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Words & music, Singapore style
Broadway Beng's enduring Hokkien appeal
FOR a Hokkien-speaking character, Broadway Beng has come a long way - even to the extent of being a poster boy for the dialect. But you don't need to know Hokkien to enjoy the songs that singer/actor Sebastian Tan is performing for his 10th anniversary concert.
The 42-year-old actor will be crooning more than 20 tunes in an intimate concert setting as he celebrates his time with the audience he has fostered since 2006.
"After 10 years, this is going to be like a gathering of old friends," he declares. Producer Selena Tan of Dream Academy notes how Tan has developed an audience who love him, and are evangelical about it as they have gone on to bring their grandparents and children to the show.
Did he ever think his show and character would endure so long? The actor laughs and declares that he thought the first show would be just a one-off project a decade ago.
"I thought it was just going to be a one-time experiment - to mix 'ah beng-ness' and Broadway together. But it ended up resonating so much with the audience," he says, adding that they (he and Tan; they're not related) never thought this original character they created - who sings Hokkien songs along with Broadway classics - would still be going strong 10 years later.
Selena had mooted the show after she got Sebastian to emcee and perform at her wedding - where he proved to be a natural, and cracked up her family and friends with his wit and Hokkien proficiency.
The first Broadway Beng had five shows at the DBS Arts Centre and played to just about 2,000 people. Because it was a hit, it was staged again and also travelled to Kuala Lumpur.
Its biggest showing was when Tan sang Hokkien classics like Ke Au and Jiu Au Eh Sim Sia at the Esplanade Theatre in 2011.
Broadway Beng the musical took a hiatus from 2009-2013, although the character did make guest appearances in other shows.
For the 10th anniversary concert (which should play to about a 16,000-strong audience if the house is full every night), they had a new Hokkien song commissioned - Kam Siah Li Ai - written by getai star Hao Hao and composer Elaine Chan.
The three back-up singers - Chriz Tong, Frances Lee and Munah Bagharib - are also on the show for the first time, as the chio-buus (pretty girls). Tan will also riff on Les Miserables by doing an eight-minute local interpretation of the musical that's now playing in Singapore.
Adds the actor: "As long as you're Singaporean, you will understand the show - and music will transcend everything."
Next up will be Broadway Beng the movie, or so Selena Tan hopes. And as the first step, documentary footage will be taken on the first two nights of the concert.
By Cheah Ui-Hoon
- Broadway Beng: 10th Anniversary Concert runs from July 14, at Capitol Theatre. Shows are 8pm nightly and 3pm on weekends. Tickets from S$48 are available from www.sistic.com
When Wagner meets wayang kulit
RICHARD Wagner, arguably the father of the modern musical, is known for his vision of opera as "total artwork" which fuses many art forms. So why not throw wayang kulit into the mix?
That must be the thought process behind the upcoming The Flying Dutchman in October, when opera aficionados are treated to a full staging of the Wagner classic at the Victoria Theatre, complete with shadow puppetry.
Co-directors Glen Goei and Chong Tze Chien will give the S$600,000 production a South-east Asian treatment.
In a scene where opera productions typically import foreign directors, the producers - comprising The Richard Wagner Association (Singapore), OperaViva, and The Finger Players - are hoping to court audiences beyond the opera circuit, especially with renowned theatre directors Goei and Chong at the helm.
Other regional talents include Grammy-anointed conductor Darrell Ang - who's on board as music director - and an Asian cast, who will rotate performances with international leads.
Says OperaViva chairman Ronald Ling: "Wagnerians in particular travel around to seek interesting productions and innovative interpretations, and the Asian viewpoint on Wagner and opera is underdeveloped."
The Flying Dutchman is also Wagner's most accessible work at 21/2 hours, with others such as the epic The Ring of Nibelung, comprising four operas, that runs to 16 hours. Explains Dr Ling: "We picked the shortest and most accessible opera. The Flying Dutchman is more tuneful, and there's lots of action on stage."
As the story goes, sea captain Daland meets the eponymous Dutchman - the ghostly captain of a spectral vessel, who can only be released from his curse when he finds true love. Daland barters his daughter Senta's hand for the Dutchman's treasure, and the plot culminates in Senta's martyrdom for the Dutchman's salvation in a poignant conclusion.
The straightforward tale allows directors to give it an Asian twist; for instance, they are setting the story in South-east Asia, with costumes referencing regional textiles and patterns. Goei thinks that such an interpretation isn't all that far-fetched: "Wagner himself was influenced by Buddhism, and the Dutchman is also about how redemption can be found in sacrifice and death . . . An Asian interpretation actually makes sense!"
Both directors also believe that the story continues to be relevant to Asia and Singapore today. Explains Chong: "For me, the piece is about living in a capitalist and post-colonial world, where everything can be transacted and reduced to dollars and cents. From the get-go, the mercenary father sells the daughter to the Dutchman without thinking twice."
But Chong stresses that "it's an open platform for audiences to read into it". Adds Goei: "It's about creating visual entry points for the non-opera and non-Wagner audience. Theatre should entertain, inspire, challenge and provoke, and to do that, you need to make theatre (and opera) accessible."
By Tan Teck Heng
- The Flying Dutchman runs for five shows from Oct 23 to 30 at Victoria Theatre. Tickets from S$46 to S$146 from Sistic. For more information, visit https://www.flyingdutchmansingapore.com/
Simple, relatable and intensely emotional
BROADWAY giants such as Les Miserables and Wicked may attract thousands of theatre-goers to their shows, but Singaporean productions are showing their own mettle, thanks to shows such as Toy Factory's upcoming Chinese musical Innamorati Two.
Unlike far-removed stories of the French Revolution set amid Parisian backdrops, Innamorati Two promises a simple, relatable and intensely emotional tale about seven characters struggling with various problems such as autism, blindness and grief.
What brings them together is the barter shop that they frequent, where they try to exchange items for things that they don't have. Director Goh Boon Teck explains that Innamorati means "young lovers" in Italian, but the musical is more about loving oneself than romantic love. The Chinese name of the musical is wei er, which means only two, referring to an individual and his flaws.
"The musical uses physical handicaps such as blindness as symbols of our flaws," Goh says. "Its main message is to embrace our lacks as part of our identity and even treat them with respect, rather than trying to divorce ourselves from them."
The musical stars Jacky Chew, Stella Seah, Sunny Yang, Sugie Phua, Wong Jing Lun, Ann Lek and Chriz Tong. Tong says that the imperfect characters are relatable because they draw on struggles and emotions that are universal. The 31-year-old singer, who has sung the theme songs for dramas Kampong Ties and Don't Stop Believin', plays Emily, the sister of an autistic boy. "We all have our own problems and stories so everyone who comes will at least see a bit of themselves in one of the characters," she says.
Unlike the previous instalment of Innamorati in 2014, which featured songs by Malaysian singer-songwriter Eric Moo, the actors will now have to write their own songs and provide substantial input into their characterisation.
The fact that local audiences will be able to connect with the characters is the appeal of Innamorati Two, over the international musicals in town. Goh hopes that people will soak in the Singaporean flavour of the musical.
"It is not about speaking Singlish or drinking kopi that makes a musical Singaporean," he points out. "It is about being truthful to ourselves and being influenced by the environment that we have grown up in."
Like Goh, 34-year-old Sugie Phua of Project SuperStar fame believes that culture cannot be defined in simple terms, but that a Singaporean musical will be naturally born out of the creative endeavours of homegrown artists. He plays Ah Gu, a traveller who struggles with his girlfriend's death.
He explains: "At first, we tried to push for a reinvention of xinyao, but we realised that we can try creating our own music and art that may even be worthy of an international stage. It seems impossible, but every process begins with a first step."
By Sue-Ann Tan
- Innamorati Two plays at the Drama Centre Theatre from Sept 22 to Oct 2. Tickets from S$52 to S$72 are available at Sistic
Other shows to look out for
PUCCINI'S Turandot, staged by the Singapore Lyric Opera, tells the story of Prince Calaf's efforts to win the love of the cold-hearted Princess Turandot. Although he answers her three riddles successfully, he offers her a way to escape the marriage if she can guess his name before dawn.
The opera is known for its famed aria, Nessun Dorma. It will be sung in Italian but with English and Mandarin surtitles.
- Turandot plays at Esplanade Theatre from Aug 26 to 30 at 8pm. Tickets from S$50 to S$150 are available at Sistic
THE rags-to-riches story of Annie, a plucky red-headed orphan girl, is one that most are familiar with. While she starts out in a miserable orphanage, Annie manages to escape and melt the heart of billionaire Oliver Warbucks, securing her an adoption and a bright future.
Musical numbers include well-known cheery tunes such as Tomorrow and You're Never Fully Dressed Without a Smile.
- Annie plays at MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands from Aug 24 to Sept 11. Tickets from S$65 to S$175 are available at Sistic
THE 10th longest-running Broadway show, Wicked, tells the story of the Wizard of Oz from the wicked witch's perspective, weaving a tale of courage, betrayal and friendship between the green-skinned social outcast Elphaba and Glinda the good.
Its award-winning soundtrack features popular hits such as Defying Gravity and For Good.
- Wicked plays at MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands from Sept 29 to Oct 16. Tickets from S$55 to S$230 are available at Sistic
THEATRE company Pangdemonium is staging the award-winning rock musical with a cast of local and international actors. Following the lives of eight struggling artists in New York's East Village, Rent sheds light on issues such as AIDS, poverty and living on the peripheries of society.
Its famous numbers include Seasons of Love, Take Me or Leave Me and La Vie Boheme.
- Rent plays at the Drama Centre Theatre from Oct 7 to 23. Tickets from S$30 to S$95 will be available at Sistic in August
By Sue-Ann Tan