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The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical


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The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical

Book, Lyrics, and Director by Brian Seward

Music Composed by Kenneth Lyen

Music Arranger and Additional Music by Bang Wenfu

Date: 27 Oct to 12 Nov 2016
Venue: The Drama Centre, Singapore

Rating: ***** (5 out of 5 stars)

A week earlier, I tried to buy tickets online, and there were only six tickets left. However, I had something else to attend to, and so delayed buying my ticket by one hour. When I got round to buying the ticket, there was only one left, and no choice, I bought that last one. Sure enough, today’s performance was full house.

Throughout the performance, I heard shrieks of laughter, and children shouting to the cast telling them what to do, and misleading the villains by pointing them in the wrong direction. This impromptu interaction was fascinating for me to observe. Probably the best review one can get is what is overheard as one leaves the auditorium. Both adults and children were gushing: “Good, really really good!” “So funny!” “Must tell my friends to watch!” “Hilarious!” Those are some of the descriptions I overheard by the audience members, complete strangers to me.

All the elements came together in this musical. It resonated with the children. They saw the father scolding his stage daughter because she had fallen asleep instead of studying for her exams. And the children laughed. They saw the poor hungry peasant family trying to catch the chicken that had just been brought to life. And they laughed. They saw the villains Shrimp and Sotong getting lost, and undecided which direction to go. And they laughed. The laughter continued unabated right through the show.

A musical for children will only succeed if it speaks to the adults as well. Indeed The Magic Paintbrush does just that. It talks about excessive parental pressures on the kid’s academic studies, about greed for material wealth, about using one’s abilities to help others.

The Magic Paintbrush is based on an old Chinese folktale about a young boy, Ma Liang (Jodi Chan), who wants to paint, but is too poor to afford a paintbrush. He wishes for a paintbrush, and his wish is heard by The Spirit of Creation (Dwayne Tan) who sends Madam Hoang, a phoenix bird (Amanda Tee) to help. The Spirit of Creation then personally appears to deliver the paintbrush to Ma Liang, instructing him to use it wisely. This paintbrush is magic because it has the power to transform painted objects into 3-dimensional life forms.

Ma Liang’s first creation is a chicken (Ghazali Muzakir) who becomes attached to him, and follows him everywhere. Ma Liang helps the poor and hungry wherever he goes, by painting food for them to eat. However, his acts of altruism is witnessed by two hare-brained rogues, Shrimp (Darren Guo) and Sotong (Ebi Shankara). They inform the Emperor (Tan Shou Chen), who is obsessed with acquiring gold. They apprehend Ma Liang, and imprison him. Fortunately his faithful chicken finds Madam Hoang the phoenix, and with the help of a pie rat (Elizabeth Loh) residing in the prison, they rescue Ma Liang.

But their escape is thwarted by Shrimp and Sotong, who capture them all. The greedy Emperor orders Ma Liang to paint an ocean, a ship made of solid gold, and some wind to enable the ship to sail. However, Ma Liang paints wind that becomes increasingly stronger, eventually sinking the ship, together with the Emperor, Shrimp, and Sotong. Ma Liang continues to help the poor and needy.

Suddenly Ma Liang wakes up, and realizes it is all a dream. Or is it?

The actors are all triple threats, able to sing, act, and dance. They are excellent singers, capable of matching some of the best professional singers in major overseas centres. Their acting is also remarkable. You would not believe that there are only nine actors in total, most playing multiple roles. They convey the lyrics of the songs with perfect diction.

The Magic Paintbrush is an entertaining, and at the same time, a profound thought-provoking musical. The credit for this goes to Brian Seward, who is both the writer as well as the director. The music arrangement and additional music are by Bang Wenfu. They are wonderful! The music is brilliantly directed by Sara Wee. Cathy Kee choreographed the dances, and the movements flowed very smoothly. The sets are absolutely stunning, as are the props, the puppets, and the costumes. Sound and lighting were flawless.

May I congratulate everyone involved in this project. It is certainly a landmark in Singapore’s musical theatre. Bravo!