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Pursuant


 

Pursuant: A Musical

Review 1

Libretto: Jonathan Lim, Composer: Chen Zhangyi, Choreographers: Andy Cai and Fion Quek, Set Designer: Ratna Odata, Multimedia Designer: Genevieve Peck, Costume Designer: Lucy Luo Ruo.

Produced by Singapore Lyric Opera

Performed 31 May to 8 June 2013 at the Drama Centre, Singapore

 

There’s a lot to like about Singapore Lyric Opera’s production of Pursuant.

 

Set in a futuristic dystopic state of Singacorp, the story revolves around Ethan (Windson Liong), a teenager who is arrested by the thought police for harboring dreams. In this nation, dreaming has been banned because it prevents the citizens from achieving perfect productivity. At his trial, the judge (Darius Tan) interrogates Ethan’s parents (Nicholas Tham and Candice de Rozario) and while they are unaware of their son’s dreaming, they acquiesce to his sentencing into a CC (Concentration Camp).  Ethan meets other youths found guilty of dreaming and they were also sent for correction at this camp. In particular he meets Shufang (Mabel Yeo), a Cosplay fanatic, and Terry (Crystal Cordial) who has ADHD (Advanced Dream Hyperactivity Disorder). With the help of an underground rebel organization called Dream On, led by Can-Crushing Uncle (Jonathan Lim) and Cardboard Box Auntie (Nora Samosir), many of the children escape from the camp. In the meantime Ethan tells of his recurrent dream of an Old Man whose dreams laid the foundation for creating their nation. They go on a quest to find the Old Man (Gregory Chen) who looks suspiciously like Singapore’s former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew. They discover that while the Old Man initially intended the citizens to adopt his dreams, he eventually banned everybody from dreaming because their dreams had become too materialistic. Only when he has a myocardial infarction does he have a change of heart, and tells Ethan to dream on.

 

The cast is uniformly excellent. Windson Liong is outstanding in the lead role of Ethan, as is Jonathan Lim, the leader of the rebels. Dwayne Lau and Candice de Rozario are hilarious when paired up as the two civil servants. Dwayne Lau plays two different roles exceptionally well.

 

The story is written by Jonathan Lim, and the high concept is intriguing. The music is composed by Chen Zhangyi. The atonic score is more operatic in feel than a traditional Broadway musical. There is sufficient variety and energy to make it quite appealing. The singers are well supported by the orchestra conducted by Chen Zhangyi. The choreography by Andy Cai and Fion Quek enhances the confrontation between rebels and the military. Ratna Odata’s set designs coupled with Genevieve Peck's multimedia designs are imaginative and futuristic.

 

My main concern with this musical is that it sits uncomfortably between satire and propaganda. The parody of Singapore life and politics is laugh-out-loud funny. The musical would have worked perfectly if it was kept within the confines of this genre. Unfortunately, it also attempts to become a little too preachy, too serious, too politically correct, when it starts to champion the freedom to dream one’s own dreams. The jingoistic anthem-like songs towards the end are totally out of keeping with overall cheeky irreverent tone of the rest of the musical. The plot is a little too simplistic, and the addition of a subplot or love interest could have enhanced the story.

 

The other problem is that we do not know what the protagonist Ethan dreams about. What are his needs, his goals, his ambitions? They are not spelt out clearly, and this weakens the script significantly. Furthermore the conflict is not sustained. The rebels’ breakout from the Concentration Camp is achieved far too easily. Then, after escaping, there is a sudden change in their plans, and they decide to look for the legendary Old Man who had founded their nation. When they track him down, hidden behind high doors, one is reminded of the Wizard of Oz and we half expect the Old Man to be a fraud. He turns out not to be the humorously fraudulent Wizard, but rather someone who lacks integrity because he has betrayed a fundamental human right, namely, the right of the individual to dream what he wants to dream. This major character flaw makes him a crushing disappointment. Sure, after his heart attack he conveniently changes his mind but this is totally unconvincing.

 

In conclusion, the musical falls short because of book problems. It feels like a work in progress. It does not give the protagonist sufficient motivation for his adventures and his interaction with others. The many layers of conflict are not well developed and are not sustained, which means that the characters are one-dimensional cardboard personalities. The denouement of the Old Man’s betrayal of his dreams comes as an anticlimax. Finally, the inability to decide whether the musical should be a satire or a morality play gives us an unsettling feeling at the end.

 

Pursuant is a highly original work and despite its flaws, I think it is worth watching.

 

Kenneth Lyen

2 June 2013

 

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Pursuant: a musical

Review 2

Written and Directed by Jonathan Lim

Original music composed by Chen Zhangyi

Presented by Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO)

starring Windson Liong and Mabel Yeo

Friday, 31 May 2013

Drama Centre Theatre, Singapore

Review by Hawk Liu

In his own words, the composer, Chen Zhangyi, took inspiration from musicals, and opera, jazz bossa nova, rock and anime music. There was indeed a clever blend of music genres in the work, with also a use of different voice types for the character roles. Musical numbers are quite long drawn out with no apparent structure. What seemed to be solo numbers often led into a complex interwiving of many voices. A common musical device Chen often used was after the solo vocal line hit a resolution note, it then moved on to different notes in a slow melisma, accompanied by changes in tonality. A ten piece orchestra provided much music that accompanied the action and scene changes. There was a good deal of ostinato used. The drum set took part in much of the interlude music. Unfortunately for me, the constant use of brush on snare drum was tiring for the ears.

The setting was a future of Singapore (most likely) where people who had creative ambitions and dreams were arrested and brought into a concentration camp, presided by a ‘camp’ warden (irony), for rehabilitation. The inmates were eventually rescued and they met an underground revolution group that remained free dreamers. The story and action were interesting and funny in many places. In storyline terms, I thought meeting the ‘old man’ and what he represented was a bit serious and preachy.

The good level of singing in general was enjoyable and a delight. I am so glad they wrote for soprano voices in two lead roles – something I noticed Singaporean musicals have been reluctant to do so throughout it’s history. There was the usual ‘Jonathan Lim’ humour one had seen in his ‘Chestnut’ series and that made the ride a fun one. The quick ‘pull-off’ costume changes were effective. The two clowns in Dwayne Lau and Candice de Rosario keep up the comedic energy. The comedienne in Crystal Cordial showed good things to come. The music score was also very generous to the beautiful voices of Windson Liong and Mabel Yeo.

This review first appeared in The Mad Scene:

http://the-mad-scene.blogspot.sg/2013/06/pursuant-musical-in-review.html

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Pursuant: A Musical

Review 3

Singapore Lyric Opera

Drama Centre Theatre/Saturday

Reviewed by Corrie Tan

Straits Times 3 June 2013

Playwright-director Jonathan Lim is one of the poster boys of Singapore satire. His wildly popular creation, the comedy sketch show Chestnuts, has lasted more than a decade based on its wickedly clever parodies of culture and current affairs.

His latest musical outing, however, veers away from is trademark style in more ways than one. Pursuant: A Musical was commissioned by the Singapore Lyric Opera (SLO), a bold and laudable move in re-inventing the opera genre and casting it for a wider audience.

Unfortunately, Pursuant is also a brave experiment gone awry. Its plot is shuffly and threadbare, the pacing askew and the dialogue mostly painful to listen to.

The story starts out intriguingly enough. Set in a future dystopian Singapore where dreaming is against the law, feisty teenager Ethan (Windson Liong) sets out to search for the elusive "Old Man", whose dreams first breathed life into Singapore, to find out what went wrong along the way.

Things quickly go wrong – for Ethan and the musical. The authorities discover that he is a "dreamer" and intern him in a concentration camp for rehabilitation. It is difficult to empathise with Ethan because the script has left him little room for further character development. Why dreaming is so horrible a sin is barely explained, apart from the throwaway lines that it is bad for productivity and progress.

Ethan meets quirky characters who come across as little more than thin caricatures. So much time is spent expounding on dreams and the importance of chasing them that the characters have little time to endear themselves to the audience before leaping to the next part of a repetitive narrative. Some of the more seasoned hands, including Dwayne Lau, Candice de Rozario and the inimitable Nora Samosir, do their best to salvage each scene.

Kudos must also go to Genevieve Peck, who lift scenes with smart use of multimedia and the dedicated SLO Children’s Choir. But there is little they can do against a tide of flat writing and unmemorable music. Yes, there are elements of the musical’s content that are crucial talking points, but these pertinent issues are buried by tired slapstick. Most of the work rests on overused platitudes.

One character sings, early in the show: "Dreams are about surprises, about miracles, about the impossible happening", which sounds inspirational at first, but by the n-th iteration, repeated motifs on "belief" and "chasing dreams" begin to chafe because they are so in-your-face. The reductive treatment of a promising concept is problematic because it turns what could have been a layered conversation into a dull quest.

The heavy-handed use of humour also makes situations decidedly unfunny. One character says, of the concentration camp: "I don’t like that word, ‘concentrate’. It sounds like fruit juice."

Ostensibly a joke, it comes off as an oddly placed non-sequitur – which, sadly, the script is full of. There are many of such unnecessary "one-liners" that do little to add pizzazz to the show. One pressing problem is that Pursuant does not seem to be able to decide what it actually is: A sung-through musical? A comedy with some singing? A contemporary take on opera? Instead of appearing diverse as it samples elements of each, the work comes across as an inconsistent patchwork.

Sung-through slapstick also loses its punch simply because it takes a longer time to deliver a phrase when singing, and many a funny moment is lost when it lacks the rapid-fire rhythm of banter.

Pursuant also seems unsure of the exact demographic it might appeal to most. While cast as a show for families and young people, the script is littered with nudge-nudge wink-wink jokes that many of the younger viewers probably did not understand. A few primary schoolchildren sitting behind me were having a heated discussion of scenes that confused them. They quickly turn fidgety, whisper that they did not know what is going on, and towards the end of the show, a young audience member yawns loudly and declares: "I’m sleepy."

And, sadly, as the production meanders through its two hours sans intermission, I dream of being someplace else as well.