Category Archives: Theatre

Theatre Review: Company

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If I could sum up the musical, Company in two words, it would be… Forever Alone. Yes, it is the remake of Stephen Sondheim’s Tony Award Winning Musical that focuses on Bobby, a swinging bachelor who grapples with his singlehood as his friends are all moving to a new phase in their life getting married and having kids. The musical features new face Peter Ong in the lead role while featuring familiar faces Tan Kheng Hua and Karen Tan and Petrina Kow (or should I say, familiar voice in this instance. She is a DJ for Lush 99.5FM!)

What is interesting about Company is the issue at hand. Bobby constantly asserts that he is ready for commitment and ready to settle down but we see that his actions prove otherwise. He is seen on casual dates with three women: April the ditzy air stewardess, Kathy the girl from Ipoh and Marta the Filipino expat who is vivacious and ‘original’ and is often seen flirting to get them to sleep with him. If you are expecting this to be a repeat of Boeing Boeing, then you are sorely mistaken. He doesn’t land any of the girls and neither does he find a happy ending in marriage.

No, I’m afraid this is not your typical cautionary tale with a predictable plot line. I think Sondheim doesn’t wish to give easy answers because while we see Bobby constantly faced with pressure from his married friends to settle down, we aren’t meant to see marriage as the final destination in which all joy and happiness is derived. Instead, Sondheim and director Hossan Leong for that matter, play up the chaos and drama that exist between each couple. The satirical portrayal of these characters really gets you to see just how dysfunctional they are. We see Karen Tan’s character Jenny constantly making concessions for her husband David (played by Bendon Fernandez) and we can tell that there is underlying tension between the two. We see Tan Kheng Hua’s Joanne as a jaded individual who is in her third marriage and Bobby’s friends, Susan (Rebecca Spykerman) and Peter (Ivan Choong) are in a midst of a divorce.

In short, the characters are all pretty messed up and it kind of stays this way from start to finish. My gripe about the play is that the music takes centrestage so the characters often sing more than they actually act so I got pretty frustrated that the plot didn’t seem to be moving along. Also, there’s alot of loose ends that are left dangling and all these issues embedded within each relationship isn’t resolved. For example, Joanne propositions Bobby indicating that her marriage isn’t as happy as it seems but the story just leaves it at that without any further explanation. And the musical ends on a cliffhanger with Bobby blowing out his birthday candles for the third time. So I wonder if this is a Pinter and Beckett-esque moment where repetition indicates stagnancy and futility. Does this mean that Bobby can never find true love? Will he be stuck in this vicious cycle forever?

It’s all very ambivalent and I guess if you need some degree of negative capability to deal with it. On the plus side, Petrina Kow, Karen Tan and Mina Ellen Kaye who plays Marta were riveting to watch. They fully committed to their roles especially Petrina Kow. She was psychotic, crazy and side-splittingly hilarious the whole time and Mina Ellen Kaye has the foreign accent down pat and she really played her role with gusto. It was very impressive. As for Peter Ong, well, this guy can sing! Acting though… I didn’t feel like he was particularly memorable. The true highlight was the set. The set was beautiful and functional. I think the audience gasped when the bed folded down over the sofa.

Honestly, I think this musical is a miss for me. It might be because I didn’t connect with the script (felt that way with Into the Woods as well) and for most of the time I found the reprise extremely annoying because it kept repeating over and over. More so than other musicals. Also, there were too many characters so there was breadth of understanding but not depth so I didn’t feel emotionally tied to Bobby or his predicament. It was all rather disappointing.

To read a positive review of Company, check out Cosmopolitan SG and JTBeans.

Company runs all the way to the 17th of November at the Drama Centre at National Library. Tickets can be purchased at Sistic.

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It’s just for the first time, I feel… Wicked

Yesterday night, I finally watched Wicked and this has been something that I’ve been looking forward to for a long time. I booked the tickets in November so that’s like 3 months in advance? And can I just say that it was absolutely wonderful. You guys probably know that I’m a frequent theatre goer and I’ve watched quite a few musicals (mostly local productions) but this Australian production was SO GOOD (according to my friend who has watched Wicked 4 times, the standard is comparable to the London production). The elaborate sets, the costumes, the acting, singing… it was truly an enchanting performance. No wonder it won 35 major awards including a Grammy, three Tonys and the title of ‘Best Musical of the Decade!’

There is definitely something in this musical for everyone, young and old alike and never a dull moment too! What I really loved about the musical which was adapted by a novel of the same title is that it is such a clever plot. To borrow the concept of Wizard of Oz, an all-time favourite but to re-work it from the perspective of the Evil Witch of the West (even giving her a name, Elphaba) really humanizes her and makes her relatable.  Even the flying monkeys that have plagued me all my life, I now feel some sense of sympathy. Like they were the victims of the Wizard’s evil regime!

And of course, who doesn’t love a compelling story of a green girl who is talented but oh, such a social misfit who eventually wins the love of handsome Fiyero over bestie bimbo pal, Glinda? Throw in some magic dust, a pinch of sarcastic wit and a dose of righteous justice and you have yourself a winning formula. No wonder this is the 13th longest running Broadway musical of all time.

And need I even mention the music? My heart soared as Elphaba was lifted into the air while belting out the last notes of ‘Defying Gravity’, I felt such bittersweet sorrow when the lovers did the  ‘As Long As You’re Mine’ duet and almost teared as Elphaba and Glinda sang ‘For Good’. The music was so amazing and their voices left me completely speechless. I thought that the leading ladies were so immensely good at what they do. I loveeeee the ‘toss toss’ hair scene. That made Glinda so endearing despite her blatant bimbo-ness (kudos to Lucy Durack) and Elphaba’s vulnerability and conviction really came forth in Amanda Harrison’s portrayal.

All in all, I was completely enthralled. In short, this is definitely something worth watching. Please I appeal to everyone to go watch it!

The Hossan Leong Show

I haven’t been to see a comedy act in a long time so I was really looking forward to The Hossan Leong Show for some good ol’ laughs and it didn’t disappoint. It started off with three actors- Chua Enlai, Judee Tan, and Siti Khalijah acting as elderly people who claim to have looked after Hossan and contributed to his success and of course there was a little song and dance number before the man of the moment showed up with flashing lights and much aplomb.

He then started off with his set, telling us jokes ranging from the GE to Tiger moms and how asian women can recall every single mundane detail in a conversation and proceed to re-enact it to their friends. Then there was an Iron Chef segment featuring all the cast including DJ Shigeki as the chairman. It was probably my least favourite bit of the night mainly because the jokes were overused and well, I think I’m kinda over racial stereotypes and self-deprecating humour. And I didn’t really fancy the songs. The lyrics weren’t as fantastic as the ditties sung by The Dim Sum Dollies.

Thankfully things started to pick up. I loved the Haunted Ghost segment mainly because Judee Tan was so hilarious as the chinese medium. It’s a combination of her mannerisms, pronunciation… everything was perfect and at some points, I really felt that she stole the show. Especially when she impersonated Tin Pei Ling. That was da bomb! I can still picture her perfect pronunciation of the words “residents and voters” complete with exaggerated hand actions. She was simply sublime.

I also rather enjoyed the So You Think You Can Tahan segment and I can’t believe they gave away an electric bicycle. And the person who won was from MY ROW. How cool was that? Of course there was alot of cool giveaways from their friendly sponsors Pearly White and some other cleaning brand that I can’t remember (oops…) as well as a tea for two voucher at The St Regis!

But I think what I really did love about the show was Hossan himself. I always listen to him on Gold 90 FM and it’s kinda nice to see him in person doing his thing and he really is versatile! One moment he can act as a Yogi, then he morphs into a char kway teow hawker and then a peranakan woman (I didn’t think his Filipino accent was that fantastic. I think Michelle Chong does it better) but still, this guy can act. No doubt about it.

And I love how the jokes are so rooted in the Singaporean context! You definitely have to be Singaporean to get the little digs and references here and there and I think that’s why I really love and support homegrown productions. It’s turning all our complains and angst and channeling it into this creative outlet and the end product is just fantastic. It’s nice to be able to come together as one audience to laugh about common issues that we face every single day of our lives.

And given the rousing success of Cooling Off Day that is really, one of my favourite plays this year, I’m going to give When Tan Meets Tan a go and see if this matches up.

The Hossan Leong Show has been extended so it ends on the 23rd of Sept! So if you are interested, better book tickets soon!  

Cooling Off Day

Saturday night, I watched Cooling Off Day, a play written by Alfian Sa’at and directed by Ivan Heng and Jo Kukathas (who was also one of the talented actresses in the ensemble) and it was one of the most outstanding plays that I’ve watched this year. The idea was simple. It was to be a play that represented the multitude of voices that was heard over the General Elections. Everyone had an opinion no matter your race, your age, your profession, whether your constituency was hotly contested or not, whether you lived in the east or west, all these opinions were captured in 105mins and I thought it was absolutely brilliant.

I loved how Sa’at put it. In the production notes he said…

I went around interviewing various Singaporeans, in the hope of getting a portrait of the Singaporean as a citizen voter. Some were very articulate, some less so; some were very certain of their convictions, some were still skirting around inchoate ideas. But the more I listened to the interview transcripts, the more I realised that no matter the mode of expression, Singaporeans did care about being co-authors of the Singapore Story.

I love the various snippets of Singaporean voices that included quotes and musings from popular online celebs like Mr Brown and XiaXue, you hear the voice of your local taxi driver, a makcik housewife, a male nurse, a sex worker, a Chinese international masseuse… the list just goes on. It’s just amazing how Sa’at has put together this jigsaw of voices and I think he successfully gave these minority groups some kind of recognition and representation. Sure it’s a little skewed towards more anti-establishment sentiments but hey, it’s the theatre. How else will political pastiche be done so well? And really, if Sa’at’s previous works is anything to go by, this is a rather measured and balanced response to the GE as it will ever be.

My favourite moments was Kukathas’s impersonation of Vincent Wijeysinha which was so SO uncanny, Tan Kheng Hua’s entire spiel about Katong, East vs. West, KC girls and St Pats boys, Parkway Parade… that TOTALLY spoke to me. It was literally my life in 10mins or something. Scary but thrilling and I thought one of the most poignant moments was performed by Rodney Olivero as Joshua Chiang who talked about how every little effort that you make does make a difference. That along with many other things, resounded with me.

All in all, a spectacular play with a stellar cast. It’s been awhile since I was this intellectually engaged and I’m really savouring it!

Into the Woods

I booked tickets a week ago for Into the Woods, a renowned broadway musical that is performed by an all-Singaporean cast: Selena Tan, Adrian Pang, Sebastian Tan, Emma Yong, Denise Tan, RJ Rosales, Robin Goh, Lim Kay Siu, George Chan and Sheila Francisco. While I thought the cast worked together very well and that everyone had great chemistry and vivacity, I didn’t like the musical as a whole. The music and the storyline wasn’t quite my cup of tea. I liked the opening theme which created that mysterious eerie aura of the woods and the duet of the princes was pretty witty but other than that, pretty much all the other tunes were quite unmemorable.


Honestly, the musical was pretty draggy. It started at 8pm and ended at 10.50pm with a 15min intermission at 9.30pm. The play ended rather nicely at the intermission with most of the problems resolved so alot of people, myself included, thought that it was over! I mean, what more was there to do to make up the remaining 1 hour 15mins? Well, apparently the second half was abit forced I felt. A giant was introduced (visual and sound effects for this was awesome) and many characters died as a result, including the narrator (yes, it became rather absurd in the middle).

The second half also showed the realities of life I guess. You see Cinderella’s prince straying and having a fling with the Baker’s wife, you see the Baker’s wife who already has a child mind you, actually kiss the Prince passionately countless of times and yes, it is insinuated that they had sex. While this was done rather tastefully and it did reflect how happy endings are fallacious, I didn’t think this was quite so appropriate for the little kids in the audience. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing to burst their bubble and ruin their childhood fantasies so early in their lives haha.

I have to say that the set was awesome. They actually constructed this huge tree with hanging vines and it was simply magical. Most times we forget how much hard work actually goes into putting a production together and really, the set, costumes, makeup was fantastic.

Into the Woods has 12 other shows remaining, it runs from 29th July to 7th August at the Esplanade Theatre. Tickets can be purchased as Sistic.  

Lion King The Musical

YES! After 3 months of anxious anticipation, I finally watched the Lion King at Marina Bay Sands! AND it was spectacular! ABSOLUTELY worth the money and the wait! I watched the matinee show and surprisingly, it was a full house! The theatre was packed full of kids and tourists all eager to see the Lion King live.

Prior to this, I haven’t actually been to MBS so it was quite the experience to walk pass all the atas shops. From Ferragamo all the way to ArtBox (so random right! Who wants to buy stationery at MBS?) The bright, open concept of the place (love the high ceiling) was quite nice and the view of the skyline was just breathtaking. So when I actually got to the theatre, I was in high spirits cos the ambience, the setting, everything was just soooo right!

So when I stepped inside the theatre and was greeted by the red and yellow display, I immediately thought, WOW the color scheme totally matches The Lion King (dunno if that was accidental or deliberate. I would like to think the latter.) And I was SO PLEASED with my seats. We got the second row (that being said, we paid $188 for the tickets. That was like my entire month’s spending quota met)!

Okay, let’s talk about the show. The entire cast could sing and dance and they did so with great passion. As they streamed down the aisle, you could actually hear them singing the song in parts and they fully utilised the whole stage space and that included the aisle and even high up in the stall seats. So it was a very inclusive experience and the entire audience felt involved in the action.

I loved the special effects and costumes the most. My favourite was this cheetah. I dunno how to explain it but the woman who was in the cheetah costume really imitated the behavior of the cheetah really well. She was so flexible! She could bend her head backwards, and because her head is connected to the head of the cheetah with strings, the movements were paralleled. It’s really quite interesting how they could merge animal and human together. In some cases, I feel like they are synonymous yet othered at the same time. It’s really quite complex. An example would be Zazu and Timon. Sometimes I dunno whether to look at the character ie. the puppet or the actor who is manipulating them.

I also thought they did an excellent job with the wilderbeast scene and how they could recreate a stampede in the theatre (I felt soooooo sad when Mufasa died! I love that actor. He was simply regal!) as well as the scene where the stars align to reveal the face of Mufasa (not Mustafa!) It was simply magical! Like, I had no idea they could do something so out of this world. Very very impressive. A beautiful pairing of technology and the theatre.

As far as actors go, I thought Timon, Mufasa, Scar and the three Hyenas were super good. It was very difficult to work the hyena costume! They needed to have one hand to operate the feet and another to move the mouth. So kudos to the actors who could multitask so well. Scar was cool to the max. He was so sly and cynical that it was almost funny. Even at the end when he took his bow, he was in character.

So all in all, a spectacular show! Please go watch it before it ends on the 31st of May!

Emily of Emerald Hill

Since I started working two weeks ago, I felt so absorbed and caught up in my little bubble that I can’t even remember the last time I stepped into the theatre. So as the days rolled by, I grew increasingly excited as friday came nearer and nearer and I could finally see the pretty pink scribbles on my scheduler: “4th March: Emily of Emerald Hill.”

I have always heard so many good things about this play but I never got an opportunity to watch it until now. So when I saw a brochure advertising for this during Cinderel-ah! I booked my tickets in december. DECEMBER. I can’t believe I waited almost three months to watch it and guys, let me just say that it was truly money well spent, and definitely something worth waiting for.

Given that Emily of Emerald Hill is supposed to be a monologue, I was initially worried that it would be quite boring and I wondered how Ivan Heng could sustain our attention for the whole two hours. But entertain us he did. He was so obnoxious yet so utterly charming as Emily. I loved the banter he had with the audience (especially the latecomers) and how he transitioned between different roles so well and he was so immersed into his character that he made it look so natural, so believable.

But while I enjoyed the cheeky persona of Emily and the tongue in cheek humour, I thought the play got really good when her cheery, socialite facade slowly disintegrates in the second half and we see a vulnerable woman tormented by her past and struggling with the loss of her family. I thought Heng emoted so well and while I didn’t cry or tear, I did feel something as I was sitting there especially the scene where she learns to finally let go. I just love the entire play so much! The acting was superb, the set was just spectacular (actual firecrackers! I have no idea how they got clearance from the government to do that!) and the final frame was just… it just left me speechless. I don’t think I will ever forget the final scene where she waltzes her way into the darkness. So poignant, so brilliant.

Only pet peeve? Annoying school kids who have no theatre etiquette whatsoever. Not only were they making a whole lot of noise, but they giggled at all the wrong moments. Argh. I pity the poor folks sitting near them having to shush them up. I think big groups of school kids should only be allowed to attend matinee shows. Anyhow, back to talking about something more positive. I think the play resonated with me because I got all the Malay and Peranakan references and the whole culture that is portrayed and represented on stage is just so reminiscent of my own family history. So personally, I enjoyed this play immensely. If only I could watch the Margaret Chan version so I could have some form of comparison… Hopefully a re-staging of that will come soon.

In the meantime, W!ld Rice production of this play is satisfactory to say the least. So for people who are interested, tickets are available at Sistic but book fast before all the good seats are sold out!

What Did You Learn Today?

I just came back from watching a play staged during the M1 Fringe Festival entitled Art and Education: What Did You Learn Today? How very apt considering that my vocation is of course, teaching. I didn’t quite know what to expect really. I don’t have a habit of reading programme booklets or researching much about a play before I go watch it. Usually I just look at the title, see who is part of the cast and I give it a shot. So I went into the Play Den at the Arts House expecting to see Lim Kay Siu and Neo Swee Lin strut their stuff and strut their stuff they did.

First of all, I love the intimate setting of the Play Den. It’s a small space which means a smaller audience and given that it is a flat floor apron stage (so there’s no elevation), you really feel up-close and personal with the actors. Lim and Neo also reached out to let the audience touch and feel them and throughout the play they broke the so-called Fourth Wall and had conversations with us.

In total, there were three ‘meditation sessions’ where for three minutes, Lim and Neo probed the audience to participate and shout out phrases like “I want to learn…” and “I wish I could learn…” And knowing how self-conscious Singaporeans would be, they dimmed all the lights so everyone would feel safe enough to release their inhibitions. It was a pretty interesting experience to hear what people in the audience thought of and many a time, they bounced ideas off one another. One audience member shouted “I want to learn to trust” and someone else replied “I want to learn to trust less.” It was definitely interactive and contemplative but I can’t help but feel a sense of pretentiousness. I had a discussion with friends after about it, and we all felt that this exercise mirrored a classroom situation where a teacher would call on a student and the student would scramble to give a clever sounding answer.

I think the play was definitely successful in its interrogation of the teacher-student relationship because it made me question my teaching style and the whole mentality that has been imbued in us to not ask questions but to memorise fact after fact. But I did feel that it was too extreme at times and a little unfair in its portrayal of the teacher figure. Not all teachers are the “shut up and sit down” sort or the kind that undermines parental authority and call the kid’s parents “fools” so that brash stereotype didn’t sit well with me.

What was particularly memorable for me was the chemistry that both Neo and Lim have (which is quite duh considering they are husband and wife) but it was so nice to see it on stage. I love how the dynamics to their relationship change as they swap roles from teacher to student, mother to son, husband to wife. Lim could be furiously ranting at one moment yet be sweet and gentle in the next. I just love to see the volatility of emotion translate on the stage.

I also enjoyed Lim’s childhood story where he recounted to us his boarding school experience in England. It was poignant, personal and I felt really connected. It was also way cool that he could play both the violin and the guitar and was so passionate about rugby back in the day. I felt like I really got to know him as a person. He shed this untouchable God-like aura that all actors seem to emanate and he came across as approachable and sincere.

Aside from the shocking language (I wasn’t prepared for the swearing), I thought the most powerful scene was when both actors started whacking paper rolls while shouting villains’ names like Voldermort, Darth Vader etc. What was disturbing though, was how these villains seem to culminate into the figure of the teacher. As if the teacher figure is a product of ‘the system’ and therefore, all hate is projected on him/her. I actually felt quite fearful. Lol. But all in all, a very intellectually engaging experience. Oh how I miss this. I really need to go to the theatre more often to clear my mind and to keep me sane.

Cinderel-LAH!

Last night, I finally managed to catch W!ld Rice’s 10th Anniversary Production… *drumroll* Cinderel-LAH! (My obsession with fairytales started with Rapunzel) I’ve been a huge fan of W!ld Rice for quite awhile now. I watched Dimsum Dollies last year, Fried Rice Paradise earlier this year and I’ve already booked tickets to watch Emily from Emerald Hill for March next year!

What I love about them is how they make theatre so accessible. By adapting stories to suit the local context, it’s really made theatre less intimidating and so there is less hesitation now for people to head out to watch a play/musical (at least my bf is less opposed to it now that it is less atas and cheem.)

So how was Cinderel-LAH? Did the star studded cast of Emma Yong, Sebastian Tan, Gurmit Singh, Chua En Lai, Darius Tan and Neo Swee Lin wow us?

 

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