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Singing the song of angry men

Nobody is hearing the people sing - not till Tuesday, May 31, at least. That's two whole days after Les Miserables was supposed to open this Sunday.

NOBODY is hearing the people sing - not till Tuesday, May 31, at least. That's two whole days after Les Miserables was supposed to open this Sunday.

If you're not one of the 2,000 Les Miz fans who bought tickets for the opening night, the fact that the first performance was cancelled is probably news to you.

After all, the promoter of the event has said zilch on the issue. To my knowledge, there has been no public statement to announce the change, nor an explanation as to why the first show was axed.

The only reason I (a self-confessed, rabid Les Miz nut) found out was because of a phone call from Sistic. Earlier, in April, the ticket services provider called to let my companion and me know that our opening night seats were no more. When asked for the reason behind the cancellation, the Sistic representative could only say that the production had been experiencing delays, and so the promoter had decided to call the first show off.

We were offered replacement tickets on any other day - poor consolation for sods like us, who had woken up early to buy tickets on the morning of their release last November.

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(No exaggeration: we had marked the date down in our calendars, refreshed the Sistic page until the link went live, and obsessed over which centre seats would maximise our enjoyment of Javert's soliloquy.)

Of course, available seats for the new opening night (now two days later on Tuesday, May 31, as there is no show on Monday) were far from ideal; we were offered a pair in the far left corner, or a smattering of single seats.

A single seat? Really? On whose shoulder am I supposed to shed a tear when Fantine dies?!

When we asked if we could just get a refund instead, we were told that an appeal would have to be made to the promoter.

Let's chew on that for a second. An appeal would have to be made . . . for a show that the promoter cancelled. You know that Jackie Chan meme where he's giving a "what the bleep?!" face, and is about to tear his hair out? That was me.

When we received no further update on why the show was cancelled, I decided to call the corporate communications team. I had hoped that a media query would result in more clarity, since the consumer route clearly wasn't working. A day later, a brand & communications manager from the promoter's parent company asked if there was a deadline for my story. I replied - in all honesty - that I was unsure if I'd be writing anything as yet, as I just wanted to find out more. I also asked when I'd be able to get a response. It's been a month since that exchange, and I'm still none the wiser - because I never heard back. Guess the response got cancelled, too.

Let me be clear: the Sistic representative liaising with us was exceedingly polite. She was, unfortunately, just the bearer of bad news. No one should be shooting the messenger.

But the way the Les Miz promoter has handled the issue has been paltry at best, and disingenuous at worst. Driven first by indignation and then by curiosity, I began checking the show's online promotional materials - from its website and Facebook page, to The Esplanade and Sistic's sites.

On all these platforms, the opening date has been quietly changed from May 29 to May 31, with no footnote explaining why. Ever the journalist, I thought to myself: "No matter. Surely an arts reporter will find out, and this will be covered in the media. Pre-show publicity is going to have to mention that the first show was nixed, and an official reason will finally be given."

No such luck.

True, it may not be convention to explain why (or even highlight the fact that) the first show was cancelled; I suspect this isn't all that uncommon in the entertainment sector. But for those 2,000 ticket buyers, you'd think some form of apology or explanation would be given.

Several colleagues have even mentioned that the audience should be compensated. This wouldn't have to be dispensed with largesse - I mean, getting a tour of the set would be phenomenal but grossly impractical, considering the number of people affected. A free programme, perhaps? Just a token to say "we get that we messed up" would be nice.

After all, people who buy opening night tickets do so precisely because it's the opening night - call me crazy, but that atmosphere and buzz is irreplicable.

And it's not necessarily a boon for those who bought May 31's tickets, either. In fact, some theatre goers assiduously avoid first shows, because of all the technical glitches that can happen.

I get that these are really just #firstworldproblems; truly, I do. But I also think that from a customer service standpoint - especially for a beloved show that is returning to Singapore with much fanfare, after 20 long years away - the promoter could and should have done better.

As for me and the other Les Miz fans who had bought tickets for Sunday night's show? It's no longer one day more.

Update: BT has published a follow-up piece on the matter, incorporating responses from Sistic and MediaCorp VizPro International.

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