[Theatre Review] Dollar Store Emily

Emily The Musical

n.b. I would like to inform my readers that I am currently a project-based intern with Checkpoint Theatre for their upcoming production, The Last Bull: A Life in Flamenco. However, I strongly believe that this does not affect the integrity of my critique. Views expressed are my own.

Emily the Musical

Musical Theatre Ltd

21 May 2016, 3pm

SOTA Studio Theatre

20–22 May 2016

Being an iconic play, Emily of Emerald Hill has gone through many guises. The titular character, Mrs Emily Gan, has poured her heart out to thousands of people in theatres big and small. Thus, it comes as no surprise that the next progression would be a musical adaptation of the play.

Taking on the task of writing the book and lyrics, Stella Kon reworks her original play into more of a retrospective. Emily’s grandson, Bin Seong (Mark Nicodemus Tan), visits her on his break from studying in Vancouver. He brings his girlfriend, Mei Choon (Jasmine Blundell), along who asks Emily about her past to learn more about the family. Throughout the course of the show, Emily recounts various moments of her life.

Despite it being a monodrama, the story of Emily starting out as a young wife in an arranged marriage, and gaining the worldly-wise to manoeuvre the ins and outs of household politics contains endless possibilities for a musical. Unfortunately, Musical Theatre Ltd seems preoccupied with the form of a musical, rather than the content.

Kon ruins the show with her stilted and banal dialogue. The lines seem to be mere fillers before another character bursts out into song. Most of the characters lack clear motivation to do anything. To get to the scene in which Emily talks about her eldest son, Richard, who—spoilers ahead!—eventually commits suicide, Mei Choon asks Bin Seong if he knows anything about his uncle. He replies no and suddenly says “let’s go” so that both characters can exit the scene.

While we see a slightly different side of Emily in different moments of her life, the lack of plot details and build-up paints a schizophrenic rather than a complex image of her.

As for the music, Desmond Moey’s songs are pleasant, but very forgettable. Additionally, there are too many songs and it feels as if they are there to fulfil some quota of songs so that the show can be considered a musical. The only stand-out song is Manis-Manis (sweet-sweet) as the melody is reminiscent of songs from the 1950s, and not some generic ballad.

While it is understandable that the musical has to be staged in a black box due to budget constraints, director Sonny Lim does the show a further injustice with his relatively static blocking. The actors seem hemmed in by the space, and Emerald Hill—which is described as a “rambling mansion”—feels like a matchbox apartment.

That said, set designer Chris Chua must be praised for making do with the space by creating three tiers of tiled flooring against a triptych, which forms the walls of the mansion. The uppermost tier is the main entrance, the middle represents the main hall, while the last tier becomes the other quarters in the mansion or the street outside.

In the programme notes, director Sonny Lim insists that Emily the Musical is not Emily of Emerald Hill set to music. He is right.

Emily the Musical is a dollar store adaptation of the original.

Other Reviews 

“Theatre review: Emily The Musical presents a diminished matriarch” by Boon Chan, The Straits Times Life!

“Emily Goes Broadway” by Jocelyn Chng, Centre 42 Citizens’ Reviews

“Emily the Musical” by Jorah Yu, Centre 42 Citizens’ Reviews

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