July 18, 2015

Review - Disney On Classic, The Star Performing Arts Centre, 17 July 2015

Disney On Classic's inaugural tour of Southeast Asia is one of the best things that's ever happened, and profuse thanks go out to everyone who made this possible!

The Disney empire has remained strong for generations, with a huge part of its success coming from its animated films and catchy soundtracks, the latest being Frozen, which earned a gazillion dollars at the box office and made Let It Go an anthem for girls all over the world.

This concert's set list, however, opted for a broader spectrum, with selections from classics like Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Cinderella, to more modern favourites such as The Little Mermaid, Tangled and Frozen.

It was a happy trip down memory lane as I listened to orchestral and vocal performances of Someday My Prince Will Come, Heigh-Ho and A Dream Is A Wish Your Heart Makes - songs I'd memorized as a child, with lyrics I can still regurgitate without any effort.

Act One concluded with an instrumental medley of pieces from Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. The kids got a little restless, but the adults loved it! Two people in my group of 6 - a 19-year-old girl and a man - named this segment among their favourites.


After the intermission, things really started cooking. The Little Mermaid was incredible! Kayla Roy sang Part Of Your World perfectly, sounding exactly like Jodi Benson who voiced Ariel in the film, and Carlyn Connolly was powerful as Ursula in Poor Unfortunate Souls. Under The Sea literally brought the house down! This song is tough in a live setting because you don't have the frenetic visuals from the movie, but the 3 tenors - Rob Hancock, Joey DeBenedetto and Chris Blem - were so entertaining, and the choreography ( simple yet comically cheeky ) added tonnes to the festive atmosphere.

Tangled also features lots of great songs, but something amazing happened when I heard them sung live. The musical arrangement wasn't changed, so I can only attribute the effect to the setting itself. This was most evident during 2 numbers: the upbeat I've Got A Dream, and the romantic I See The Light.


The latter deserves to be highlighted, because this was THE magical moment of the evening, at least for me. I know the scene well, but this performance melted my heart and brought tears to my eyes. Mandy Dickson's sweet voice soared, and Joey DeBenedetto's gentle reply gave me chills. It was the first time I really paid attention to the lyrics:

And at last I see the light
And it's like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it's like the sky is new
And it's warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted

All at once everything looks different,
Now that I see you


It took my breath away! I will remember this forever. :)

Frozen was the grand finale, and the kids' excitement was evident, as little heads bobbed up and down in the seats. The entire medley was extremely well done, perhaps because the singers and orchestra were fully warmed up and ready to give it everything they had. 9-year-old Sasha Suhandinata was adorable as young Princess Anna, belting Do You Want To Build A Snowman with gusto. And Jodi Bluestein's rendition of Let It Go was flawless! But Chris Blem's bubbly In Summer was the most well-received.


For the encore, the audience sang along with the cast as the orchestra played When You Wish Upon A Star. Another exquisite moment to treasure, as I love this piece so much, and the lyrics mean even more now that I've hit the next decade of my life.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do

Fate is kind
She brings to those who love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing

Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true



When Walt Disney pioneered animated films, he included music as a vital ingredient, but Disney songs in particular have always been a cut above the rest, combining unforgettable melodies with lyrics that a child can recite. But they also convey profound meaning and draw upon our deepest emotions. I, for one, can't imagine a world without Disney songs! It would be a terribly depressing place.

Compliments to musical director / conductor Brad Kelley for leading the orchestra so splendidly, although there were a few minor issues with the audio component, causing certain vocal segments to sound muffled and lack of the oomph factor during Pirates of the Caribbean.

But I think the singers deserve the highest accolades - they've performed the same numbers countless times but their enthusiasm is genuine and infectious. I totally believe they're enjoying themselves thoroughly on that stage. It must be one of the best jobs in the universe!

The curtain calls went on forever. Thank you for a truly magical night! I wish you all the best for the rest of the tour, and please come back soon. :)

July 15, 2015

Review - Singin' In The Rain, Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre, 14 July 2015


Musicals come in many forms, but the appeal of the classic musical comedy endures through the ages, and this was clearly evident the night I watched this marvelous production.

Featuring a stellar South African cast, the show was endlessly entertaining, with beautiful vocal and dance performances, costumes and props bursting with vivid colour, and perfect comic timing.

While I'm familiar with the movie which starred Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds, I was pleasantly surprised by how different the stage musical is, and how these differences still preserve the magic of the original film yet, in some ways, enhance it.

For example, the first time Hollywood heartthrob Don Lockwood meets starlet Kathy Selden was a car scene in the movie, but converted to ( correct me if I'm wrong ) a bus or train station on stage. The dynamics change significantly but work equally well, thanks to great chemistry and wonderful acting.

The song list is also altered, following that featured in the 2012 London revival, but aside from the change in sequence, all the best tracks are retained.

When I saw the film, I immediately fell in love with the music, especially gorgeous melodies like You Are My Lucky Star, You Were Meant For Me, Good Morning and of course, Singin' In The Rain. And much credit goes to the cast for performing them so flawlessly.

Bethany Dickson ( Kathy ) literally has the voice of an angel. Her renditions of You Are My Lucky Star and Would You? were breath-taking and the entire theatre was completely enthralled.

Steven Van Wyk provided lots of laughs as Don's best friend, Cosmo, demonstrating eye-popping agility and stamina during Make 'Em Laugh.

Lead actor Grant Almirall was recuperating from an injury so Duane Alexander stepped in for the evening. He was delightful as Don - boyishly charming, with a lovely voice and a flair for comedy. And that solo number at the end of Act One, where he leapt around the stage and playfully splashed water on audience members in the first few rows - I was seated quite far back and still felt his exuberance! It's visually stunning, but he also conveyed his character's joy. And we reciprocated with loud cheers at the end of the scene. He truly deserved them!

Special mention goes to Kenneth Grant Meyer. Like Grant and Duane, Kenneth is also a Jersey Boys alumnus ( he played Bob Gaudio ). And although he has a more peripheral role this time, he does have 2 prominent scenes - Beautiful Girls ( in which he wears a pilot's uniform ) and Moses Supposes ( he plays a speech coach in a high-octane slapstick bit ). I love his voice, and the audience remembered him well, judging from the enthusiastic response during the curtain call!

Last but not least is Taryn-Lee Hudson, who plays the very blonde and very bimbotic Lina Lamont. This character was funny in the film, but in this production, she practically steals the show. I can't praise Taryn-Lee enough for the brilliant performance. She's so good that in Act Two, I saw people around me leaning forward in their seats every time she appeared.
And her solo, What's Wrong With Me? ( not in the movie ) was priceless! Taryn-Lee can sing ( she's another Jersey Boys alumnus ), but should get a Tony for acting tone deaf in such a convincing manner. I thought Jean Hagen was terrific in the film, but Taryn-Lee is spectacular.

My compliments to the rest of the cast and crew as well. The group routines were breath-taking, especially the closing number where the entire ensemble got drenched and twirled brightly coloured umbrellas. The sets are beautiful and the orchestra is top-notch. I'm particularly impressed with the black-and-white movie montages - it's better that you enjoy them without any spoilers. Definitely one of the highlights of the show!

I initially thought people here may not be able to appreciate this musical, since the story is set in 1920s Hollywood and caters to a rather specific taste. Neither does it boast blockbuster names like Rodgers & Hammerstein, Andrew Lloyd Webber or Cameron Mackintosh. But last night, we were all transported back in time and totally enchanted by what we saw and heard. For me, it is one of the best stage musical experiences I've ever had.

Singin' In The Rain runs at the Marina Bay Sands Grand Theatre until 2 August. Don't miss it!

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

Singapura

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