[Listing] Beauty World

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This November, legendary duo Dick Lee and Michael Chiang reunite once again for Singapore’s number one musical, the iconic Beauty World!

This much-beloved musical, which has seen multiple stagings since its debut at the Singapore Arts Festival in 1988, traces the adventures of a small-town girl from Batu Pahat who sets out on a quest to find her father in Singapore With a mysterious jade pendant as her only clue, she winds up in a dubious cabaret, where she learns some heartbreaking truths about love and life.

This revival, which features Michael Chiang’s revised script from 2008, will be directed for the first time by co-creator and composer Dick Lee. The production will bring an exciting ensemble of formidable talents from theatre and television.

TV star Jeanette Aw sizzles as Lulu, the beautiful but vindictive cabaret queen, while Malaysian talent Cheryl Tan brings wide-eyed charm to the role of Ivy Chan, our innocent protagonist. Adding her touch of class to the mix is seasoned actress Janice Koh, appearing in her first musical as the wise and winsome Mummy.

Other theatre talents include Timothy Wan (Ah Hock the bouncer), Joshua Lim (Frankie the boyfriend), and Frances Lee (Rosemary the penpal).

While the plot remains unchanged, and the comedy is as enjoyable as ever, this new version promises to unveil a darker, more dangerous Beauty World.

Beauty World runs from 13 November to 12 December at Victoria Theatre. Tickets from Sistic.

The Mad Chinaman Returns!

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Having been involved with The LKY Musical and this year’s National Day Parade, Dick Lee decides to take a trip down memory lane by reviving a concert which charts his musical journey from his childhood in the 1960s to the release of his album, The Mad Chinaman, in 1989. This revival promises all of Lee’s well-known songs with an extended storyline and a bigger band.

In the midst of his preparations, Lee generously granted this email interview (his responses have been lightly edited).

For those who are unfamiliar with your earlier work, why present yourself as The Mad Chinaman?

The concert is based on my autobiography which traces my musical journey and explains how I ended up with that nickname. This also happens to be the title of my 1989 album that introduced me to the Asian market.

Will you be writing new songs for this upsized version?

I will be performing songs from my career, including a few cover versions of songs that inspired me.

Your career in Singapore really took off after your success in Japan. Do you think it’s easier for local musicians to gain recognition now without first making a name abroad?

I think being accepted abroad is a kind of validation, but it depends on the genre. For example, a Chinese pop act would not be popular amongst the non-Chinese in Singapore. It is still important to establish yourself in your home country, I think, before other countries can accept you.

What are some aspects of the local music industry that need improvement?

We always complain about lack of exposure and local media support, but to be fair, I think they give all they can give. Finally, it all boils down to the quality of the music. When that improves, the support grows naturally.

If you are given three words to describe the Singapore sound. What would they be?

Tropical. Asian. Bright.

What is one advice you would give to your younger self?

Be Fearless (I guess I was anyway). Then, be MORE fearless!

Are you working on any exciting projects that your fans can look forward to?

For the first time, I’ll be directing the fifth production of my 1988 musical, Beauty World (written with Michael Chiang), the second play in my family trilogy, and my first movie.

 

Catch Dick Lee: The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman Upsized on 3 September, 7:30pm at the Esplanade Concert Hall. For ticketing information, visit Sistic.

[Theatre Review] The LKY Musical — A Decent and Modest Epic

Photo: Metropolitan Productions

The LKY Musical
Metropolitan Productions
30 July 2015
Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands
21 July – 16 August 2015

To call The LKY Musical a biopic about Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, is a misnomer. It is a portmanteau consisting of biography and motion picture. However, if we were to exercise some poetic license and see it as a biographical epic, it is somewhat apt.

I say somewhat because it spans an epic sweep of historical events but its staging does not match up to it. For starters, the Sands Theatre is badly designed. With its small stage, grey interiors, and bad acoustics, it feels like someone decided to convert a warehouse into a “theatre” on a whim. It is clearly designed for cheap entertainment and artistry is a mere afterthought—like belching after drinking too much beer from a plastic cup.

To deal with space constraints, set designer takis makes use of every inch with a three-level structure that has six rooms. Toss in sliding screens with projections and the audience is whizzed from a shelter where rickshaw pullers reside to Lee’s residence in Cambridge.

Yet, ingenuity can only go so far.

The actors are visibly hemmed in by whatever remains of downstage and the size of each room. To make matters worse, the major events from Lee at Raffles leading up to his time in Cambridge zipped past at breakneck speed. The ensemble could hardly settle into their roles and it is merely a notch above someone walking across the stage with a flashcard saying “Japanese Occupation” and sounds of bombs going off in the background.

Despite these flaws, this musical scores enough brownie points to warrant more than two hours of your time if you have some to spare.

Adrian Pang’s versatility truly knows no bounds. While he does not adopt every single behavioural tick of Lee Kuan Yew, he exudes Lee’s unmistakable presence when delivering a political speech. With his body tilted at an angle and chest puffed up, he marshals voters to the polling station as he goes head on against his former comrade turned opponent, Lim Chin Siong.

Benjamin Chow’s Lim Chin Siong certainly matches up to Pang’s Lee. Rather than play the radical hothead as described in history textbooks, Chow’s Lim possesses political cunning and daring which makes him a formidable opponent of Lee Kuan Yew. Chow must also be commended for his ability to maintain his Chinese accented English when singing without compromising on his diction.

Radhi Khalid’s Tunku Abdul Rahman, Malaya’s Prime Minister, is a nice counterpoint to Lee Kuan Yew. Khalid’s gentle cadences as he glides effortlessly through his lines is contrasted with Pang’s pointed attack—an indication of Lee’s no-nonsense approach to politics. While Tunku’s insistence on playing poker rather than discussing politics may be superficially read as insouciance, it is a gentle insistence on the incompatibility of Lee’s egalitarian ideals and Tunku’s racial politics. To discuss it further would unnecessarily sour the already tenuous relationship.

Other notable performers are Sebestian Tan as Teong Koo the optimistic rickshaw puller and Vester Ng as Ng Kai, the naïve and eager union leader of the rickshaw pullers. While Edward Choy (Goh Keng Swee), Dayal Gian Singh (Rajaratnam), and Tan Shou Chen (Toh Chin Chye) gave credible performances in their supporting roles, it is a waste that their characters are not developed further which is an injustice to the legacies of these giants in Singapore history.

Sharon Au as Lee’s wife, Kwa Geok Choo, is clearly doing her best. Unfortunately, her best is not enough as her studied approach and weak singing makes it look as if the decision to cast her is to boost ticket sales by luring her fans to the theatre.

While Dick Lee’s music heightens the atmosphere at important points, the styles are too varied for one to discern a particular motif that defines the musical. Stephen Clark offers witty lyrics such as Lee describing one of the reason he loves his wife is that she is supportive and often makes her ideas seemed like his. However, due to the dismal acoustics of the venue or incompatible levels on the sound console, one will miss it unless an effort is taken to listen intently.

With Lee Kuan Yew’s recent demise and the excitement of the upcoming election, the musical is inextricably tangled over concerns of its historical accuracy and intent. My colleagues seem to adopt either an apologist stance or deem that the musical as an unsuitable genre.

The LKY Musical depicts events as it happened generally and is careful not to over-valourise the man—it neither beats the drum of the official narrative nor poses a distinct challenge to it. Additionally, it has no pretentions of showing “The Singapore Story” which is made abundantly clear through its uninspiring title. As an art work, it generally entertains and I have detailed where it is lacking.

The performing arts cannot replace the work of the historians which is where you should go for nuances and interpretations of events. At the very least, one hopes that it sparks an interest in those whose only acquaintance with the narrative is through the stilted words of a heavily regulated history textbook.

Other Reviews

“Theatre review: Adrian Pang turns in a stirring performance in The LKY Musical by Corrie Tan, The Straits Times Life! 

“Theatre review: The LKY Musical by Naeem Kapadia, Today

“Review: The LKY Musical by Gwen Pew, Time Out Singapore

“A Missed Opportunity” by Andre Theng, Centre 42 Citizens’ Reviews

“Defying detractors, LKY Musical gets standing ovation” by Lisa Twang, The New Paper

“Does the LKY Musical live up to the Man?” by Crystal Nanavati, Sassy Mama

“{Review} The LKY Musical – A Night to Stand Proud and be Inspired” by Audrey, Says! Happy Mums

The LKY Musical by Mummybean, Life is in the Small Things

“Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘The LKY Musical’” by Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam, BlogCritics

The LKY Musical – Review” by Campus Magazine

“Sylvia Toh Reviews The LKY Musical by Sylvia Toh, superadrianme

The LKY Musical — A Musical We’re Proud to Call Our Own” by David Sim, Life’s Tiny Miracles

The LKY Musical: The history of Chinese men’s Singapore” by Kirsten Han, The Online Citizen

The LKY Musical: A Bold Account of Singapore’s Founding Father” by Reuel Eugene, Reuel Writes