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Alvin Ing, Originator of Role in Pacific Overtures, Dies at 89

Ing, a trailblazing Asian American performer, also starred in more productions of Flower Drum Song than any other actor.

Alvin Ing in a promotional image and as Shogun's Mother in Pacific Overtures
(image via @thealvining/Martha Swope/New York Public Library )

Trailblazing Asian American actor Alvin Ing has died at the age of 89 from cardiac arrest caused by complications from Covid-19. Ing, fully vaccinated, contracted pneumonia in July and was confirmed to have the virus a few days later.

Born in Honolulu, Ing never expected to go into show business, arriving in New York City at the age of 25 to study music on the graduate level with an expected plan of becoming a teacher. As a youngster, he appeared in several amateur theater productions, eventually landing in the summer stock circuit on the East Coast, performing in the chorus of shows like Annie Get Your Gun and Song of Norway. His first leading role was Lun Tha in The King and I, which he played at several theaters.

In 1958, Ing auditioned for one of the musicals which would go on to be a staple in his career: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song. Though he didn't land the Broadway production, he served as understudy for the role of Wang Ta in the national tour, though he never went on. Ing would return to Flower Drum Song on multiple occasions over the course of his professional life, including playing the role of Uncle Chin in the 2002 Broadway revisal and it's subsequent tour. In that version of the show, where the script was revised by David Henry Hwang, Ing sang the Broadway premiere of the Rodgers and Hammerstein number "My Best Love," which had been cut from the original production. He did more productions of Flower Drum Song than any other actor.

The other musical for which Ing would come to be known is Stephen Sondheim and John Weidman's Pacific Overtures, appearing in the 1976 original Broadway production, its subsequent tour, the 2004 revival, as well as various revivals presented by East West Players, all in the same role, Shogun's Mother. The song "Chrysanthemum Tea" was written specifically for him by Sondheim during the tryout in Washington, D.C.

On stage, Ing also toured in Two Gentlemen of Verona and City of Angels, as well as The World of Suzie Wong. He had dozens of television shows and films to his credit, including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., The Gambler, Dallas, Charlie's Angels, and Falcon Crest, among them.

Ing was working well into his eighth decade, competing on The X Factor at the age of 81. At 84, he publicly came out during his cabaret show, Got A Lot of Livin' to Do. He released an album, Broadway Is Still Calling, in February 2020.

Two celebrations of Ing's life are currently in the works. An online memorial for close friends and family will take place on August 15, and an in-person memorial concert will take place in New York City at a later date. In lieu of flowers, Abingdon Theatre Company is accepting donations for Alvin Ing's New York Memorial Celebration and the newly created Alvin Ing Scholarship Fund. Click here to donate.

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