July 5, 2015

Upcoming Shows at Marina Bay Sands

Click here for the full lineup.

First on the list is Singin' In The Rain, based on the movie musical starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds.

I recently saw the film and loved it immensely. Hilarious and filled with beautiful songs and spectacular dance numbers.

Fans of the Jersey Boys production which graced the MBS Theatre in late 2012 / early 2013 will remember Grant Almirall, who dazzled as Frankie Valli. He's back, taking the lead role in SITR.

Another Jersey Boys alumnus, Kenneth Grant Meyer ( who played Bob Gaudio ), is also returning with SITR. They're both great actors, I'm really looking forward to seeing them. :)

Since I'm a stage musical addict, I must of course highlight the other shows already scheduled - Guys And Dolls, Saturday Night Fever, Ghost and Sister Act.

It may not be financially possible to catch every single one of them, but you can't beat the variety. There's something for everyone!

June 28, 2015

Another Country by W!ld Rice

Directed by Ivan Heng & Jo Kukathas
Curated by Alfian Sa'at & Leow Puay Tin
Photo Credits: Wong Horng Yih, courtesy of W!ld Rice

Someone just give Siti Khalijah my textbook and get her to read it out loud. She has this incredible ability of stealing the show in every word she delivers.

Overall, the evening was well spent. Of course, I can't give the production team the credit for the individual lines (they belong to their respective writers), but I must give credit to the production team for the wonderful selection of works. I was admittedly unfamiliar with the Malaysian works (except Stella Kon's Emily Hill), but it did not stop me from marvelling. Sa'at and Leow have evidently spent a lot of effort in their selection. The result was an exquisite composition of literary works, varied in their cast number, tempo, language (dialects even) and most impeccable topics. From Michael Chiang's work on transsexuals to an animated cooking of Chicken Rice, it was like a "jukebox play". Not at all piecemeal in its delivery, but gave the audience a sampling opportunity of some of the finest works Malaysia and Singapore has to offer.

The acting ensembles from both countries were undoubtedly very strong. The cast of the Malaysian ensemble was new to me, but they were very impressive no doubt. They were individually very strong too but Anne James stood out easily as the most evocative one. It was a pleasure to see her on stage. Direction was ensemble-centric and individuality played out much less. I particularly liked Mama Looking for Her Cat as well as the final haiku.

Maybe because of familiarity to the Singapore ensemble, there was a greater connection even though they were playing Malaysian works (but oh come on, there really isn't much difference between Singaporean and Malaysian writers lah, we are so intertwined haha). There is no doubt in the acting prowess of the powerhouses like Janice Koh, Lim Yu Beng.. but my all time favourite (as highlighted in my opening line) is Siti Khadijah. I don't think any of my readers are unaware of my undying praise for her - and I must have said this is every review how I love she plays the "typical minah" so well, and yet in every show she must nail another character (completely un-minah), and in this case it was the American granny. Many of the pieces' direction left an impact on me, from the comical chicken rice and personification of ingredients (genius!), to the political agenda infested introduction of Malaysian constitution, or the exclusion of 5? pieces of work using the tikam tikam selection (poor stella kon who came and didn't see her work).. Ivan Heng as usual amazed me.

Unfortunately, the whole show left me with an unsatisfied feeling. Not that it's a bad thing. It presented me with bite size sneaks of so many works and I found myself picking up my old copy of Eleanor Wong's Campaign to Confer the Public Service Start on JBJ and rereading it again. I guess the point of this production was never to tell a story, but a teaser/a showcase/an exhibition of the best we have to offer. And on this aspect, I congratulate W!ld Rice on a job well done.

Justwatchlah score: 4/5

June 10, 2015


I hesitated a lot before penning this review. Because I know that by the end of this review, I will probably sound like a pompous armchair critique. But a couple of my friends watched the play and had wanted me to share my views on it and so I guess.. Here goes :/

I thought fundamentally the biggest issue with the musical was its packaging. Why call it Singapura and why inundate it with publicity promising to showcase Singapura and set itself up for disappointment? I guess it was the pretentious nature of the whole musical that did not sit well with me. If you had just wanted it to be about the love story, title it appropriately. Don't attempt to ravish the production by a grandiose title like Singapura.

The storyline was essentially... West Side Story/R&J/Miss Saigon/most classic love stories. Girl lives in troubled times, meets "undesirable/unacceptable" guy, falls in love and now deals with the struggle against the troubled societal backdrop. I guess nothing surprisingly, nothing too wrong, but nothing too spectacular.

The first act was excruciatingly slow. The amount of time spent building the script "up to its name" made the entire Act I too draggy without any real development. I had no idea what the show was about. Thankfully, when the musical began to clean off its fluff in the second act, where I saw more story and character development, I actually found myself better able to watch the show.

Not to be racist but a play about Singapura performed in Singapore by an almost entire cast of non-Singaporeans? I understand that the actors in Lion King are not actual animals but the lack of the Singaporean flavour was too apparent for my consumption. The paucity of Singaporean accent, to say the least, made it very hard to swallow.

The songs were fairly decent - I say that because I actually did not cringe as much as I did for some parts of the show. The ensemble numbers were unfortunately lost in technicality cos I could barely make out muffled sounds. The choreography was unfortunately too mechanical and rigid for my liking. Singing for the duets/solos were better as they were not drowned by the music. But I must add that the actors themselves were good singers.

I guess its no secret that I really really did not enjoy the show. Did the production team put in efforts? I am sure they did. But it was not something which I will watch.

Justwatchlah score: 1/5

June 4, 2015

Tribes by Pangdemonium! - 3 June 2015, Drama Centre Theatre

Over the past 5 years, Pangdemonium has gradually established itself as a major force in the local theatre scene, and Tribes once again cements that reputation.

Due to work commitments, I didn't manage to catch any of its productions after February 2014's Fat Pig, so last night's experience felt like an invigorating cold drink after trudging through a neverending desert!

My fellow blogger, hikaru, has already posted a rave review, and I fully echo his sentiments. A synopsis is available on Pangdemonium's website and other Internet sources, although it doesn't necessarily shed much light on the actual story itself ( a good thing, I assure you ).

As always, the ensemble cast is exceptional, featuring a few actors I'm familiar with, as well as others I'm seeing for the first time.

Adrian Pang, who never disappoints, is a riot as patriarch Christopher - a multilingual academic who, ironically, lacks a verbal filter and utilizes language in tactless, hurtful ways.
Sue Tordoff plays the mum, Beth, who has heated, witty arguments with Christopher and their children. Lots of great chemistry, but I do wish her character had been given more dialogue and zingy one-liners. Ask playwright, Nina Raine, why this didn't happen.

Frances Lee, who played the lead in Fat Pig brilliantly last year, has a more secondary role this time - as sister Ruth, an aspiring soprano at loggerheads with her disapproving father. Whiny but sharp-tongued, Ruth has a number of standout moments and provides comic relief in many scenes, but the majority of these occur in a large group setting, so Frances' immense talent isn't quite so obvious here.

Thomas Pang, treading the boards for the first time, is a gem of a find. I've always praised Pangdemonium for its admirable ability to discover and nurture new/young talent, and Thomas joins an illustrious list that includes Julia Abueva, Nathan Hartono, Eden Ang and George Young.
As protagonist Billy, deaf but taught to lip read and speak rather than sign, Thomas' speech pattern remains altered from beginning to end, with a couple of long scenes involving rapid, complicated sign language - all executed so precisely that I, like my fellow blogger ( and many other audience members, I'm sure ), started to wonder whether he could be hearing impaired in real life. ( The answer is no, according to online articles which confirm that he attended sign language classes while preparing for the role. I also spotted him chatting with fans after the show, but didn't have a chance to congratulate him personally. )
I can't comment on the quality of the signing itself, but to me, it looked extremely convincing, and for a stage debut, this really is one helluva role to take on. He did an incredible job, bravo!

Ethel Yap is another standout as Sylvia, the girl Billy falls in love with and who changes his life completely. Spunky and opinionated, she challenges Christopher's preconceptions about the deaf community and inadvertently influences Billy's own outlook, resulting in an explosive family confrontation.
Another actor I'm seeing for the first time, she blew me away completely - first, in a tense scene where Billy issues his relatives a shocking ultimatum ( Sylvia verbally translates his frantic signing, but Ethel infuses her speech with gut-wrenching emotion ), and next, in a more intimate exchange between Billy and Sylvia, where the latter reveals pain and frustration about her disability, so well-hidden beneath a bright, bubbly exterior.
This, by the way, was the scene that moved me to tears. Partly because Ethel is amazing in it, and partly because I know people with disabilities and illnesses and understand their torment.
Really impressed! :)

Last but not least is Gavin Yap. He first hit my radar in Fat Pig - my review is available here - and I'm still very upset that he was the only cast member not nominated at this year's Life! Theatre Awards.
Tribes marks the third play I've seen him in ( Red was the second - another superb performance ), and his portrayal of Daniel again demonstrates abundant versatility. He showcases his flair for comedy as well as drama, using Daniel's neurosis / psychosis to his advantage. I don't quite fancy the way Raine writes for this character ( i.e. too much going on in one person - does happen in reality, but results in an unequal distribution of subplots in the play ) but Gavin has lots to chew on, and he definitely delivers.

Congratulations yet again to director Tracie Pang for helming another masterpiece! I don't consider Raines' writing earth-shaking, so a lot of credit goes to her and the cast for interpreting the material in a way that makes for compelling viewing.
I also can't praise everyone enough for the chemistry displayed on stage - you really believe it's a genuine family up there. For me, it's one of the most vital ingredients in any theatrical performance. Zero chemistry will undo even the greatest dialogue and the most beautiful songs.

One aspect of Raines' writing that did stay with me is the discussion about sign versus spoken language in expressing emotions. Whether humour or sarcasm is lost in signing, because tone of voice is considered essential, and sign language has limited vocabulary.
I may not be able to answer this question from the perspective of a hearing impaired person, but based on what I saw in Tribes, sign language is just as eloquent and evocative as the spoken word, if not more so. We may consider deaf people disabled, but if you think about it, we're the ones who don't know their lingo and lack the ability to communicate.

The show will end this weekend but it's doing extremely well so my review doesn't matter ( haha ). However, if you haven't seen it yet, please do so. And mark your calendars for all future Pangdemonium productions, because they do fantastic work, and new talents always blossom under their guidance.
Chinglish will launch in October this year. I will be there! :)

May 24, 2015

Tribes by Pangdemonium

It's been a while since I watched something so moving.

The play Tribes has a wonderful script as backing. Winner of the 2012 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Play, Nina Raine has written a touching yet hilarious script. I cannot count the number of times I walked out of the theatre telling my friend, "it was a really good script." Tribes belongs to my favourite kind of script - non-pretentious simple clean storyline, with a simple message to tell. Undoubtedly the hardest kind of script to write.

The choice of usage of sign language allowed parallel conversations to occur within the play and that naturally added another dimension to the show. I found myself very drawn to Sylvia's and Billy's silent conversation - so engrossed in the silence to the extent that I could almost hear the words.

Naturally, the generally strong ensemble made it a very attractive piece. The veterans such as Adrian Pang and Susan Tordoff were a joy to watch - injecting their quirks into creating the eccentric and yet believable parenting figures. Frances Lee and Gavin Yap were no new faces as well (I think I last saw them in Fat Pig) and this time they also took on slightly crazier character profiles - and it was endearing to watch. Thomas Pang - a new face - was indeed refreshing. I find myself wondering now if he could actually speak properly :S And there was a nice transition in his character - how he shed his initial boyish charm, to the determined goal-getting towards the climax before culminating in his resigned state. Ethel Yap had the biggest challenge I felt. For a character like Sylvia, it was both taxing to portray the verbal lines as well as the physical sign language. That was one aspect which I felt not as convincing.

Overall, the set up was wonderful. I really enjoyed how the family dynamics unfolded and each layer of depth is added to every character as the scenes progressed. I was particularly fond of the set design because it gave a very homely, rustic feel to this family. Somewhat perfect and orderly, but somewhat awkward at the same time.

I would recommend this show not only to people who want to know more about the hearing impaired, but actually to anyone who is going through a personal struggle and is looking for acceptance and perhaps support from their loved ones.

Justwatchlah score: 4.5/5

May 18, 2015

The Pajama Game by Lasalle BA(Hons) Musical Theatre

Every year when I watch the graduating piece by the Lasalle students, I cannot help but feel like a parent (okay, maybe an uncle since I was never directly involved in their growth). Cos I remember some of the students from the previous production and it was encouraging to see them mature as a practitioner over the year.

Usually I am very encouraging towards student productions and the students of Lasalle have been putting up good shows for the past years. This year, however, I must say that I wasn't particularly impressed.

The Pajama Game is a fairly dated musical, having its roots in 1950s. As a result, the storyline was somewhat slow and predictable. However, the same show did win a best revival Tony award in 2006 (that's how I knew about the musical). So I am sure there are ways to spice things up.

Nikki Snelson, as usual, did an awesome job with staging and choreographing. However, what was not as exciting were some cast members. Not to name any one (come on, they are students), but if the singers couldn't really sing for a musical, then it becomes really kind of boring. Catherine Campion however, was one of those who could really hold her note and it was a pleasure to see her on stage. But some of the cast members even looked awkward on stage :S

I usually write my reviews by second day after watching a show but this one took really long. Hmm..

April 26, 2015

SSO Pops: John Williams Extravaganza - Esplanade Concert Hall, 24 April 2015

This was my first SSO Pops concert, and the result was so spectacular that I sorely regret not attending its previous performances ( partly because I wasn't aware of its existence initially, then conflict with my work schedule last year ).

FYI, I've been a HUGE John Williams fan since I saw Superman, Star Wars and Raiders Of The Lost Ark during my early childhood. I am completely obsessed with movies, but their soundtracks add an entirely different dimension to the experience, and Williams is undoubtedly the finest film composer of our time.

I admit to feeling apprehensive as the lights dimmed and conductor Jason Lai cued the orchestra for the opening numbers from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, as I didn't know what to expect. But the second I heard the first few notes, a big smile spread across my face, and I remained like this for the next 2 hours.

Aside from Star Wars episode I, the repertoire also included pieces from episode IV ( The Imperial March gave me chills! ), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Memoirs of a Geisha, Born on the Fourth of July, Angela's Ashes, Catch Me If You Can and Jurassic Park.

The set list ran the gamut from well-known and much loved classics to more obscure tunes, but thanks to Williams' incomparable musical virtuosity and the orchestra's graceful interpretation - under Lai's confident leadership, of course - every melody was absolutely breath-taking and, except for a couple of shaky notes towards the last 15 minutes of the show, otherwise flawlessly executed.

Most people assume that film scores are easy to play, but Williams has a distinctive style which presents a multitude of challenges, ranging from impossibly high notes to complex rhythms. I've heard his renowned themes mangled by other ensembles, but heartily congratulate the SSO Pops for doing his work great justice.

Jason Lai was a wonderful host - warm and hospitable to the audience ( "A full house!" he happily announced ), effusively sharing anecdotes during the intro for each piece, repeatedly declaring his excitement about the upcoming release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
( I have the film's poster art as my handphone wallpaper, so I know exactly how he feels! )
Speaking with a crisp British accent, he regaled us with fascinating tales, peppering them with his own humorous personal observations. One which really tickled my funny bone was his description of the score for the Jurassic Park theme and how the notes on the page mirrored a dinosaur's long neck. ( The written word doesn't convey the joke well at all; his physical reenactment - plus humming - was hilarious. :))

The playful lighting effects did not escape my attention and enhanced the atmosphere significantly, especially during The Imperial March, when 2 spots of light - 1 red, 1 green - raced around the stage, representing the lightsabre duel.

For the encore, we were treated to a rousing rendition of The Flying Theme from E.T. - a dazzling conclusion to a magical evening. The audience cheered non-stop and begged for more, but alas, our wish wasn't fulfilled.

I am truly impressed with Lai and the SSO Pops! I've been craving a local ensemble like this for so long, and couldn't be more pleased with what I heard and saw. I looked through its previous repertoires and hope Lai will consider the following for future concerts:

Musicals - Rodgers & Hammerstein, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein, Frederick Loewe

Music from Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks animated films

Tributes to other great film composers - John Powell ( How To Train Your Dragon! ), Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, John Barry, Alexandre Desplat, Dario Marianelli, Howard Shore.

Popular classics

I fully intend to attend every single SSO Pops show that features mainstream music if I can, and bring along my cousin's 2 teenage daughters as well. I completed Grade 8 in classical piano but have never been able to appreciate heavy duty compositions ( even Mozart, Chopin and Tchaikovsky wrote their fair share of obscure pieces ), and I'm sure many others feel the same way. The SSO Pops provides a healthy alternative which will connect with a much larger audience and whet their appetite for orchestral performances.

No news about their next show yet. I will keep an eye out for the announcement and let you know. :)