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The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman Upsized, a one-night-only performance, will have more content than the original version and will also feature a five-piece band led by Indra Ismail and guest appearance by sultry jazz vocalist Alemay Fernandez

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"There are many parallels between what I went through to find my identity and what Singapore went through to find hers," says Lee

A bigger serving of Dick Lee

The veteran composer will share more of his life story in a new, upsized version of The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman.
Aug 21, 2015 5:50 AM

WHAT do Dick Lee and Beyonce have in common? The singer-songwriters both share a passion for music and performing, are highly regarded as style icons, and they also have alter egos which contribute greatly to their stage presence. From Sasha Fierce to the Mad Chinaman, whatever works, right?

Local treasure and songwriter of one of Singapore's most beloved National Day hits, Home, Lee will be returning to the stage for a one-night- only upsized performance of The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman next month.

The Mad Chinaman was the name of Lee's debut album in 1989. The 58-year-old says: "That was a huge turning point in my life because I'd spent some years prior to that trying to make Singaporean music in the '80s and faced a real lack of interest. Following the National Song phenomenon, a sense of being Singaporean started to emerge, and based on the success of Beauty World (a musical Lee wrote with playwright Michael Chiang), which put Singapore and all its idiosyncrasies on stage, I decided to do that album."

The album was a resounding success and achieved platinum status - the first local English-language album to do so. It also led Lee to move to Japan because of the favourable reception overseas.

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"The Mad Chinaman has become a part of me," he says. "There are many parallels between what I went through to find my identity and what Singapore went through to find hers."

This Upsized version of his show, a live telling of his autobiography set to music, will have more content to it, and take the audience through Lee's life until 1998. It will encompass what kicked off his overseas career, what he went through in Japan and how he got into the Chinese market, "which is ironically the main market I write for today", he quips.

Directed by Jonathan Lim, who also directed the first performance of the original show, it will feature a five-piece band led by musician Indra Ismail and a guest appearance by sultry jazz vocalist Alemay Fernandez, and will be held at the Esplanade Concert Hall.

Lee confesses: "I'm quite apprehensive about doing such an intimate show in such a big venue. I'm more used to doing out-and-out concerts. In this one, the storytelling makes the show. I'll just have to ensure the story is still warm and relatable because it's a personal story, and I still want the overwhelming feeling to be one of everyone sitting in a living room together with me just chatting to them."

He believes it's also necessary to give more importance to pop culture because while some may regard it as trivial, Lee's theory is that Singapore's traditional culture comes from all the countries that surround us while our pop culture is totally our own.

He says: "When I came back from a four-year degree in London, I wanted to do something that was true to who I was. But back then, no one had a sense of what it meant to be Singaporean. Now, because of pop culture, they do."

The Adventures of the Mad Chinaman Upsized is on at the Esplanade Concert Hall on Sept 3 at 7.30pm. Ticket prices start at S$38 and are available from Sistic.