CHIN — A poor but valuable employee of the Sam-Wong Import Export Co. Becomes a paper son disguised as SAM KAI CHUNG. Earnest with a strong conscience. Has a natural way with words but is not highly educated. ~20yo. Male. Important to rap emotionally. Performer does not have to speak Cantonese, but should handle some Cantonese phrases incorporated into English verses.
WONG FAT PORK — The rich, lazy son of the Sam-Wong Import Export Co. boss. Best friends with co-worker CHIN. Irresponsible and flippant, but sweet and good-natured with a big personality. Important to be fun and sing smoothly. ~20yo. Male or female.
INTERPRETER CARTER LEE — A shrewd Chinese-American from Chinatown who works as an interpreter at Angel Island enforcing Chinese Exclusion. Practical but self-righteous. Becomes torn between success for self and justice for immigrants. 20-30yo. Female or male.
PB JONES — The dastardly villain in charge of Angel Island. Imposing and haughty, believes that Chinese Exclusion holds the key for America’s future. Older than the rest. Important to sing smoothly and rap bitingly. Male.
LAI WAH — A precocious and spunky two-year old girl detained on Angel Island. She knows she’s a baller. Talks smack to PB JONES and becomes a sister figure to KEE LIN. Female.
MR. WHITE, ESQUIRE — FAT PORK’s immigration lawyer in San Francisco. Passionate but useless. Raps in legalese. Male.
This musical is mainly sung-through with connecting dialogue. The action flows from Southern China to San Francisco, USA, from summer to the fall of 1923.
On the streets of Hong Kong and Southern China:
2. Kee Lin & Kai Chung
3. Fight Scene
In Kee Lin and Kai Chung’s house:
In the Wong family’s shop in China:
5. The Legend of Slim Chin & Fat
On the way to the boat:
6. Chase Scene
On the boat to San Francisco:
7. Downhill from Here
8. Hidden in a Hat
9. Loose Lips Sink Relationships
10. Kee Lin Quits Kung Fu
On Angel Island:
11. Pledge Allegiance
On the boat to San Francisco:
13. Can’t Stop Us Now
On Angel Island:
1. PB Jones’ Tour
2. Fat Pork’s Interrogation
3. Not My Problem
4. Legal Battle
6. Ballad of Empty
7. Rain Blows
8. Sifu Sam Kee Lin
9. Slim Chin’s Cypher, Riot, The Poems
10. Lee vs. PB
11. Keep Dreaming
12. Kee Lin’s and Chin’s
“Illegal is a masterpiece. It feels so sincere.”
“I was shooketh.”
“This show gives me hope.”Audience comments