M. Butterfly opened on Broadway in March 1988, just days before August Wilson’s Joe Turner’s Come and Gone. Though both plays are now contemporary American classics and both were finalists for the 1989 Pulitzer Prize, the Pulitzer that year was awarded to a play that has become yet another classic, Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles.
But M. Butterfly did win the Tony Award for best drama, as well as several other awards, and ran for 777 performances. John Dexter directed, John Lithgow played Gallimard (replaced later in the run by Anthony Hopkins, Tony Randall and other actors), and B.D. Wong played Song Liling.
After the success of M. Butterfly, Hwang returned to his first love of music, working on various projects with composer Philip Glass, and new versions of opera and musical theatre pieces, notably Aida (with new music by Elton John and Tim Rice) and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song.
Hwang also wrote for television and film, and two of his most recent theatrical ventures were based on movies: The Fly (an opera by Howard Shore based on the David Cronenberg version of the famous 1950s B movie) and a Broadway version of Tarzan.
But Hwang has continued to write about the intricacies of identity and culture, notably in Face Value, and the play that in some ways resulted from its Broadway failure, Yellow Face, which in 2008 became his third Pulitzer finalist.