The opening of Flower Drum Song finds the household of Wang Chi Yang faced with problems of adjustment. Mr. Wang himself is a Chinese gentleman of the old school, his son Wang Ta is caught between Chinese tradition and American ways, his second son Wang San is entirely Americanized, and his sister-in-law, Madam Liang, is an enthusiastic candidate for citizenship. Madam Liang and Wang Ta discuss the methods of choosing a wife, and Wang Ta tells her he has made his own choice, and how he will propose to her (You Are Beautiful). Sammy Fong, owner of The Celestial Bar, arrives and announces that his mail-order bride has arrived from China. However, he is in love with someone else, and succeeds in selling the contract to old Mr. Wang. He then introduces the bride, Mei Li and her father, Dr. Li, and Mei Li charms Mr. Wang and Madam Liang with her "flower drum song," A Hundred Million Miracles.
Wang Ta has gone off to meet his girl Linda Low, a lively creature who takes great pleasure in life (I Enjoy Being a Girl) and, although there are a few unexplained facts about her existence, he asks her to marry him and she accepts. When Mei Li at last meets Wang Ta, she is delighted with him and, since she does not know about his engagement to Linda, begins to feel at home in the Wang household (I Am Going to Like It Here). That night, graduation exercises for Madam Liang's citizenship class take place in Mr. Wang's garden, and Mr. Wang buys an American dress for Mei Li. Wang Ta is impressed by her beauty, but remains faithful to Linda, and tells Mei Li how he would propose to his sweetheart in the American way (Like a God). At the graduation, Madam Liang wins a medal, and with her younger nephew Wang San she describes the melting-pot mixture of American ways that resemble that American dish, Chop Suey.
Linda appears at the party, and Wang Ta announces their engagement, infuriating old Mr. Wang and deeply hurting Mei Li. When Sammy Fong shows up, it develops that Linda is the girl with whom he is in love, and he generously warns Mei Li about his own bad qualities (Don't Marry Me). He then invites the Wangs to The Celestial Bar, where Linda is employed as a singer, knowing that when they find this out, the marriage will be cancelled. Linda, unaware of Sammy's plan, has a fine time at the party and sings the praises of life in San Francisco (Grant Avenue). Returning to the bar, she tells Sammy and her seamstress Helen Chao that she is quitting to marry Wang Ta. Helen, who has silently loved Wang Ta for many years, is heart-broken (Love, Look Away). When the Wang party arrives at the club a singer is singing a rowdy song (Fan Tan Fannie), and the master of ceremonies presents an even rowdier selection (Gliding Through My Memoree) in which Linda turns up, doing a strip-tease. The Wangs leave in horrified astonishment and Sammy is happy that his plan has succeeded.
The confused Wang Ta cannot make up his mind whether he prefers Mei Li or Linda Low, and turns briefly to Helen Chao for comfort. Old Mr. Wang and Madam Liang, dismayed by the turn of events, express their exasperation at The Other Generation, and Dr. Li and Mei Li leave the house, determining to hold Sammy Fong to his marriage contract. By this time, however, Sammy has proposed to Linda and been accepted, and they are happily looking forward to their lives together (Sunday). When Dr. Li presents his case against Sammy to The Three Family Association, it is decided that Sammy must honor the contract, and the Lis take up residence in his apartment as preparations for the wedding begin. Wang Ta belatedly discovers that it is Mei Li he loves, and they rack their brains for a way out of the dilemma. Young Wang San and his friends are amazed at the difficulties their elders get into (The Other Generation (Reprise)) but even they cannot find a way out. As the wedding procession winds its way to the rooms of The Three Family Association, Wang Ta, Linda and Sammy are all waiting unhappily for the ceremony none of them wants to see, but the inventive Mei Li at the last moment provides a happy solution, and the curtain falls on two pairs of happy sweethearts.
- George Dale