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Singapura: the musical


Scenes-from-Singapura-The-Musical 3.jpg

Singapura: the musical

Reviewed by Ken Lyen

2 June 2015

Maybe if I saw this show a few decades later, when memories of historical events have largely faded, where regional accents have merged into a nondescript form of global English, where style and pizazz are more important than character and plot development, I would rate Singapura a great show, aspiring to be Singapore’s Les Misérables. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed tonight’s performance immensely, but I will expound how I think it can be improved, below.

Singapura: the musical focuses on one family and how they are affected by the sweep of Singapore’s history from the 1955 Hock Lee bus riots, through Indonesian confrontation, the racial riots, and ending with Singapore expulsion from Malaysia in 1965.

The main strengths of this musical are the songs, the cast, the back projection and the moveable sets.

The majority of the cast are from the Philippines. The Filipino accent was largely subdued and I was not bothered by it. Juliene Mendoza played the role of the father, and his strong voice and acting abilities carried the role brilliantly. Maybelle Ti played his wife, mother to Lee May, who was played by Marian Santiago. Lee May’s British boyfriend, Flynn, was played by David Bianco. The highlight of the musical is the powerful love duet “Be With Me” between Lee May and Flynn. Raymund Concepcion played the Man in White, ostensibly Lee Kuan Yew. He is a commanding figure with a sonorous voice to match. Comic relief is provided by Noel Rayos playing the Indian, and Onyl Torres playing the Malay character.

Ed Gatchalian composed, arranged, and directed the music. For me, music is an essential component of a musical, and in this regard, the music can be highly commended. It is strident during the turbulent scenes, it is romantic during the courting scenes, sad when the mother dies, and triumphant at the finale. The songs are catchy and well arranged.

Driscoll Otto’s back projection demonstrates how photos and illustrations can greatly enhance the scenes and replace expensive sets. It is a definite wow factor.

David Permana conducted the orchestra and accompanied the singers faultlessly.

What could have been improved? The first half felt too long. The musical started off by placing too much emphasis on the history of Singapore rather than developing the individual characters. To some extent this was obviated in the second half. I did not like any of the university law lecturer’s scenes, and would have preferred to have all these scenes deleted. The over-emphasis on the role of the British after they had granted independence to Singapore overshadowed other historical elements. The lack of a satisfactory conclusion between Lee May and her British lover Flynn left me a bit confused. The father’s fears of the perils of Singapore are understandable, but his wish to emigrate to a utopian Malacca portrayed him as bit of a coward. To overcome this negative portrayal, I think his character arc needs more careful development: instead of running away from his problems, time needs to be taken to show how he confronts them.  I would have liked to have seen the character playing Lee Kuan Yew to pay a visit to the kopitiam, take a drink, and have a brief conversation with the father. Finally, being a musical set in Singapore, I think more sprinkling of local languages and Singlish would enhance its authenticity.

So ultimately, we come back to the subject matter of the musical. If it is about Singapore, then it falls short. Hence the low score given below. Sorry.

Yes, I enjoyed the musical. And I would like to congratulate the creative team, the cast, the orchestra, and everyone involved in this musical for their magnificent effort!

1.5/5 stars