April 13, 2014

The Wedding Singer by LASALLE Graduands

by Graduands of BA(Hons) Musical Theatre Programme

In a wayward manner, I feel like I have watched these students grow over the years. Having faithfully attended (all?) the past productions by this bunch of wonderful graduands, I have definitely seen them grow strength to strength. In fact, I am thrilled for them to end their Lasalle Education with such a successful production.

The Wedding Singer was a wonderful choice for the graduands to showcase their talent. Adapted from the 1998 film of the same title, the musical was your typical feel-good romantic comedy. That made the show easy to watch. The 2006 original Broadway version struck a chord deep within me - I still find myself humming the opening number, "Oh, when it's your wedding day; And my music starts to play". So I was particularly pleased when I heard the LASALLE students were going to do it. Of course, the students could not have the same standard of spot-on high-energy dance choreography as the professionals on Broadway. However, what the students lacked in experience, they made up for it (so much more) in their earnest version of the musical.

I would usually give credit to the creative team at the end, but I thought for this production, they were truly the brains and pillars and everything important and crucial for its success. Director Tony Knight was able to hold the plot progression so tightly. Every scene change was engaging and he never gave the audience a chance to switch their minds off. Nikki Snelson was the other genius behind the show. Her choreography for the students was simply amazing. There will always been a main act, but she had planted so many side "stories" in the background of the dances that every number (yes EVERY number) was appealing. Of course kudos to the students for working so hard on the dances but Nikki Snelson's choreography (for me) was the power behind the high energy propelling the show forward.

Kimberly Chan was wonderful. I was totally entranced by her dreamy hopeful little girl image. But when she sings... wow. I was blown over. It was truly heart warming to see that we have such a talented young actress in local theatre. I couldn't ask for more. Now to add her to my personal list of must-watch actresses.

Jordan Prainito started off a tad shaky. I guess it was the opening number of the opening night. So I thought the opening number was somewhat lacklustre. However, he warmed up very quickly and I could see how his charismatic cheeky nature got him the lead role. He may not have very consistent vocals, but he was definitely charming to watch on stage.

Renfred Ng was easy to notice - for being the only Chinese guy and being the jerk of a fiance. I have seen him in a couple of shows now and he has always been able to leave an impression. He has his charms on stage and when he danced, the vibrancy that exuded from his face was alluring. However, his vocals were not as memorable. This probably stemmed from the unnatural accent that he had during the show (and during Gypsy too I remember). I think it is perfectly normal not to have an "angmoh" accent - I thought Kimberly Chan had a good neutral accent - but it becomes particularly striking when there is a pretend-angmoh accent.

Hannah Lucas' vocals were mindblowing. Although her character was not supposed to have a lot of attention, her perky nature definitely caught my attention. Samantha Jean Kwok definitely got the fun role of playing the overly zealous grandmother, and that was very fun to see her add so much life and humour to the character. Chinie Concepcion was morbidly funny during her first appearance.

Unfortunately, I was unable to get a good chance to see everything on stage (as I said, Tony Knight and Nikki Snelson did a wonderful job with all the mini side-story arcs), but I am sure the rest of the students in the ensemble worked very hard too. Although I am unable to name one by one, as a whole they definitely left a good impression.

I really look forward to the next production by the subsequent batches of students. I think for a student production, Lasalle has definitely proven to be heads and shoulders above the other schools. I will even go out on a limb and say that the production standard is better than most professional local companies.

Well done.

P.s. I really thought this show was a good choice. It was something closer to the students' age than their last attempt at the revival of Gypsy. Patti LuPone - the oldest Mama Rose - was almost 60 when she did the show! How could our young students understand the conflicts/turmoils of Mama Rose?

April 7, 2014

ADV - #UnicornMoment by Checkpoint Theatre

Directed by Huzir Sulaiman & Shiv Tandan
Written and performed by Oon Shu An

She appears confident and bubbly, yet Shu An is uncertain of who she really is. All she knows is that she experiences flashes of clarity and insight that swiftly disappear - or, as she terms them, “unicorn moments”. As she delves into her past through interviews with people who have shaped her, Shu An hopes to translate her experiences from these pivotal milestones into a collection of life lessons.

Combining the craft of theatre with the immediacy of the Internet, #UnicornMoment will kick off with a series of online video podcasts* in March 2014 before culminating in a live theatre show. #UnicornMoment is a courageous and honest exploration of what it means to find happiness, meaning and your own way in life, amidst the push and pull of outside voices and societal standards.

(1hr 15mins, no intermission)

*Please visit youtube.com/user/CheckpointSG or http://bit.ly/1fmkPef to view the videos.

Thursday - Saturday
 8-10 May, 8pm

10 May, 3pm

Standard Price Category:
Tickets: $28
Savings Package of any 4 tickets: $90

Available Concessions:
Students: $10
NSFs and Senior Citizens: $19

April 6, 2014

Rising Son by SRT 03/04/14

I've never really had much impression of Dick Lee plays, except that they have a relatively easy story to follow, but are never really particularly groundbreaking or edgy.

Rising Son sort of fits that bill, and when I watched it, I thought it was a very good piece to stage for students, and would go over very well as a school production. That being said, the three actors were great in their roles and delivered a respectable performance that I enjoyed.

Rising Son was an awkward love triangle of a sorts, even if it never explicitly comes across as that way. Set in WWII Singapore, Rising Son tells the story of a young man (played by the ever youthful Tan Shou Chen) and his sister (recent Life! Theatre Award winner Seong Huixuan) growing up with a Japanese colonel (Caleb Goh) as a neighbour, and the strained relationship they have with him. Funny at times and able to bring out the visceral emotional horrors of war at others, I found the script pretty decent, though it definitely began to drag at times, and some of the lines could get repetitive and very in your face. Characters had their high points and low points, but Tan Shouchen was by far the strongest actor of the trio, bringing across his character's tension filled relationship with his neighbour, never entirely sure whether to trust him or not, giving in at times, but only briefly. Seong Huixuan's character reminded me a lot of her younger role in Pangdemonium!'s Gruesome Playground Injuries, embodying the same ideas of youth, the desire to break free of the mundane and embracing her feminity, emerging from a tomboy shell. Caleb Goh is a retty decent actor, and his character was ok, but there were many disturbing moments of unintentional implied pedophilia, and ultimately, the audience feels like Shouchen's character: unsure whether to believe this man and indulging his awkward kindness, yet always remaining wary of his intentions.

I thought the production value was pretty superb. A small but detailed set designed by Wong Chee Wai gave me a sense of claustrophobia, yet there was a certain sense of homeliness evoked from the old school furniture and gramophone, and a makeshift family feeling. The lighting and music and projection were also artfully done, with the team of Gabriel Chan and Ctrl Fre@k duo Jeffrey Yue and Wee Cheng Low creating a world that feels much removed from the war, yet feeling the effects of it and reeling from the pain it has caused it. Some very nice cloud projections were paired with a good soundtrack that evoked a sense of loss and uncertain peace. One thing I have to complain about is the long prelude, with headlines flashing across the stage pertaining to war. Feels unnecessary to create such a backdrop, as most of it is expanded on and explained properly later on. Also, it lasts at least 5 minutes, with headlines stuck onstage for at least 20 seconds. Super draggy start.

I was a little put off by the scene changes, where the actors did a lot of running in place and rushing from point to point onstage for no apparent reason. It was distracting and felt completely unnecessary, except maybe to buy time for the music and projection to sink into the audiences' minds, since set change was minimal. Didn't really make sense to me. For a relatively simple play with only 3 cast members though, the rest of the direction was good and it was enjoyable to follow the story and anticipate what would happen next.

Overall, Rising Son is a pretty good watch, although the staging could be a little awkward at times. It's not meant to be this way, but gawd, so much unresolved sexual tension abound in the play, which was really disturbing! Anyway, it's worth a watch, as a play that's universally appealing. With a few tweaks, it could be even better, and I sense this as a go to play to stage for students in future – easy enough, yet edgy and compelling enough to leave an impact on audience members.

JustWatchLah Rating: 3.5/5

March 26, 2014

The House of Bernada Alba by W!ld Rice 25/03/14

W!ld Rice brought us the all-male comedy Importance of Being Earnest back in 2009, now here's their showcase of the women of Singapore's theatre. Bringing together some of the very best female talents, Bernarda Alba is one heckuva depressing play, filled with angst, repression and girrrrrrrrl power. Sort of.

Bernarda Alba is an intense, dark piece. And I'm not just talking about how black is the central colour of the show. BA is the story of a despotic matriach (Bernada Alba, played by an intimidating Claire Wong) who exercises way too much control over her 5 daughters, placing them under an 8 year mourning period following the death of her second husband, and keeping them under lock and key. It's a very angry and politically charged piece, speaking out against tradition, against sexual repression, against a patriachal society, issues which still remain surprisingly relevant even today. It's depressing, because no one really wins, the family ends up broken apart over a single man (who never appears throughout the play) and by the end of it, you see that nothing has changed, even when extremities are taken and tragedy befalls the family.

Sometimes, it feels like a really catty play, with way too many divas onstage to handle. It's hard to like the characters, who are so flawed, so desperate, so pitiful, yet you really understand where they're coming from and you'll feel a wave of pity for them all. Clocking in at approximately 2 hours with no intermission, BA will leave your butts a little weary and can come off as slightly draggy at times, with a few in your face lines and lengthy banter/arguments between characters.

Still, when you have a cast as amazing as this, it's easy to forgive the play for its flaws. W!ld Rice really upped the expectations with so many veterans in the cast. I felt like most of them did a decent enough performance, but having seen most of them do so much more in other plays, perhaps I felt they fell a little short this time round. Claire Wong does a pretty terrifying job as Bernada Alba, but her performance felt somewhat restrained. Pretty sure she could have gone full tyrant instead of evil bordering-on-insane mother. I love Sharda Harrison, but her accent faltered at times (though all the emotional impact was there). Still, I thought she had an excellent monologue at the start of the play and the sexual nature of it really made me uncomfortable (in a good way!). The three favourite performances of the night were Jo Kukathas as the outspoken maid, Noorlinah Mohamed as the forgotten Martirio and best of all, Glory Ngim as the young, rebellious Adela. Glory was spunky, sharp and felt like she delivered all the essence of a repressed 20 year old girl onstage. The transformation from sulky youth to go-getter girl was remarkable and she truly was a joy to watch onstage. Karen Tan, Serene Chen and Neo Swee Lin's performances were a little hampered by their roles, but they all had a few winning one-liners as well. I'm surprised at how I was able to believe Neo Swee Lin's performance as the eldest daughter, despite the fact that she tends to take on elder, grandmotherly roles most of the time.

W!ld Rice has really outdone themselves with the lighting and set this time. The high, overbearing Peranakan style mansion (designed by Wong Chee Wai) coupled with the lighting by Lim Yu Beng, creates an ominous, heavy atmosphere of foreboding, instilling fear and darkness in the audience. The night scenes are particularly interesting, with a nice, even distribution of light illuminating the characters just enough to be seen, yet also overcast with linear shadows to partially mask them. And where the heck did that mini-waterfall even come from?! Stroke of genius.

Ivan Heng shows us that there are 50 shades of black as well with his costume design, incorporating slight tweaks to each individual characters' various dresses to showcase their personality, which I found to be a very nice touch. The extra details go a very long way.

Overall, this was an interesting choice by W!ld Rice to begin their 2014 season with. Unfortunately, even though I loved it, it doesn't seem to be selling as well as they'd hoped, perhaps because of its dark nature. Nevertheless, W!ld Rice has never been one to shy away from bringing controversial, groundbreaking plays to our shores, and with a stellar cast and top notch production work, Bernada Alba has swooped in and started off the year strong. Definitely worth a watch.

JustWatchLah Rating: 4/5

March 16, 2014

The House Of Bernarda Alba, 13 March 2014, Drama Centre Theatre

I'm guessing I watched this before my fellow blogger, hikaru, but only managed to post this today.

It was my first time catching a W!ld Rice production - literally a spur-of-the-moment purchase while collecting tickets for another show.

However, unlike hikaru, I'm unable to provide an equal amount of high praise.

It wasn't bad at all - the set is truly magnificent, one of the most beautiful I've ever seen. And performances were good, though not as powerful as I'd hoped.

Perhaps the hype got the better of me. W!ld Rice's website proclaims this is "one of the world's greatest plays", and possibly Spanish playwright Federico García Lorca's "finest" work. Then there's the dramatic description, including words like "tyrannical", "oppressive", "tensions swirl and emotions run high", "bitter rivalries" and "repressed sexuality".

I really expected FIREWORKS.

The end result, sadly, did not live up to these bold statements. Granted, the cast gave it everything they had, but after a while, I couldn't quite buy into the premise of 5 grown women bowing to their overbearing mother's will so obediently. And yes, I'm aware that the story is set during a different time, in a different place, with sociocultural norms which deviate severely from modern standards. ( I'm a fan of English literature classics, so themes of oppression / repression aren't foreign to me. )

To be honest, it's difficult to put my finger on the exact thing that kept me from enjoying the play. Aside from the gorgeous set, there were a few nice touches like the procession of female mourners clad in black veils and singing in unison, and an unexpected rainfall segment which looked amazing on stage.

As for the lead actresses, I find no fault with their individual performances. However, it did bother me that up till the finale, I still couldn't tell 2 or 3 of the daughter characters apart. Perhaps a subtle costume design or accessory would've helped? The names are also very unwieldy - e.g. Angustias, Martirio, etc. - and was distracting as I tried to not only remember them but also associate them correctly with each actress.

The standouts are predictable - Claire Wong as monster matriarch Bernarda, Glory Ngim as feisty youngest daughter Adela, Margaret Chan as deranged grandma Maria Josefa ( including the mooning bit during the opener :)).

Personally, I think Wong could've turned up the nastiness a few notches. Sure, Bernarda uses her walking stick to hantam her wayward offspring a couple of times, but there're other ways to convey venom and strike fear into the hearts of audience members. hikaru was quaking in his boots, but my threshold is waaaay higher. Perhaps tweaking a few line deliveries or having more pauses in dialogue to incorporate appropriate body language might help?

Finally, my choice for breakout performance: without a doubt, Glory Ngim ( Adela ). Her prominence skyrocketed in the final 30 minutes, propelling the 2-hour show after momentum started to dip. I haven't seen her on stage before, but this first encounter is most impressive. Her portrayal of rebellious and tragic Adela is captivating.

In case you're wondering, hikaru's male and I'm female. Whether our chromosomal makeups contributed to the widely differing opinions is open to debate, or maybe I just couldn't connect with this particular work ( has happened with other local productions before ).

I'm just one voice in a sea of many. Don't take my word for it - please watch and decide for yourself. It won't be a wasted evening. :)

The House of Bernarda Alba by W!ld Rice

written by Federico García Lorca, directed by Glen Goei

A truly breath-taking piece.

The play won me over very early in the night: the grandiose of the opening scene where the entire ensemble of mourning women in black solemnly entering on stage. Wow. Glen Goei (with his set designer Wong Chee Wai) really did a fantastic job.

The House of Bernarda Alba dealt with one of my least favorite (and perhaps most common) theme of "breaking free under a tight reign", looking for freedom (or using everyone's new favourite catchphrase "let it go").

The play was oestrogen-enriched. Under the monarchy of Bernarda Alba, this family of women was ordered to mourn for the death of Bernarda Alba's second husband for a explicitly stated length of eight years. We saw how Bernarda Alba exerted her tight unrelenting reign on the women in the house, not sparring even her own mother. Claire Wong did a fantastic job as Bernarda Alba, sending chills down my spine whenever she looked in my direction in the audience. It was very moving (but mostly daunting). I would be very afraid to be near her. Her golden moment was her concluding scene where she declared that Adela must die as a virgin, and no one was to cry. The tremble in her voice, that stumble in her step at that time.. It was a good performance. Our usual theatrical powerhouses (the likes of Karen Tan, Neo Swee Lin, Serene Chen) were unfortunately not as prominent in this play - perhaps there was no room for them to be. Claire Wong effectively intimated everyone in the play.

Another amazing part of the play was the script. The suffocating iron fist ruling was nicely balanced by the comedic moments. Federico García Lorca capitalized the pent-up sexual tensions of the women and  incorporated many lewl jokes/moments in the play. Against the stifling atmosphere in the house, these crass moments (tastefully done by Glen Goei no less) actually became well received by the audience (as a mood changer), and also accentuating the desperate pleas from the women in the house. Of course, Sharda Harrison played a huge part in this, and her character kept the play in check. I felt it was rather genius.

I could not stop admiring the picturesque quality of the play. Even the death at the end was so elegantly done. It was such an aesthetically pleasing piece to watch, and it was really a good evening spent. Even as I left the theatre, I kept reminding myself.. wow, Glen Goei did a great job. (have i mentioned this in my opening line already? haha it was really beautiful)

Perhaps it was really because of the all female cast, I really felt there was something sorely missing in the play. Missing not in the sense that it was something bad, but missing in that I felt hollow for the characters on stage. They have been deprived of something in their lives... or maybe they have been deprived of their lives.... and that was a powerful emotion.


Justwatchlah score: 4/5

P.s. I liked how the house just closed onto darkness without the usual W!ld Rice thank-the-whole-world curtain call. that added to the solemn mood of the play. It made me walked out of the theatre... rather terrified (in a good way). wow.

A Singaporean in Paris by Singtheatre

written by Alison Jean Lester, directed by Hossan Leong

I have been deeply inspired to learn French after watching this.

First and most importantly, I think this show should be renamed a revue and not a true musical. I was admittedly caught off guard thinking that it was a musical and started feeling increasingly dissatisfied when there was not much of a storyline. The premise of the plot, a Singaporean singer made a short stint in Paris, was merely a frame for the songs. It set the background for some interesting nuggets of Singa-Paris culture contrast (lol at the fish head), but it was really never meant to go more than that.

It was a good showcase of song and dance. I know I've seen Linden Furnell and Mina Kaye just quite recently at "The Last Five Years", but I thought I would want to reiterate that these two relatively new actors are an absolute joy to watch on stage. Linden Furnell and his cheeky tap dancing, prancing around energetically on stage, I thought that was a joy to watch. Mina Kaye and her beautiful voice.. It was really nice to see the both of them. Vicky Williamson was one gorgeous actress whom I have not seen before. I loved how she conducted herself in a sexy sophisticated manner, alluring and enticing. When she started singing, I was moved. Hossan Leong was unfortunately a tad out of place - I was not sure if it were because he was the director but he seemed to be underutilized in this revue. Hossan is incredibly talented but I was really hoping to see more of his wit/charm and just the random mention of fish head curry. It did not showcase his comedic side. And Peter Ong - since I last saw him in Company - has really not a big role. His character made him somewhat lackluster and there wasn't any jaw-dropping moments for him...

Taking a step back, perhaps it is once again useful to remind myself to see it as a revue. And it was a fun way to hear wonderful French songs live and many people in the audience enjoyed themselves. I think that's important. Wong Chee Wai created a lovely stage design, which I thought set the mood for Paris quite nicely. I would however have loved to see other parts of this Paris and not everything inside the cabaret. But nonetheless, it was an enjoyable afternoon and it got me stepping out of the theater humming the songs.. Les comediens. It really made me want to learn French. It's such a beautiful language!

But perhaps in terms of plot and story... and the connecting bits... well...they were really underdeveloped and used mainly as a vehicle for the songs to come on. But but as I said, it's really a revue. Don't go in looking for storyline.

Justwatchlah score: 3/5