Strut Your Stuff: Kinky Boots musical press call

STRUT YOUR STUFF

The cast and creatives of Kinky Boots discuss the award-winning musical, making its way to Singapore for the first time

By Jedd Jong

From 5 – 14 October 2018, the stage of the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Theatre will be transformed into the assembly line of the Price and Son Shoe Factory. This is the main setting of the musical Kinky Boots, adapted from the 2005 film of the same name.  The musical was first staged in Chicago in 2012 and went on to be a smash hit on Broadway and the West End, winning awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score Tony Awards. The show boasts music and lyrics by rock star Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

Kinky Boots is set in Northampton, England, where Charlie Price has just inherited a shoe factory from his father. Without any ongoing contracts, the factory is about to be shut down, and Charlie finds himself at an impasse. A chance encounter with the flamboyant, assertive drag queen Lola changes both their lives. Charlie learns that the heels on Lola’s boots keep snapping, because the boots Lola wears weren’t designed to withstand a man’s weight. Charlie decides to make boots for Lola and her troupe of drag performers, changing the factory’s output from men’s dress shoes to “two-and-a-half feet of irresistible, tubular sex”. Charlie and Lola form an unconventional partnership, with the goal to debut a collection of boots at the prestigious Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

This production has gone to U.S. states including Philadelphia, Arizona, Colorado, California and Vermont since September 2017. From June to August, the production then toured China, with stops in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. After its Singapore stint, the tour will return to the U.S., visiting states including Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee.

inSing spoke to members of the cast and crew about their experience being on the road with Kinky Boots. Lance Bordelon stars as Charlie, but was not available to speak to the media at the press call. As the actor playing Lola, Jos N. Banks has most of the spotlight on him. Banks described the show as being “about love and acceptance” and said that’s why it’s been received so well.

Most of Lola’s musical numbers, especially her introductory song Land of Lola, are as bold and flashy as the drag queen herself. However, Banks’ favourite moment in the show is the song Not My Father’s Son, which showcases Lola at her most vulnerable, recalling the expectations placed on her growing up by her father. “It’s the first time in the show that the audience really gets to connect with Lola because it’s pared down,” Banks said, adding “you don’t see the big wig and costumes, you see Lola as a person, and that’s the moment you instantly connect with the audience.” The song starts off with just the piano and Banks’ voice. “There’s something very beautiful and I think there’s something very remarkable in the silence of it all,” he concluded.

Company manager Andrew Terlizzi called the show “a story that reaches everybody.” On the effect the show has had on audiences, he said “Chinese audiences who have never done drag performances themselves were inspired to come in full drag to see the show.” Terlizzi said the show had “opened [audiences’] eyes that they can be who they are”.

Wardrobe supervisor Michael Lavin oversees the show’s costumes, including those all-important boots. “We have a lot of very specific items that have to be maintained to very specific directions,” Lavin noted, adding that finding local suppliers and replacement parts when the show is on tour can be a challenge.

Dancing in said boots can seem like a formidable feat, but the performers in Kinky Boots make it look easy. “After a couple of weeks, you get used to it,” Philip Stock, who plays one of Lola’s Angels, told us. “There’s a different centre of gravity, you have to engage your core in a way you wouldn’t normally, but once you figure all that out, it’s normal,” he remarked.

Stock’s fellow Angel, Derek Brazeau, reiterated the show’s message: “just be who you want to be.” “All of us having differences is what makes us human. We’re not perfect, and I think that’s what makes us beautiful,” Brazeau said.

We spoke to the musical’s leading ladies Sydney Patrick and Hayley Lampart, who play Lauren and Nicola respectively. Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son who finds herself falling for Charlie, but there’s a complication: Charlie’s already engaged to Nicola, who can be demanding and has grown frustrated with Charlie’s mission to make boots for drag queens.

Patrick cited Everybody Say Yeah, the closing number of Act One, as her favourite part of the show. “That’s when we decide as a factory that we’re gonna go through with the plan,” Patrick said, describing the number as “just a party onstage and everyone’s dancing on the factory pieces”. The conveyor belt on the factory floor splits apart, forming individual treadmills that the factory workers dance on. “It’s scary in the beginning when you’re learning it,” Patrick said of dancing on the treadmill. “We had a gymnastics day, when everyone was learning how to flip and stuff. Now, it’s normal. It’s just fun as this point.”

Patrick recalled how her mother introduced her to the film when Patrick was a teenager. my Mum said ‘I saw this cool independent British film’ – my Mum’s all into independent films. She sat me down and made me watch it with her. It’s so amazing, and many years later, I was like ‘there’s this musical called Kinky Boots’ and she said ‘that’s the movie I showed you!’” She told us that her parents were excited and proud to see her join the cast of the show, and would travel to watch the show as it went to different locales.

Lampart recalled watching the original Broadway production while she was in college in New York City. “I went out and saw it right away because it was such a hit immediately,” she said. “Billy Porter and Stark [Sands], it was the dream cast. Annaleigh Ashford, they were so good, Lena Hall.  When I saw it, I remember being like ‘oh my god, this would be so cool to be in,’ and it’s so crazy that it happened! Here I am, in Singapore.”

Both Patrick and Lampart have performed on cruise lines: Patrick on Disney Cruises and Lampart on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Patrick described herself as a “travel addict” and enjoyed visiting the different ports of call, but there are challenges to working on a cruise ship too. They touched on the difficulty of keeping in contact with the outside world and that the nature of a cruise is that time zones keep getting crossed.

“It’s such a fast-paced life and I really like that, I think I’m very adaptable because of that,” Lampart said of working as an entertainer on a cruise ship.

The Lauren character’s solo number is a wistful lament called The History of Wrong Guys, in which she reflects on her dating past and realises she’s falling for Charlie. When asked to offer romantic advice to those who seem to keep ending up with wrong guys (and/or gals), Patrick offered “If you are authentically you, you’ll attract someone who loves you, so you don’t have to try, you don’t have to try and prove anything to anyone. I think that’s probably the best lesson to do when you’re looking for your Mr or Mrs Right”.

The life of a touring theatre performer can be an arduous one, involving eight performances a week, moving from city to city, and long periods spent away from home. However, it is one that Patrick and Lampart find rewarding.

“I think we live in a world that can be very disconnected and very impersonal because of technology, texting and social media,” Patrick said. “Hopefully people who come to see theatre witness raw emotion that they can connect with and can think ‘I’m not alone’ or ‘I’ve had that experience before’ and they can open their hearts and minds to other people’s stories.”

Lampart remarked that shows like Kinky Boots “don’t come often,” and that the show’s directors told the cast as much. “They said this show makes such an impact on people and when you walk offstage every night after the finale, you just feel the feeling of maybe, hopefully changing someone’s perspective. It’s such an amazing feeling,” she enthused.

Tickets start at $65 (not including $4 booking fee) for D Reserve Seats. Tickets are available here.

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Pride Rock of Ages: The Lion King musical press call

For inSing

PRIDE ROCK OF AGES: THE LION KING MUSICAL PRESS CALL

inSing is transported to the plains of Africa for a peek at The Lion King musical

By Jedd Jong

“Nants ingonyama! bagithi Baba!”

That’s the evocative cry by Lebo M. which opens the 1994 animated film The Lion King. It’s Zulu for “Here comes a lion, Father” –  and several lions have arrived back at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre in Singapore.

The Lion King stage musical premiered in 1997 and took the world by storm. It has gone on to become the world’s top-grossing musical, and when it first came to Singapore in 2011, enjoyed a record-breaking eight-month-long run.

The show features an eclectic blend of music, incorporating the expanded film score by Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina and Jay Rifkin, songs by Elton John, Tim Rice, Lebo M., director Julie Taymor and Robert Elhai.

Even more than its sound, it is the look of The Lion King that has captivated theatre-going audiences around the world. Taymor approached translating the animated film to the stage with a specific vision, incorporating puppetry inspired by traditional Balinese, Javanese and Japanese dance and theatre. Technical innovations were married with a variety of cultural inspirations, creating a unique theatrical presentation.

Loosely inspired by Shakespeare’s Hamlet, The Lion King tells the story of Simba, who suffers a tragic loss in his childhood and must return to rescue the kingdom he has fled, where his evil uncle Scar now rules.

The 2018 international tour presented by The Michael Cassel group in association with Disney Theatrical Productions enjoyed a run in Manila before transferring to Singapore. There’s an emphasis on ‘international’ – cast members from 19 countries including South Africa, New Zealand, Mexico, China, Australia, and the United Kingdom comprise the ensemble.

This iteration of the show began with casting and rehearsals in South Africa, with the participation of co-composer Lebo M and the show’s original director Taymor.

“It’s been quite an adventure, a lot of milestones, too many to remember,” Lebo said wistfully.

When Lebo M. was brought into the studio by Hans Zimmer to sing a demo, the animated film didn’t even have an official title yet. What could’ve been just another gig for the South African singer wound up changing his life. “It turns out that the demo I did, “Nants ingonyama”, what you hear around the world for the last 25 years is exactly what it was when we did the demo. Two takes.”

It’s clear that even after all this time, Lebo M. is deeply attached to the show. “It keeps you very busy, keeps you fresh, you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing for 22 years,” he remarked, adding that “when you have a project like this, it’s very hard to do something else.”

Michael Cassel and Lebo M.

Australian producer Michael Cassel also has a history with the show – he was responsible for setting up Disney Theatrical in Australia at age 21 in 2002. “It’s where I learned how to be a producer,” Cassel said of The Lion King. Cassel promises that the experience that audiences watching the show in Singapore will get is exactly the same as what they can expect from a Broadway or West End production of The Lion King. “It’s the same show. There are no changes, no compromises, no reductions to the show,” Cassel declared. He added that interest in the Singapore season has already “exceeded expectations”.

At the press call, the opening number “Circle of Life” was performed. It’s a truly overwhelming piece in which audiences first witness the various types of puppetry and movement used to bring animals from cheetahs to elephants to life. Right out the gate, the show’s magic embraces the audience.

“I love watching the reaction of the audience during “Circle of Life”. I’ve seen grown men cry,” dance captain Theresa Nguyen commented.

The show is a physically intensive one that requires its performers to be skilled in multiple disciplines. “We have some of the best dancers in this company, so I was very fortunate to start with highly technical, highly trained and very strong performers,” Nguyen said of the ensemble. “It’s a real challenge to put on a puppet on your head, or a cheetah on your back, or to carry heavy shields and dance and tell a story.”

For Jonathan Andrew Hume, who plays Simba, returning to Singapore with The Lion King holds a special significance. Hume joined the ensemble of the show in the West End in 2001, and worked his way up to audition for the role of Simba in 2010. In 2011, he starred as Simba when the show came to Singapore.

“To be able to come back to Singapore to do the show which is so special to me, it was my crowning of being Simba, I really feel like I’m coming home,” Hume said. Things have come full circle for him – a circle of life, if you will.

Speaking about the international cast and crew, Hume said “We rely on each other, we support each other and we respect each other – not just onstage, but offstage. That kind of relationship only breeds a beautiful performance that you see every single day on the show.”

Noxolo Dlamini and Jonathan Andrew Hume

Noxolo Dlamini stars opposite Hume as Nala, Simba’s childhood friend-turned-love-interest. This writer asked about her reaction to Marvel Studios’ Black Panther, which recently brought cultural elements from across the African continent to mass audiences.

“Watching Black Panther was absolutely incredible because I’m from South Africa and it was lovely to see me being represented in a Hollywood film, and The Lion King is just the same,” Dlamini observed. “It’s beautiful because we love to share our culture, and I think with any culture all around the world, it’s so beautiful to see people appreciate your culture.”

The many demands of the roles require the cast to be in peak physical condition. “I try to eat well. Singapore has such good food and I love good food, but I also need to remember that I have a job to do,” Dlamini quipped with a laugh. “It’s just remembering that I need to keep in shape and I need that corset to fit me over the next three months,” she said, adding “I do it for Nala.”

The father-son relationship between Mufasa and Simba is at the emotional core of the show. Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile, who plays Mufasa, drew on his personal background for his interpretation of the role. “I come from a very spiritual family and tradition myself, as a Zulu man. I believe in my ancestors as well. It helps to have that connection when Mufasa has to impart his life lessons and his traditions and his spirituality to Young Simba.”

Antony Lawrence and Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile

Even out of costume during our interview, Khanyile projects the ideal blend of regalness and warmth. Speaking about how Mufasa must be both a king and a father, Khanyile mused “it’s a balance that he has to find. Unfortunately, he doesn’t know he’s running out of time, but he has a sense that he has to get this message across to [Simba] now. He has to take the mask off at certain points and be a father and just not be the king at all, and there’s a different Mufasa that comes out in that instance.”

Khanyile takes the expectations audiences will have of him in his stride. “Everyone remembers the first time they saw The Lion King, and when Mufasa dies, how they felt,” he said. “Having that as something that I am entrusted with to give to an audience eight times a week is a huge responsibility.” Rather than being daunted by it, Khanyile is empowered by the expectations. “I know that I have to do the best and I know that I have to enjoy it, because if I’m enjoying it, then the audience gets to enjoy the character as well,” he explained.

English actor Antony Lawrence plays Scar, the villain of the piece – or, as this writer likes to refer to the character, ‘Clawdius’. Lawrence identified Scar as marking a turning point in the chronology of Disney villains, who had earlier mostly been cackling witches. “He has his scary moments, but then he’s incredibly funny and incredibly sarcastic and he’s witty and he’s charming,” Lawrence observed. “He’s not just evil, there are all these other layers to him.”

Scar derives pleasure from manipulating others so he can get a rise out of them. “He loves winding Zazu up, he loves winding Mufasa up,” Lawrence said. “If he makes his brother snap, all of a sudden the king’s not acting very king-like, and he made that happen.”

For a show with so many moving parts, there are bound to be the occasional snags, but Lawrence and his castmates roll with the punches. “If something happens, the important thing is to stay in character and use it in a way,” he reasoned. “My mask can sometimes be a bit temperamental and if it moves by itself, I just go with it.”

Zazu, the king’s majordomo, represents the colonial presence in Africa and is a caricature of a stuffy English butler. Australian actor André Jewson portrays the supercilious hornbill. He recalled being “blown away by the inventiveness and beauty of the production” when he first saw The Lion King during a family holiday to Sydney. Dressed in a bowler hat and tails, sporting white and blue facepaint and manipulating a Zazu puppet, Jewson sticks out from the rest of the cast, and that’s by design.

“He’s very erect, he’s like a butler or even a waiter – the arm [held out in front of him] is like a waiter in a posh restaurant with a white napkin over the arm,” Jewson said as he demonstrated the Zazu puppet for the press. Jewson summed up Zazu’s traits as “twitchiness, reminiscent of fight, of flight, bird characteristics melded with this posh Englishman.” Jewson said that acting with the puppet felt awkward for the first month of rehearsal, but after that point, it all became muscle memory.

The puppets were designed by Taymor and Michael Curry – Curry recently devised the Sven reindeer costume for Disney Theatrical’s latest Broadway musical, Frozen. A core concept of the presentation of the Lion King musical is the ‘double event’ – the actors operating the puppets are not hidden, so the expressions and movements of the actors, in addition to the way they manipulate the puppets, informs the character.

Tim Lucas Tan and Doc Zorthian

Tim Lucas Tan is the head of the puppet department. He was inspired to get into modelmaking by the Star Wars films, and is a part of the Singapore-based animatronics effects and specialty costume studio Core Crew FX. “A lot of the stuff that was used the make the puppets was cutting-edge technology that’s now the norm,” Tan said. The puppet department is on high alert during the show to ensure everything is shipshape. “This show runs at a particular speed and pace,” Tan noted. “Should anything happen, we need to get it fixed on the side and get it to work.”

Production supervisor Doc Zorthian was the original stage manager for The Lion King on Broadway in 1997 and has been a fixture of the show ever since. “Everything is so unique. Everything is designed so specifically, and yet it’s like a simple stroke,” Zorthian enthused. “You don’t really realise how powerful the details are, and when the details are missing, it loses such an impact.”

Over 20 years on, Zorthian still finds the magic in the routine. “We’ll rehearse it and rehearse it, but that first preview when there’s an audience in the auditorium for the first time, I still get chills,” he said. “There’s an energy in the room and your body just tingles. I’m still trying to figure out what it is, but it’s so electric and so exciting. People really react to it.”

Before The Lion King returns to the big screen in 2019, in the form of a photo-realistic CGI remake directed by Jon Favreau, audiences in Singapore can venture into the Pridelands at the MBS Theatre. The Lion King is now playing until 26 August 2018. Tickets start from $65 (excluding $4 booking fee). Visit https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/lionking0918 for tickets.

Always and for Eva: Evita press call

For inSing

Always and For Eva

inSing goes beyond the balcony of the Casa Rosada at Evita

By Jedd Jong

It’s an understatement to say that Andrew Lloyd Webber has made quite the impact on musical theatre. Evita is one of the impresario’s earlier hits – featuring music by Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice, the show opened on the West End in 1978 and on Broadway in 1979. The musical contains such numbers as “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, “High Flying Adored”, “On This Night of a Thousand Stars” and “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”. Now, fresh off engagements in Johannesburg and Cape Town in South Africa, the production has arrived in Singapore for the very first time.

inSing was at the press call for Evita on Tuesday, 27 February, at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands Singapore. The show is based on the life of Eva Perón, the Argentinian First Lady from 1946 to 1952 – affectionately referred to as “Evita”.

Eva grew up in the provincial town of Junín, and headed to Buenos Aires to pursue an acting career. She caught the eye of Colonel Juan Perón, who is elected the president of Argentina in 1946. Eva and her husband become polarising figures, attracting both worship and harsh criticism. The musical follows Eva from her teenage years to her death from cancer at the tragically young age of 33 in 1952. This is all narrated by Che, a one-man Greek chorus who is often cynical of Eva and the adoration she attracts.

Evita began life as a rock opera concept album in 1976, and it went on to receive major theatrical award including the Tony and Olivier Awards for Best Musical. Luminaries including Elaine Paige and Patti LuPone have portrayed Eva. During the musical’s 2012 Broadway run, Elena Roger played Eva, opposite Ricky Martin as Che.

In 1996, the musical was adapted into a feature film directed by Alan Parker and starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. The film won a Best Original Song Oscar for “You Must Love Me”, which has since been integrated into the stage production.

Evita is directed by Harold “Hal” Prince, the nigh-legendary theatre director who turns 90 this year. The Phantom of the Opera, Sweeney Todd and Cabaret are some of his other credits. “I’ve been working for him for 15 years, and no two days are alike,” Daniel Kutner, associate director to Prince, said. “He is filled with energy, and always thinking, always creative, always looking for the next project. He’s not somebody who rests on his laurels,” Kutner continued, adding that Prince is currently working on two brand new projects.

The cast is led by English actress Emma Kingston as Eva. Kingston’s mother is Argentinian, which gives her an added connection to the material. Kingston was hand-picked by Lloyd Webber and Rice to play Eva. At the press call, we watched Kingston perform three numbers: “What’s New Buenos Aires”, “High Flying Adored” and of course “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”.

“High Flying Adored” is mostly sung by Che, who is played by South African actor Jonathan Roxmouth. Roxmouth has starred in such shows as The Phantom of the Opera, Beauty and the Beast, West Side Story and Sunset Boulevard.

In Argentina, “Che” is slang for “friend”, somewhat akin to “dude”. The character was not initially intended to be Che Guevara, but director Prince patterned Che after the Argentinian-Cuban revolutionary. Guevara never met Eva or Juan Perón.

“What I’ve found is that you don’t talk at the audience, you talk to them. I get to connect and make eye contact and see people and check in with them throughout the show,” Roxmouth said of the role. “It’s really cool from that point of view because he’s not a standard narrator, he’s a narrator in the show and out of the show at the same time. Once the audience understands that, we have a lot of fun together, and I find that very rewarding.”

“Waltz for Eva and Che”, a number in the second act, is the culmination of the relationship between the First Lady and the narrator. “The audience, you can feel, are almost willing you to touch one another…and we just don’t,” Roxmouth said. He described Eva and Che as “these two incredible forces, like oil and water”, saying that it can be interpreted that Che is Eva’s conscience in the show.

The show also stars Robert Finlayson as Juan Perón and Anton Luitingh (who is also the resident director) as Augustin Magaldi.

Evita has attracted controversy, especially from within Argentina, because it generally depicts Eva in an unflattering light and as a conniving social climber obsessed with glamour and beauty. While it’s never been officially confirmed, it appears that Rice drew primarily from the biography The Woman with the Whip by Mary Main, which was very much anti-Peronist. Main’s book has been accused of overlooking the political and socio-political causes championed by Peronism, instead focusing on the seamier aspects of Eva’s rise to power.

Kutner hopes audiences will come in with an open mind. His take is that Evita is “about how we never truly know who our leaders are. We get the perception of them, we see them on TV, we hear them, but we don’t know who they are.” Kutner pointed out how Eva and Juan Perón were some of the first politicians to become media darlings and who embraced the flashbulbs of the press and the adoration of the public. The show begins with a depiction of Eva’s funeral procession, which snaked through the city of Buenos Aires.

Kutner called the cast “terrific and peerless,” noting how daunting a show it is to sing. “Because of the challenging notes and the range of this score, it can make mincemeat out of you unless you can really navigate it,” Kutner said.

Louis Zurnamer, the musical director and conductor, noted the complexity of the rock opera score, saying “it’s challenging from a historical point of view, it is not an easy musical and not every tune you’re going to sing in the shower tomorrow,” he said. “You know that you’re dealing with something very sophisticated.”

Billed as “powerful, passionate and political”, Evita promises transport audiences in Singapore to Argentina, to witness the heady life and times of a colourful and controversial figure, a woman who was a force to be reckoned with.

Emma Kingston (Eva) and Jonathan Roxmouth (Che)

Evita is produced by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Base Entertainment Asia and David Atkins Enterprises in association with David Ian and Peter Toerien and by special arrangement with The Really Useful Group. The show runs in Singapore from 23 February to 18 March 2018, and tickets begin at $55 (excluding $4 booking fee).

Photos by Jedd Jong

Coco Movie Review

For inSing

COCO

Director : Lee Unkrich, Adrian Molina
Voice Cast : Gael García Bernal, Anthony Gonzalez, Benjamin Bratt, Renée Victor
Genre : Animation/Comedy/Musical
Run Time : 109 mins (+22 mins for Olaf’s Frozen Adventure)
Opens : 23 November 2017
Rating : PG

Coco-posterThe dead have never been more alive than in this animated fantasy-comedy-musical. Nobody’s suffering from even the slightest hint of rigor mortis, and the Land of the Dead is filled with dancing and singing. That’s not to say there isn’t drama afoot.

Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) is a 12-year-old boy who dreams of being a musician, and who idolises the singer and film star Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt), the most famous musician in the history of Mexico. There’s just one catch: music is forbidden from the Rivera household. This is because Miguel’s great-great-grandmother Mamá Imelda (Alanna Ubach) was married to a musician, who abandoned the family and broke her heart. Miguel’s great-grandmother Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), the oldest living member of the Rivera clan, has never quite recovered from this.

On the night of Día de Muertos, the Day of the Dead celebration, the veil between this world and the next is at its thinnest. Miguel accidentally finds himself a visitor in the Land of the Dead where he meets his deceased relatives, who attempt to get Miguel safely home to the land of the living. Miguel befriends the roguish trickster Hector (Gael García Bernal), who says he can help Miguel cross back. It’s a family reunion between the living and the dead, but it’s also a race against time – if Miguel doesn’t make it back by sunrise, he will find himself a permanent resident in this ghostly realm.

Coco-Miguel-Hector-tram

The Mexican tradition of Día de Muertos has figured in popular culture before, notably in the computer game Grim Fandango, the earlier animated film The Book of Life, and in the pre-titles sequence of the Bond movie Spectre. Día de Muertos embodies an uplifting attitude towards death that treats it as a part of life – death is still mourned, but perhaps is not as feared or as a dreaded as in other cultures.

Coco-family-1

Coco does not appear to cherry-pick elements of Mexican culture to bolt on to a generic product. This is a film which is richly authentic and takes sheer delight in being so. While director Unkrich is white and was born and raised in Cleveland, Ohio, Coco does not feel like the work of a curious outsider peering in through the window. The screenplay is credited to Adrian Molina and Matthew Aldrich, and this is a strong, fully-realised story. Molina was promoted to co-director partway through production. The central conceit is clever, the characters are distinctive but not overly gimmicky, and the jaw-dropping twist is sheer masterful storytelling.

This being a Pixar film, the visuals are a joy to behold. The animation team had to rethink how the characters move, since the skeletal denizens of the afterlife do not have the musculature which informs how flesh-and-blood human beings move. The designers have great fun devising the look of the Land of the Dead. It’s colourful and zany, but everything feels guided by rock-solid design principles, and not one detail seems superfluous.

Coco-Miguel-Dante

Directors of photography Matt Aspbury and Danielle Feinberg utilise warm lighting that makes the afterlife appear inviting and festive rather than foreboding, while keeping it otherworldly. The film features a variety of creatures known as Alebrije, which function as spirit guides. Mama Imelda’s Alebrije, a winged jaguar called Pepita, is especially striking. Miguel’s ‘Alebrije’ of sorts is a mangy-but-loveable stray dog named Dante – after Dante’s Inferno.

The voice actors impart believable verve, and are just heightened and theatrical enough without coming off as too over-the-top. Miguel is eminently loveable, and the character’s conflict between following his passion for music and the life his family dictates for him is one that is readily relatable.

Coco-Hector-Miguel-1

The Hector character is a likeable scamp who can fast-talk his way out of any jam, and who ‘knows a guy who knows a guy’. Once Hector is introduced, we think we’ve got him all figured out, since he fits that old archetype to a tee. Bernal lends the character surprising nuance, and as we learn more about him, there’s considerable depth to be found.

Coco-Ernesto-dela-Cruz-Miguel

Bratt has fun as the beloved matinee idol Ernesto de la Cruz. He sings the song “Remember Me”, but for the other songs, Ernesto’s singing voice is provided by Antonio Sol. The mini-mythology of the canon of songs that Ernesto has sung and movies he’s starred in provides valuable texture to the world.

Coco-Miguel-1

As in almost every culture, music figures heavily in Mexican traditions. Coco features songs written by Robert and Kristen Anderson-Lopez of Frozen fame, as well as Germaine Franco and co-screenwriter Molina. The film’s signature song “Remember Me” is a stirring, evocative number and it works as a crucial plot point as well as it does a standalone ballad.

Coco did not just move this reviewer to tears, it made him bawl. There’s power and enveloping warmth to this tale and the visually inventive way in which it’s told. Just as Inside Out was the launchpad for many a family discussion on mental health after watching the movie, Coco is a great way for kids to process death and how it is a part of life. Steeped in a fascinating culture and bringing that culture to mass audiences, Coco is an all-involving celebratory masterpiece.

RATING: 4.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Bringing the hills to life: The Sound of Music press call

For inSing

BRINGING THE HILLS TO LIFE: THE SOUND OF MUSIC PRESS CALL

inSing gets a preview of the legendary musical as it returns to Singapore

By Jedd Jong

The Sound of Music is among the most enduring and iconic stage musicals ever created, and it has returned to Singapore. inSing was at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre to attend the press call for The Sound of Music, where the show last played in 2014.

The Sound of Music is a fictionalisation of The Story of the Trapp Family Singers, the real-life Maria Von Trapp’s autobiography. The story revolves around Maria Rainier, a free-spirited former nun who is hired as the governess to an unyielding Naval captain’s seven children. The children, whom she teaches to sing, eventually warm to Maria, and the family becomes known as a singing group. However, their idyllic existence is threatened by the onset of World War II, and the family must plot their escape from the Nazis, who have ordered the Von Trapps to perform for them.

The team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II created such memorable songs as “Climb Ev’ry Mountain”, “My Favourite Things”, “Edelweiss” and “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”, many of which have become standards within the showtune genre. The show debuted in 1959 and was adapted into an Oscar-winning film in 1965. The film, starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer and directed by Robert Wise, recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

This iteration of the show was first staged in 2006 at the London Palladium, produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber. An agreement between Lloyd Webber’s The Really Useful Group and the Rodgers and Hammerstein estates means that this is the only production that is currently granted permission to use the songs that appear in the film version.

Associate director Frank Thompson has been with the show since 2006, and was the Resident Director of The Sound of Music when it was performed at the London Palladium and for its subsequent UK tour. Thompson remarked that while most touring productions of musicals are pared down from the original staging, The Sound of Music seems to have gotten bigger – seven-eight shipping crates are required to transport the show’s equipment, sets, backdrops, props and costumes from country to country.

Carmen Pretorius and Nicholas Maude

“You can’t get anything better than live dialogue and live music and the experience through that tangible medium,” Thompson said, when asked why audiences should come to see the show live. “Sometimes we are so attached to technology that we don’t feel it as much.”

The lead role of Maria is played by South African performer Carmen Pretorius, who previously portrayed the oldest Von Trapp daughter Liesl when the show last came to Singapore. “Artistically, it’s a very big step up,” Pretorius said of her ‘promotion’. “It’s a challenge, it’s exciting and it keeps me on my toes. Liesl was a little bit less challenging. It’s been a very exciting journey and I’ve gotten to know the show very well from two different angles.”

Pretorius described the process of breathing life into the show performance after performance – the show runs eight times a week. “The key for any good actor is to be in the moment. Although a lot of things are set, we do have to play off each other, and that’s what keeps the magic alive.” Pretorius added that it is key to remember that each audience is comprised of completely different people, and many might be seeing Maria melt the Captain’s heart for the first time.

“It’s very easy to melt when you look at Carmen, you just do that,” said Nicholas Maude, who plays Captain Von Trapp.

“It’s very easy to melt when you look at Nick,” Pretorius replied, the actors demonstrating their chemistry.

Being in a touring production of a musical is tough on the body. Pretorius’ secret weapon: ginger. In addition to drinking ginger tea, Pretorius “bites ginger like an apple”. She also swears by Pei Pa Koa, the traditional Chinese throat remedy.

On the children in the cast, Maude remarked ““They’re so professional and it’s inspiring,” adding that he would not have been as confident and professional at that age. “When I was younger, I was gawky and insecure. They’re so good, they’re so talented, and they really give on stage.”

Pretorius agreed, saying that working with the young cast members reminds her of when she was starting out as a theatre performer. “You forget being that little kid going to your first audition and having big dreams about being on stage. You can see that happening on their faces and it reminds you of your own journey; we all relate to that.”

“They’re going to teach me about Snapchat,” Maude quipped.

Left to right: Emily Riddle, Jane Callista, Chloe Choo, Alfie Hodgson, Sophea Pennington, Mateo Fuentes, Zoe Beavon

The role of Liesl is played throughout the tour by Zoe Beavon, but the younger Von Trapp children are cast with local child actors from each city that the tour visits. A total of 18 children share the six roles, and we met some of them at the press call.

Being a part of the production is an educational experience for these budding theatre actors, many of whom are already accomplished despite their age. “We get to learn all the theatre rules and get to meet all these incredible people and professionals,” said Jane Callista, who plays Marta. Callista was a finalist on The Voices Kids Indonesia in 2016.

From left: Jane Callista, Frank Thompson, Chloe Choo

Chloe Choo, who plays Brigitta, is no stranger to the stage. She recently played Small Allison in Pangdemonium’s staging of the musical Fun Home. The 11-year-old Choo is no stranger to The Sound of Music either, having played the role of Gretl in 2014. Thompson joked that when the show returns in 2080, Choo will play Maria.

13-year-old Mateo Fuentes, who plays Friedrich, said that the cast has become “like [his] family”. Being in the show has given him the opportunity “to learn with people who come from all around the world.”

From left: Mateo Fuentes, Sophea Pennington, Alfie Hodgson, Chloe Choo, Jane Callista, Emily Riddle

The Sound of Music was the first musical that Emily Riddle, who plays the littlest Von Trapp child, watch. When asked if she is living her dream, she replied empathically “I am!”

“I think the show is very beautiful and I think it touches many people’s hearts,” Sophea Pennington, who plays Louisa, remarked. Pennington’s family moved from Australia to Singapore four years ago, and she has played several leading roles, including Annie in the Stamford American International School production of the musical. “It really does bring people together,” she said of the show.

Alfie Hodgson, who plays Kurt, said he enjoys the experience of “having a professional job and meeting all the cast”. Hodgson has acted on the MBS Theatre stage before, in 2016’s A Right Rubbish Christmas.

Janelle Visagie

Janelle Visagie reprises the role of the Mother Abbess, which she also played in 2014. Like Pretorius, she is from South Africa, and has performed in multiple productions for the Cape Town Opera, including Madam ButterflyDon Giovanni and Rigoletto. Viasagie laughed heartily when this writer suggested that the Mother Abbess is like Maria’s Yoda. “Carmen and I are really good friends in real life, and I am a little bit older than her, so it makes it a bit easier to go into that role of being a caregiver type,” she said of playing the role of mentor and spiritual guide.

What Viasagie admires most about Singapore might be surprising – it’s the way we manage our water resources. “The way Singapore uses their water, reuse and recycle, it’s not a tourist thing, but for me it’s one of the most amazing things about Singapore, how effective they are. Everything is so efficient and clean,” she said.

The Sound of Music is an Andrew Lloyd Webber, David Ian and The Really Useful Group production, presented by Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, BASE Entertainment Asia, Sliding Doors Entertainment and David Atkins Enterprises. The show runs from 7 November to 2 December 2017 at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Sinapore. Ticket prices start from $65 (excluding the $4 booking fee per ticket). Visit www.MarinaBaySands.com/ticketing or www.sistic.com.sg to purchase tickets.

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 2

Here’s the Mega Picture Post for Day 2. I had a little more fun because I had gotten my bearings, but the layout still did throw me for a loop. I spent most of this day hanging out with my friend Shaun, who was dressed as the Joker and stopped for lots of photos with children, none of him he killed – so he didn’t go all the way into character. Please check out Day 1’s Mega Picture Post here.

Jay as Doctor Strange

Shaun as the Joker in the Millennium Falcon

Is the Joker worthy?

Mjolnir may have made its choice, but that doesn’t mean Thor has to approve.

KO!

The Marvel gang seems quite accepting of the Joker.

Eunice as Harley Quinn and Alice as Poison Ivy

Joker gets all the gals

Something the Joker is very used to.

Another Tiny Rey

The reptilian conspiracy is real!

The First Order assembles

Theresa as Velma

Joker and Dany

Spider-Man vs. Doc Ock

Abigail as Wonder Woman

Another Harley and her best friend (or maybe something more)

“Chewie…we’re home”

Alexander as Anakin Skywalker: “Grandson, why?!!?”

All the Tiny Reys!

The Comic Giants panel (From left): C.B. Cebulski, Adi Granov, Art Adams, Frank Cho, Sonny Liew

Don’t breach the quarantine zone!

Cheryl as Black Canary

James C. Mulligan speed-painting

I wonder what that could be

Ah, I see it now

5 minute master piece

ILM Singapore visual effects supervisor Nigel Sumner speaking about the visual effects of Rogue One

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Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: hammerhead

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Batman

Rejected Scarif Imperial Citadel designs: Don’t know what this resembles

Viv as Kida and Dom as Milo

Tiny Rey!

Jaylah from Star Trek Beyond

Red Hood and Joker

Hikka as Rapunzel

Joker and Deadpool slapfight!

With the gorgeous Cara Keilani as Miranda Lawson

Jaye as Chell

Fiz as Narrator Core, Neptys as GLaDOS and Jaye as Chell

Life-sized Gladiator Hulk and Thor by Hot Toys

Hot Toys’ Wonder Woman

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman

Hot Toys’ Executioner Trooper

Hot Toys’ Kylo Ren

 

Big ol’ group shot to cap off the event

STGCC 2017 Mega Picture Post: Day 1

Here’s the annual instalment of my STGCC Mega Picture Post. This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention. It’s purported to be bigger and better than previous year – the former, certainly, but I can’t say I agree about the latter. The layout of the show floor did mess with my head and did a number on me. It was tricky to get from one area to the next, and to exit the hall, one had to pass through the gaming area GGXP. The security checks made entering and leaving a hassle, but I acknowledge and appreciate the purpose of those safety measures.

That said, it’s hard not to have fun when being surrounded by various and sundry geekery, and STGCC is the time of year when I get to meet many friends whom I don’t see on the regular. The star of the show definitely was the life-sized instalments built by Belgium’s BCD-VZW studio: the interior of the Millennium Falcon, and Rey’s Speeder. Here are the photo highlights from Day 1. If you can identify any cosplayers I haven’t named, please leave a comment and I’ll be sure to credit them. Thank you, and enjoy!

BCD-VZW chairman/head engineer Stefan Cembolista with his handiwork

The secret autograph panel, which includes the signatures of J. J. Abrams and product designers from Lego and Hasbro.

This is my geeking out face

Hot Toys’ Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 lineup

Hot Toys’ Rocket and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Gamora

Hot Toys’ life-sized Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Star-Lord and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Yondu and Baby Groot

Hot Toys’ Drax and his sensitive nipples

Iron Man and the Hulkbuster, aka Veronica

Hot Toys’ Boba Fett, style after his appearance in the Droids animated series.

Hot Toys’ Anakin Skywalker

Hot Toys’ Hoth Princess Leia

Hot Toys’ Grand Moff Tarkin

Hot Toys’ Netflix Punisher

Hot Toys’ Netflix Daredevil

Hot Toys’ armoured Batman

Hot Toys’ Justice League

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Hot Toys’ Justice League Batman and Batmobile

Hot Toys’ Thor: Ragnarok display 

 

 

 

Hot Toys’ Hela. Cate Blanchett is gonna be so much fun in this role.

Hot Toys’ Loki

Hot Toys’ Gladiator Hulk

Hot Toys’ Spider-Man: Homecoming lineup

Hot Toys’ life-sized Spider-Man from Homecoming

Han Solo in the Falcon

The Scavenger astride her speeder

Look what Rey found!

Constable Zuvio wandered over from the deleted scenes corner

Han in the Falcon, in both their primes.

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“Something about this feels so familiar…”

Jack Sparrow and a fellow rouguish scoundrelly Captain

The first of many Tiny Reys!

Beast Kingdom’s life-sized Gladiator Hulk

Beast Kingdom’s life-sized Thor

With Shaun Lu as a Ghostbuster

Shaun and photographer Mezame goofing about with Mezame’s camera pole

Millennium Falcon model kit

Homemade Spidey

Frank Cho live drawing Venom

 

Disney fine artist James C. Mulligan with a print of his Rey piece

Legendary artist Art Adams

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Poison Ivy statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Catwoman statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Joker prototype

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batman

XM Studios’ Avengers figures

XM Studios’ Magneto prototype

XM Studios’ Boba Fett statue

XM Studios’ epic X-Men vs. Sentinel battle statue

XM Studios’ Pilot Luke on Hoth statue

XM Studios’ Black Widow statue

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Bane prototype

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batgirl

XM Studios’ Japanese-inspired Batgirl closeup

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XM Studios’ Venom statue

XM Studios’ Spider-Gwen statue

Hot Toys’ Nolanverse Batmen

Hot Toys’ Jail Cell Joker

Hot Toys’ Joker

Speedy cosplay

Wonder Woman and Dr. Poison cosplay

Anna of Arendelle cosplay

Predator vs. Wolverine statue

1/2 scale TIE Silencer

Kylo Ren and the S. S. Whinypants

It’s Star-Lord, man!

Han Solo wants YOU to join the Rebellion

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*Inquisitive uteeni*

Rebel shipyard diorama

Trench run diorama

Lego diorama

Black Series Rey and Speeder

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Exclusive George Lucas figure

Jabba the Hutt

Neptys’ Robo-Geisha cosplay from Ghost in the Shell. Her mask opened up, I’m bummed I didn’t get to see that

Boba Fett has captured his target

Alvin as Kylo Ren

Tiny Thor battle cry!

Eunice as Poison Ivy

Caetuna as Mulan

Cheryl as Vigilante Felicity Smoak

Ihsan as Green Arrow

Tiny Ollie!

Marvel vs. DC teams forming up

Marvel and DC united

Theresa as Baroness

Star-Lord dancing; Gamora not dancing

Victoria as Poison Ivy

Vic as Poison Ivy holding Poison Ivy

WHITE CHICKS!!!

Dawn as Supergirl. She’s holding Han Solo because Kara’s boss Cat Grant is played by Calista Flockhart, wife of one Harrison Ford.

Tiny Spidey with Spidey statue

Harley Quinn and her best pal

Rocky as Wolverine downing his sorrows

DC Super Hero Girls Katana

Riyuukii as New 52 Harley Quinn

Starfire and Blackfire

SISTER FIGHT!

Katy as Starfire

Christopher as Ron and Samantha as Kim Possible

Dave as King Leonidas, with Wonder Woman

Princess power!

Jay as Sherlock Holmes

Jinko as the Joker

“Grandson, I am disappoint”

“…But I still love you”

This Kabuki cosplayer got to meet David Mack!

DC crew

Newt and Gwen as Percival Graves

Black Panther and Shuri: FOR WAKANDA!

Look at how happy this tiny Jyn Erso is!

Mulan gang with X-23, also a lady who’s good with blades

Somebody scowling on the sketch wall

Teen Titans gang

Oh man there was a Go-Go Yubari

Road to darkness by XM Studios

Deadpool and his buddy

XM Studios’ Sentinel vs. X-Men battle again

Me with friends! From left: Shuan as Ronald McDonald, Jaye as Red from Transistor, and Neptys as Robo-Geisha from Ghost in the Shell

Jaye as Red from Transistor

SZECHUAN. SAUCE.

They are Number One

Shaun sketching the Joker – foreshadowing for Day 2!

Spider-Man: Homecoming Singapore red carpet and press conference

For F*** Magazine

THIS IS HOME, TRULY: SPIDER-MAN HOMECOMING STARS IN SINGAPORE
F*** meets Tom Holland and Jacob Batalon at the Spider-Man: Homecoming red carpet

By Jedd Jong

Three years after hosting Andrew Garfield and the other stars and filmmakers of The Amazing Spider-Man 2, a newly-minted web-slinging hero has arrived on our shores. Tom Holland, star of Spider-Man: Homecoming and Jacob Batalon, who plays Ned Leeds, graced the red carpet at the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore on Wednesday, 7 May. F*** was there as attendees greeted the latest actor to don the red and blue bodysuit.

Singapore is the first stop for the Spider-Man: Homecoming promotional tour; the movie opens in around a month’s time. Sony Pictures, which holds the film rights to the Spider-Man character, reached a deal with the Disney-owned Marvel Studios, leasing the character to the latter so Spider-Man could appear in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This allows Spider-Man to interact with the other heroes in the larger Marvel universe, something which fans have long been hankering for. The title not only refers to the American high school tradition of the Homecoming dance, but has the meta-fictional implication that Spider-Man is now back where he belongs, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with other Marvel characters.

This incarnation of the character was introduced in 2016’s Captain America: Civil War, aiding Team Iron Man in their fight against Team Cap. Spider-Man: Homecoming depicts how Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s existence is irrevocably changed after his return from the monumental airport showdown in Leipzig. Peter deals with life as an average high-schooler, but yearns to fight crime alongside the Avengers. Peter’s mentor Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) cautions him against biting off more than he can chew, but Peter is determined to prove his worth. Spidey battles Adrian Toomes/The Vulture (Michael Keaton), who uses stolen alien technology salvaged in the wake of the Avengers’ battle against the Chitauri to create cutting-edge weapons and gear. The Vulture and his cohorts Phineas Mason/Tinkerer (Michael Chernus) and Herman Schultz/Shocker (Bokeem Woodbine) menace New York City, endangering Peter’s loved ones – especially his dear Aunt May (Marisa Tomei).

Deejays Justin Ang and Vernon A, known collectively as ‘the Muttons’, were the emcees for the closed-door event, during which select fans and a contingent of cosplayers dressed as various versions of Spider-Man and Spider-Woman from across the Spider-verse got to meet Holland and Batalon. A stuntman dressed in the Spidey costume leaped onstage and posed for the cameras. The actors then took questions from the media at a press conference moderated by actor Adrian Pang.

Holland has starred in films like The Impossible, In the Heart of the Sea, How I Live Now, Locke and The Lost City of Z – and he’s all of 21-years-young. He got his start in showbiz playing Billy Elliot in the eponymous West End musical. When asked what his impression of Singapore was, Holland enthused that it was as if he had “flown to a better planet,” describing the country as “so modern and beautiful”. Holland and Batalon posted the requisite selfie taken in the Marina Bay Sands Hotel’s famous rooftop Infinity Pool on Instagram. Also seen in the photo was Harrison Osterfield, Holland’s best friend who worked as a production assistant on Spider-Man: Homecoming.

This is Batalon’s second movie credit; his first being the independent horror film North Woods. He described the experience as “surreal”, and that “every day felt like a dream.” Batalon plays Ned Leeds, who in the comics is Peter’s colleague at the Daily Bugle newspaper. The film alters the character such that he is Peter Parker’s best friend in school, and it was clear that Batalon and Holland shared an easy chemistry. “I hope to never wake up,” Batalon added wistfully. The scene in which Ned dons Peter’s Spider-Man mask was improvised by the two, and it got such a good reaction from the crew that director Jon Watts decided to build a scene around the gag.

Holland has been upfront about how big a Spider-Man fan he’s been since childhood. At the Empire Awards five years ago, when a reporter asked Holland which superhero he’d like to play, Holland answered “I’d like to be the Spider-Man after Andrew Garfield, in ten years.” He didn’t know he’d get his turn much sooner.

When Holland heard that Spider-Man would be recast, he begged his agent to pursue the role. Holland weathered a protracted process of auditions and screen tests, eventually working his way to a screen test with Downey Jr. himself. “The further down the line I got, the closer I got to the part, the more I wanted it,” Holland shared earnestly. Funnily enough, Holland found out that he was selected for the coveted role via an announcement on Instagram. “My brother Harry, he’s quite savvy with computers, and he told me ‘dude, they’ve probably been hacked,’” Holland recalled. Shortly after learning the news of his casting, Holland received a call from Marvel Studios president Feige, making it truly official.

When Pang asked if Holland felt any pressure from taking on the mantle of such an iconic character, Holland gamely replied “I love pressure. Pressure is my thing, I find it a really good sort of fuel to motivate myself.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

What can fans get out of the movie that the previous big-screen versions of Spider-Man have yet to offer? “I don’t want fans to have to buy tickets to a movie they’ve already seen,” Holland declared. He asserted that Spider-Man: Homecoming “ground[s] the character in reality”. “We’ve seen the god, we’ve seen the billionaire and we’ve seen the scientist,” Holland reasoned, referring to Thor, Iron Man and the Hulk. “Now it’s really time to see what would happen if a kid got superpowers.”

Audiences will get to see what happens for themselves, when Spider-Man: Homecoming opens in theatres in Singapore on 6 July 2017.

Photos by Ore Huiying, Getty Images for Sony Pictures, unless otherwise stated.

Sister Act the Musical Press Call

For F*** Magazine

SHE AIN’T HEAVY, SHE’S MY SISTER
F*** joins the congregation for the preview of Sister Act the musical
By Jedd Jong

The Asian tour of the musical Sister Act takes the soulful nuns to Singapore, following a U.S. national tour. F*** was at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, for the press call on 8th May 2017, ahead of the show’s premiere on 9th May. We were treated to a performance of two numbers from the show, spoke with some of the cast and crew, and took a backstage tour to get a glimpse of the production’s inner workings.

Based on the beloved 1992 film of the same name, Sister Act chronicles the misadventures of Deloris Van Cartier (Dené Hill), a lounge singer who inadvertently witnesses her mobster boyfriend Curtis (Brandon Godfrey) commit a murder. For her protection, Deloris is placed in a convent, where she runs afoul of the Mother Superior (Rebecca Mason-Wygal), a stickler for tradition. Deloris winds up revitalising the convent with an innovative approach to religious music, befriending Sister Mary Patrick (Emma Brock) and helping the shy Sister Mary Robert (Sophie Kim) unearth her powerful potential as a vocalist. In the meantime, Curtis gets wind of her whereabouts, as police officer Eddie Souther (Will T. Travis) hunts Curtis down.

Sister Act’s libretto was written by Bill and Cheri Steinkellner with additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane; with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater. Menken and Slater have also collaborated on Disney’s animated films Tangled and Home on the Range, and the film-to-stage musicals The Little Mermaid, Leap of Faith and A Bronx Tale. Sister Act opened on London’s West End in 2009 and ran for just over a year, with a revised version of the show running on Broadway from 2011 to 2012. Sister Act was nominated for multiple Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Original Score and Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical, but won none.

While the plot remains largely faithful to that of the film, audiences should expect some differences. The film tooks place in the early 90s, which is when it was made, while the musical is set in 1970s Philadelphia. Music director Chris Babbage described it as a “musical snapshot of a moment in history,” stating that the score incorporates elements of “disco, a little bit of funk, a little bit of Motown”.

 

Unfortunately for fans attached to the covers of I Will Follow Him, My God (My Guy) and Oh Maria performed in the film, those are absent from the stage version. “Everything in this score is fresh,” said Babbage. He promised “intricate harmonies among the nuns as they learn to sing and as they have their big show-stopping numbers, 2, 3, 4-part harmonies,” adding that the lead role of Deloris is vocally challenging because the disco numbers require a large range. Babbage’s personal favourite number is Fabulous, Baby!, which establishes Deloris’s character at the top of the show, that he said “encapsulates Deloris and her energy,”

Sophie Kim, who plays Sister Mary Robert, is the first Asian actress to win the role in an English-language production of Sister Act. Kim is an established musical theatre star in South Korea, having performed in productions of West Side Story, Dreamgirls, Mamma Mia and Rent there. In 2010, she made the leap to Broadway, attending the New York Film Academy’s Musical Theatre Conservatory, working hard to overcome the language barrier. She went on to play Gigi in Miss Saigon and Tuptim in The King and I. Kim explained the affinity she has with Mary Robert, saying “this character is just like me in [the] U.S. I obeyed and followed whatever [anyone] told me to do. I always followed rules as well.” According to her, it is Mary Robert who “is going through the biggest change in this show.” Kim admires how Mary Robert becomes a “really brave, amazing woman who can stand up for what she believes,” saying its why she loves the role.

Brandon Godfrey plays Curtis Jackson, the mobster who goes from Deloris’ boyfriend to ruthlessly pursuing her after she sees him kill a man. The equivalent character in the film was named Vince LaRocca, and in the first version of the stage musical, was named Curtis Shank. Godfrey, alongside the actors playing Curtis’ goons, performed When I Find My Baby for the press.

When asked if it’s more fun to play the bad guy, Godfrey replied “Oh, absolutely.” Godfrey, who also played the abusive Mister in The Colour Purple, said he is often cast in villainous roles “because of [his] size”. While he might play a tough guy on stage, Godfrey has a sensitive side: his favourite part in the show is when Mother Superior finds a Bible under Deloris’ pillow, and softens her attitude towards the nightclub singer. “The whole time, Mother Superior has been angry at this girl, and then she realises ‘wow, we’ve done our job’, so that’s my favourite part,” Godfrey said.

Production stage manager Molly Goodwin took a group of journalists backstage for a glimpse behind the scenes. Goodwin was also the stage manager for the 2014-2015 US tour of the show, and thus knew Sister Act inside-out. Five shipping containers are required to transport the set pieces, costumes and other gear. Goodwin showed us where she’s stationed during each show: a console with monitors showing the front-of-house and the music director in the orchestra pit, with a cue sheet on a stand indicating when various lighting, sound and set cues are meant to occur in the show. Goodwin explained that she has more than 12 people, handling various aspects of the production, in her ear via a headset during each show.

Goodwin introduced us to a star of the show with no lines: the statue of Mother Mary. The figure stands just under five metres tall, and is covered by a tarp whenever the curtain is down. The statue has two sides: for most of the show, the side painted in normal colours is what the audience sees. Then for the finale, the statue is spun around to reveal a facade completely covered in mirrored tiles, like a disco ball. The statue is not the only one who gets a sparkly makeover: the cast don sequinned habits for the climactic number Spread the Love Around, which was performed at the press call. Goodwin described the mass backstage costume change as being choreographed like a dance.

When this writer asked Goodwin how she deals with the stress of stage managing a major production like Sister Act, Goodwin said that she feels in her element, and that sitting behind a desk and accounting would be really stressful for her. She said she sometimes has to remind her co-workers, “Guys, guys, we need to take the stress level down! We’re not cutting anybody open, we’re playing dress-up and make-believe!”, adding “we just have to keep a realistic perspective on everything.”

What’s the biggest thing audiences can look forward to from Sister Act? According to Nancy Evans, who plays Sister Mary Lazarus, it’s a good time. She hopes audiences will find themselves “having fun and feeling good about themselves as well as the show,” adding that “it’s a high-energy show that makes people laugh and cry, and stand up and sing at the end.”

Sister Act is presented by BASE Entertainment Asia and runs from 9th May to 28th May at the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands. Tickets are from $65 to $185 via Sistic and MBS.

Taste Paradise: Wonder Woman media launch

For F*** Magazine

TASTE PARADISE
F*** samples Wonder Woman-themed dishes at the DC Super Heroes Café
By Jedd Jong

After making her big screen debut in last year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, superheroine Wonder Woman will finally get a movie of her own. Tying in to the highly-anticipated film, a homegrown marketing effort is rolling out Wonder Woman-centric accessories, apparel and food. F*** was at the DC Super Heroes Café in the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore, for the product launch on 4th May.

Irwan Sukarman, creative director of JT Network, presented the Wonder Woman product line that will be hitting the shelves of DC Comics Super Heroes fashion and lifestyle stores in late May. JT Network owns the retail stores and the café, under license from Warner Bros. Consumer Products. Sukarman stated that the design principle boiled down to the three elements of “mythology, metal and strength,” to convey the “fierce grace” which is central to the Wonder Woman character. The items include tops for men, women and children, coasters, headphones, iPhone cases and bangles.

The product design competition WeDesign has partnered with DC Comics Super Heroes stores and Vendermac Distribution, theming this year’s contest to Wonder Woman. On 20th May 2017, the atrium at Bugis+ mall will host a design marathon where 120 designers will work on a given Wonder Woman-themed design challenge over a 4-hour period. The top five entries will win cash prizes, movie premiere tickets and limited edition collectibles. The winners will undergo the process of turning their designs into an actual product collection to be launched in the market. Head project manager Lee Kwan Ter unveiled Vendermac’s range of clutches, sling bags, keychains, pouches and laptop sleeves, which feature washed faux-leather and brushed metal details.

Chef Martin Woo explained his inspirations behind the special menu. Last year, the café also had tie-in dishes in the run-up to promote Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad. The Wonder Woman menu card itself is shaped like the titular character’s shield. Chef Woo stated that the governing theme in devising the menu was that of empowerment and vitality, and he wanted to emphasise the organic nature of Wonder Woman’s home, the paradise island of Themyscira.

First up was Themyscira: My Salad Origin ($16.90), which comprises cabbage, purple cabbage, green papaya, beetroot, cherry tomato, baby red radish, sliced carrot, sesame seeds and sweet corn in a creamy sesame dressing. This was largely unremarkable, and not unlike a salad one could whip up at home. The beetroot, cut into star shapes, was the most unique element of the dish. Chef Woo explained that to remove the earthy, astringent taste of the vegetable, the beetroot was wrapped in wet dough and baked before being sliced into shapes.

Our second course was Paradise Island Mac and Cheese ($18.90), inspired by the scene in the trailer in which Wonder Woman dives off a cliff into the ocean. The baked pasta dish comprises Conchiglie Rigate (shell-shaped pasta), a five-cheese and mentaiko (smoked cod roe cream) sauce, with prawns, white button mushrooms, turkey bacon and garlic. While we counted only two prawns in the whole dish, it tasted pleasant enough. Macaroni and Cheese is a go-to comfort food for this reviewer, and he was satisfied.

Then came the Truth and Beauty mini burgers ($22). It’s not sure whether Truth was chicken and Beauty was beef, or the other way around. The beef burger had a filling of ribeye steak, shitake mushroom, purple Spanish onion and cabbage, while the chicken burger had a chicken patty stuffed with cheddar and smoked mozzarella cheese, an onion ring, pineapple salsa, peanut butter, cabbage and a sunny-side up quail egg. The yellow bun was coloured with turmeric, and the pink with beetroot juice. The chicken slider was similar to the Superman-themed burger from the Batman v Superman menu last year, which also used peanut butter. The chicken patty was standard, ho-hum stuff. The beef slider fared significantly better, with the ribeye steak slices being remarkably tender and tasty.

For dessert, we had the Shields of Truth pancakes ($15.90). Each pancake was emblazoned with the Wonder Woman ‘W’ insignia, and they were served with strawberries, blueberries, kiwi, strawberry ice cream and a whipped cream topping. The pancakes themselves were sufficiently moist and dense, but the ice cream seemed awfully cheap, as if it was from a supermarket home brand.

To complement the meal, we had the optimistically-named Wonder Woman’s Box Office Power drink ($10.90), which came in a glass styled to resemble the character’s armoured bustier. An ice-blended salted caramel popcorn-flavoured drink, this was a dessert in a cup – i.e., really sweet.

As a DC fan, this writer always enjoys visiting the café, but just as we’ve said in our previous reviews of their themed menus, the food is akin to what would find in a theme park – in terms of both quality and price. It was a surprise that no Greek-themed dishes were showcased, seeing as Wonder Woman draws heavy inspiration from Greek mythology, and that seemed like an obvious direction to go in.

Wonder Woman opens in cinemas on 1st June 2017.

Wonder Woman custom action figure is the writer’s own