Kinky Boots Musical review

KINKY BOOTS

5 – 14 October
Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes – or, as it were, their patent leather stiletto boots. Kinky Boots, the musical about how changing your mind can change the world, has arrived in Singapore, and audiences are getting ready to say “yeah!”

Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton, which was in turn loosely inspired by the true story of the W.J. Brooks Shoe Company in Northamptonshire. 80s rock icon Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics, her first time composing a musical, with Harvey Fierstein supplying the book.

After tryouts in Chicago in 2012, the show debuted on Broadway the next year and proceeded to win big at the Tony Awards, clinching prizes including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The Broadway and West End productions are still running. This production is the U.S. national touring company, who have been travelling around the states since September 2017, and who visited three cities in China in July 2018 before the Singapore, uh, leg of their tour.

The show is mostly set at the Price and Son shoe factory in Northampton. Charlie Price (Lance Bordelon) has just inherited the business from his father, and finds himself at a crossroads, on the brink of having to shut down the factory and fire workers he’s known all his life. A chance encounter with the fabulous drag queen Lola (Jos N. Banks) sets Charlie on a new course. Charlie learns that the boots on Lola’s heels keep snapping off, because she is wearing shoes not designed to support the weight of a man.

With a push from factory worker Lauren (Sydney Patrick), who is nursing a crush on Charlie even though he’s engaged to Nicola (Hayley Lampart), Charlie decides that from here on out, Price and Son will be serving a ‘niche market’. Some of the workers, especially the boorish Don (Adam Du Plessis), baulk at Lola and her troupe of drag queens, known as ‘the Angels’. The unlikely partners of Charlie and Lola realise that what they have in common is stronger than what they don’t and set about designing and manufacturing a range of boots to showcase at the Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

Kinky Boots has often been described as a feel-good musical, and it fits that description in the best way. Some shows that strive to be life-affirming and inspiring can come off as schmaltzy or hollow, but Kinky Boots does have something to say, and is irrepressibly joyous as it shouts its message of acceptance from the rooftops. The show touches on gender roles and identity features a clash of cultures between more conservative working-class people and the LGBT+ community.

In its plot and characters, the adaptation is very faithful to the film. While it’s flashy and energetic, Kinky Boots is also a gentle show, and serves as a great entry-level experience for audiences who might not understand or haven’t gotten into drag culture. It’s certainly less intimidating than going to a full-on drag club for the first time might be, and as such is a great gateway. There has been some debate about the mainstreaming of drag, which was once something only a marginalised community partook in, but the appreciation and enjoyment of the art form can go a long way in fostering understanding between people who seem outwardly different.

Some of the show’s songs are disco-tinged numbers that one could picture Lauper herself performing, and several are designed to get everyone in the audience tapping their toes and clapping along. There’s an infectiousness to the Act One closer “Everybody Say Yeah”, and to the rousing finale “Just Be”. However, there are also more traditional Broadway show-stoppers in which the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and belt out their feelings, like “Not My Father’s Son”, “Hold Me in Your Heart” and “Soul of a Man”.

The setting of a shoe factory might seem drab, but there’s a cleverness to David Rockwell’s scenic design which sprinkles just a bit of magic dust on a worn-in working class environment. Subtle changes in Kenneth Posner’s lighting design set the mood, and at one point, the conveyor belt splits apart into a multi-section treadmill that the performers dance and do acrobatics on. The costumes by Gregg Barnes are stars in their own right; our audience cheered and clapped each time Lola or the Angels strutted onstage in a new get-up.

Bordelon embodies the ‘straight man’ (in every sense) archetype to a tee, playing a character who is hapless but a good distance from being a bumbling idiot. Just like every performer in the show, Bordelon moves well, though he only really gets to showcase this in the very last number. He hits all the high notes but did sound a little bit nasally at our performance, perhaps as the result of a cold.

Banks eats the Lola role up with great aplomb. Just like one must while dancing in those heels, he finds the ideal balance, such that Lola is always the centre of attention but never obnoxiously so. Every gesture, step, flip of the hair that Lola does, it all informs her character and helps the audience learn who she is. During the backstage tour, we were told that on this production, Banks and all the actors playing the Angels do their own makeup. Lola’s duet with Charlie, “Not My Father’s Son”, is easily the show’s most emotional moment, with her soaring power ballad “Hold Me in Your Heart” coming in a close second.

The Angels, played by Brandon Alberto, Jordan Archibald, Eric Stanton Betts, Derek Brazeau, Ernest Terrelle Williams and Philip Stock, pull off impressive acrobatics and show off some spectacularly toned abs and thighs.

The petite Patrick proves quite the firecracker, throwing every fibre of her being into “The History of Wrong Guys”, which is one of the show’s funniest numbers. The Lauren character does fall a little too neatly into the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ archetype, but Patrick has fun with it, over-the-top accent and all.

The other featured female role is Charlie’s demanding fiancé Nicola, who is the nominal antagonist. Some might say that the show, as the movie did before it, conflates a woman being ambitious with being pushy, but couples arguing over one party’s business decisions is something that happens often in real life.

Kinky Boots is a crowd-pleaser that is anything but pedestrian. Even though it does follow certain templates used by other musicals before, including the English working-class settings that inspired Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, Kinky Boots has a loveable personality all its own. Speed-strut, don’t walk, to the Sands Theatre now.

Jedd Jong

Photos: Sébastien Tessier/Kinky Boots

Now playing at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Tickets start from $65 (excluding $4 booking fee). Please visit the Marina Bay Sands site for tickets and more information.

There is a 16 and above advisory (some mature content)

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The Lion King musical (Singapore, 2018)

THE LION KING

Marina Bay Sands Theatre, Singapore
27 June – 23 September 2018

Photo by Jedd Jong

In 2014, the Lion King stage musical overtook The Phantom of the Opera to become the highest-grossing title in the history of stage and screen. This reviewer has a soft spot for Phantom, but it’s hard to deny that The Lion King’s crown as ruler of Broadway and beyond is well-deserved.

After a record-breaking eight-month-long engagement in 2011, The Lion King returns to Singapore. The show is based on the now-classic 1994 Disney animated film of the same name. It’s a story so familiar that it’s almost redundant to synopsise it, but here’s the short version: Simba, son of King Mufasa, must face the destiny he’s been running from after surviving a tragedy engineered by his power-hungry uncle Scar. Nala, Simba’s childhood friend-turned-love-interest, must convince the rightful king to reclaim the throne and fight for the good of all the animals who inhabit the Pridelands.

While most Disney Theatrical adaptations of animated films are largely literal and generally resemble their source material, director Julie Taymor leapt far out of the box for The Lion King. The film’s anthropomorphised animals are realised through puppets of various designs and functions.

Photo by Joan Marcus ©Disney

Pulling from various cultural influences and melding them into a hypnotic whole, Taymor adopted an approach that incorporates Balinese and Javanese dance, Bunraku-like puppetry, shadow puppetry and masks. It’s a visually stimulating experience. As the line in “Circle of Life” goes, “there is far too much to take in here” – and “too much” is just the right amount.

The film’s memorable songs by Elton John and Tim Rice are supplemented with additional songs by the duo. Further shaping the unique soundscape is African choral music by Lebo M., and expansions on the film’s score by Hans Zimmer, Mark Mancina and Jay Rifkin. It’s eclectic and just as it is with the visuals, the disparate influences of the show’s score could’ve been an inchoate mishmash, but it is just the opposite. The stage is flanked by two percussionists playing African and Latin drums, adding a textural layer to the music from the orchestra pit.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Right from the get-go, The Lion King is an emotional experience. The show begins with the mandrill Rafiki issuing the cry “Nants ingonyama! bagithi Baba!” – Zulu for “Here comes a lion, father”. The sun rises over the Pridelands as creatures big and small flood onto the stage. The visual dynamism, the inventiveness of the puppet designs and the physicality of the performers are all established in the powerful opening number.

This is a show that asks a lot of its performers. The core concept is that of the ‘double event’, meaning the actors who are manipulating puppets must, in a sense, perform the role twice, as both they and the puppet are visible. The choreography by Garth Fagan strikingly evokes the forms of each animal the performers are representing, and despite not literally resembling the beasts, the overall effect created by the performers and puppets is easy to buy into.

Ntsepa Pitjeng is a veteran of the production, having played Rafiki in the U.S., U.K., Brazil, China and Switzerland. The character is male in the animated film but was reimagined as female based on Taymor’s desire for more female characters in the show, and informed by how many healers and spiritual leaders in traditional African cultures across the continent are women. Pitjeng essays Rafiki’s signature blend of mischief and wisdom accumulated over the years with a crowd-pleasing performance that is rousing yet subtle when it needs to be.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Jonathan Andrew Hume, who has been with the U.K. ensemble since 2001 and who first played Simba in Singapore in 2011, returns as the protagonist. Hume delivers a passionate performance, capturing Simba’s joie de vivre and the conflict that is rooted deep within him. It can be read that all the gleeful pouncing about is merely a façade to conceal the hurt that Simba carries with him from his past. Hume’s soaring delivery of the ballad “Endless Night”, which starts out mournful then turns hopeful, is brilliant.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Noxolo Dlamini delivers an elegant turn as Nala, displaying precision in her lithe physicality and creating beautiful lines of movement. The yearning comes through in her part of the duet “Can You Feel the Love Tonight”, and Dlamini’s portrayal of someone rediscovering a long-lost friend is gently affecting.

The roles of Young Simba and Young Nala are shared between three actors each, who joined the cast during the show’s previous stop in Manila. At our performance, Young Simba was played by Julien Joshua Dolor, who is energetic, wide-eyed and loveable. The excitement and wonderment, soon to be dashed, is integral to the portrayal of Young Simba. Alas, Uma Naomi Martin, while also adorable, is noticeably stiffer as Young Nala. We don’t take joy in criticising child actors, but Dolor comes off more naturally than Martin does.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Mthokozisi Emkay Khanyile’s Mufasa is one of the highlights of the cast. Khanyile projects the dignity of a king and the warmth of a father, a father who desperately wants to prepare his son for the duties of leading the Pridelands but is unaware of just how little time he has left. Khanyile’s delivery of “He Lives in You” is heartfelt, and his delivery of the message Mufasa’s ghost has for Simba, coupled with the stunning presentation of that scene, is awe-inspiring.

Photo by Joan Marcus © Disney

Scar is one of those villain roles that affords actors the chance to ravenously chomp the scenery, which Antony Lawrence happily partakes in. He stalks across the stage, sneers and turns the campiness up to eleven. Scar’s articulated mask enhances Lawrence’s snarling expressions. Lawrence’s Scar could stand to be a touch more menacing, but it’s an enjoyable performance all the same.

Photo by Jedd Jong

André Jewson handily (wingily?) steals the show as Zazu, the fussbudget majordomo and loyal aide to Mufasa. He accurately captures the worrywart hornbill’s vocal inflections and does remarkable physical work, influenced by mime and clown traditions. As a comedic character, Zazu chips away at the fourth wall with his beak, making Singapore-specific references and winks at pop culture. Such jokes were greeted with uproarious laughter, but they can pull one out of it a little, and momentarily make this transcendent work of art feel like a show at a theme park.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Timon and Pumbaa are to Simba what Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are to Hamlet. Kids are bound to love the double act. Jamie McGregor’s neurotic Timon is the ideal counterpoint to Pierre van Heerden’s easier-going, notoriously flatulent Pumbaa. The contrast in the physicality, like Laurel and Hardy or C-3PO and R2-D2 before them, is integral to the humour derived from seeing the pair onstage.

Vuyelwa Tshona, Liso Gcwabe and Mark Tatham portray Scar’s henchmen, the hyenas Shenzi, Banzai and Ed respectively. While their performances cannot be faulted, the hyena costumes are this reviewer’s least favourite. There’s a distracting gap between the head and the body, they seem kind of floppy and just don’t have the same efficiency in the design as some of the other costumes/puppets in the show. The hyenas’ number “Chow Down”, completed with electric guitar riffs, is the most incongruous in the show.

Photo by Deen van Meer © Disney

The Lion King is a show with so many moving parts, a show that’s so technical, and yet its overflowing with resonant emotion and never feels like an impersonal assemblage of sets, props and costumes. The show packs in jaw-dropping spectacle, but never loses sight of the themes of facing one’s past and the father-son relationship at the heart of the story. 21 years after its Broadway premiere, The Lion King is still a crowning achievement of stagecraft and still has the power to move audiences to tears.

Jedd Jong

Evita musical review

For inSing

EVITA

MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands Singapore
23 February – 18 March 2018

It now seems commonplace for entertainers to enter politics, but there was a time when this wasn’t so. In 1945, 26-year-old actress Eva Duarte married Colonel Juan Perón. In 1946, Perón was elected President of Argentina, and the actress became the first lady. Eva earned adoration and scorn and has had a lasting impact on popular culture.

Evita is arguably the best-known pop culture depiction of Eva. Practically everyone has heard “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” at some point or another. With music by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyrics by Tim Rice and directed by Hal Prince, the musical began life as a concept album in 1976, then debuted on the West End in 1978 and on Broadway in 1979.

The musical was adapted into a hit film in 1996, starring Madonna, Antonio Banderas and Jonathan Pryce. The film was nominated for five Oscars and won Best Original Song for “You Must Love Me”.

It is 1934, and young Eva Duarte (Emma Kingston) convinces travelling tango singer Augustin Magaldi (Anton Luitingh) to take her to Buenos Aires. Excited at what the big city can offer, Eva quickly becomes a well-known radio personality and actress. At a charity concert in 1944, she meets Colonel Juan Perón (Robert Finlayson), and positions herself to fall in love with and marry the Colonel.

Perón is elected President of Argentina in 1946. When Perón is imprisoned by his political opponents, Eva rallies the people of Argentina around him, portraying herself as coming from the working class and thus understanding their needs and concerns. Eva becomes a glamorous style icon and the face of Argentina on the world stage. She is given the title of Spiritual Leader of the nation. However, she begins to weaken, and eventually dies of cancer at 33.

Our way into the story is the narrator Che (Jonathan Roxmouth), a one-man Greek chorus who functions as critic and observer, but mostly critic.

Evita is a controversial work because it depicts Eva as a grasping opportunist who slept her way to the top. The primary source material was apparently the biography The Woman with the Whip by Mary Main, which was unabashedly Anti-Peronist. Evita has a point of view and isn’t preoccupied with appearing even remotely objective. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s clear that its portrayal of events is largely superficial. This is a story that begs for over-the-top theatrics, but also for incisive nuance – the latter being in short supply.

Perhaps this is a limitation of the form of musical theatre, but the nitty-gritty of politics is challenging to present through song and dance. Then again, Hamilton famously acquitted itself well in this regard. Eva is depicted as a power-hungry social climber, and there is an emphasis on her expensive clothing – the number “Rainbow High” is all about Eva insisting she look her most glamorous for her European tour. Eva is depicted as being duplicitous – everything that made her beloved was all an act. “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, her impassioned plea to the adoring public, is a lie – she claims to have never “invited” fortune and fame, when that’s exactly what she’s done.

It feels like Eva was a more fascinating person than the show makes her out to be. There’s no question that she was ambitious and that she had and still has her detractors, but Evita downplays her contribution to feminism in Argentina as a staunch fighter for women’s suffrage. Eva pushed for a change in the law that was enacted in 1947: not only did this give women the right to vote, but also the right to be voted for and elected to office.

How does this fare as spectacle? Blockbuster Andrew Lloyd Webber musicals are typically associated with lavish, over-the-top scenery and effects: think crashing chandeliers and roller derby stunts. This staging of Evita is sparer and non-literal, using the original scenic design by Timothy O’Brien. The main piece of set is a balcony/walkway that moves up and downstage. Elsewhere, doors are represented by a door frame, and if a scene takes place in a bedroom, all we see on the stage is the bed. Archival footage plays on a large projection screen, giving the action a bit of context but not quite helping the audience’s immersion into the story. If one’s primary contact with the musical is through the 1996 movie, with its epic scope, lavish production value and thousands-strong crowds of extras, its best to remind oneself that the stage and screen are very different mediums.

Evita contains some of Lloyd Webber’s strongest melodies and scathing, witty lyrics from Rice. Lloyd Webber’s composing in the rock genre is not everyone’s cup of tea and has often been scoffed at by fans of rock music. The influence of Latin American music is naturally present, and the blending of styles might alienate some. However, as the musical is through-sung like an opera, each song flows into the next and motifs are repeated often. This reviewer’s favourite number is “High Flying Adored”, which sees the often-fiery Che at his most tender. Under the baton of musical director Louis Zurnamer, the orchestra brought the famous score to vivid life.

Lloyd Webber is known for writing scores that are downright punishing for performers, especially women. The vocal range demanded of Kingston is staggering and handles it all with confidence. There are moments when her voice seems to want for power, but this is such an exhausting show that it doesn’t quite seem fair to fault her. Her rendition of the aria “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina” is the show-stopper it should be. While this reviewer would’ve wanted to see things more from Eva’s perspective, that’s down to the writing and not Kingston’s performance. Especially when playing teenaged Eva, Kingston looks like she’s having fun. This is a daunting role, and she seems fearless in taking it on.

As intended, the show is well and truly stolen by Che. This incarnation of the narrator is patterned after Che Guevara, but the Argentinian-Cuban revolutionary never met Eva or Juan Perón. “Che” is slang for “mate” or “dude” – he’s the everyman who sees through Eva’s act and knows in his heart that while she professes to be a champion for the downtrodden, she’s mainly preoccupied with advancing her own status.

Roxmouth is an outstanding Che – he has a rich, mellifluous voice that is warm but suitably rough. Physicality is a big part of the role, since Che often mocks those in power by mimicking their mannerisms. Roxmouth imbues Che with a louche sexiness that is magnetic and commanding. One of the most interesting aspects of the show is the dynamic between Che and Eva, which culminates in the tense, confrontational “Waltz for Eva and Che”, which is staged like a duel.

Finlayson doesn’t quite have the presence Perón should have, but then again, this is Eva’s show, and she is depicted as being the driving force behind his ascension to power. Finlayson comes off as a little stiff, and his Perón doesn’t have too much personality – again, this seems down to the writing more than his performance, but even so, he’s the weakest link among the three leads.

Luitingh, who is also the resident director of the performance, has fun as Magaldi. The performance is meant to be silly, but perhaps it is a little overly so. Magaldi is the first of many men Eva uses to advance herself, before he’s literally pushed offstage by Che. Isabella Jane, who plays Perón’s mistress whom Eva displaces, sings “Another Suitcase In Another Hall” with mournful beauty.

Evita’s songs have stood the test of time and the Latin-inspired dance sequences catch the eye. However, as a biography of Eva Perón, it does leave a fair bit to be desired. Perhaps it will motivate audiences to do further reading up on Eva. As a depiction of the collision of showbusiness and politics however, Evita is heady and entertaining, if not as substantial and thought-provoking as it would like to be.

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).

By Jedd Jong

Photos by Christiaan Kotze and Pat Bromilow-Downing

 

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

Musical Review: The Addams Family Musical

For inSing

THE ADDAMS FAMILY MUSICAL 

15 November to 3 December at the MediaCorp MES Theatre in Singapore

Even almost 80 years after they first graced the pages of The New Yorker, Charles Addams’ creation remains popular. There are no shortage of Wednesday Addamses every Halloween, and the instantly recognisable Victor Mizzy-composed theme song is wont to make everyone snap along. It seems like a no-brainer for the larger-than-life clan to take to the stage in musical form.

Gomez (Cameron Blakely), Morticia (Rebecca Thornhill) Addams and their children Wednesday (Carrie Hope Fletcher) and Pugsley (Grant McIntyre) live a blissfully off-kilter existence. A dilapidated mansion situated in Central Park that is haunted by their ancestors serves as home. In addition to the immediate family, we also meet Grandma (Valda Aviks), Gomez’s brother Fester (Cory English), zombie butler Lurch (Dickon Gough) and the disembodied hand Thing.

The Addams Family is about to be thrown into chaos, because Wednesday is intent on marrying her boyfriend Lucas Beineke (Oliver Ormson), a normal, all-American boy whose family is from Ohio. This sends Gomez into a panic, as he goes about trying to hide Wednesday’s plans from her mother. When Lucas and his parents Alice (Charlotte Page) and Mal (Dale Rapley) visit the Addamses for dinner, Wednesday pleads with her family to ‘act normal’. Alas, normal is but an illusion, as the prospective in-laws meet the peculiar Addamses and are subjected to all manner of unexplained goings-on.

The show features music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa, with a book by Marshall Rickman and Rick Elice. The initial Broadway production garnered mixed to negative reviews, and has since been reworked for a U.S. and U.K. tour – this production is the same one that just toured the U.K., with several key cast changes.

This reviewer didn’t have the highest expectations of the musical – it seemed like Rocky Horror lite, with the Beinekes as ersatz versions of Brad and Janet. Several Addams Family stories have hinged on regular folk being foils to our mysterious and creepy heroes, so this isn’t particularly new territory. Then there’s the matter of the whole thing hinging on Wednesday’s romantic relationships – isn’t that precisely the kind of thing Wednesday wouldn’t be into?

However, this reviewer was completely won over. The show is a delight, consistently funny and tuneful with a committed cast. The libretto is littered with silly puns and cheeky double entendres, most of which land. The tonal balance between the goofy light-heartedness and the macabre and diabolical that is so crucial to this property is pulled off without a hitch.

Under the direction of Andrew Corcoran, the pit orchestra sounds much larger than its eight musicians, with many pulling double or triple duty – pianist Joel Nah also plays the accordion, for instance. For the most part, the songs are not the persistent ear-worms this reviewer was hoping for, and with a few numbers, their inspirations are a little too apparent – the first verse of “Secrets” is more or less a reworked “Poor Unfortunate Souls” from The Little Mermaid. However, the cast more than sells it.

Then, there’s the design. Diego Pitarch’s set is cleverly designed to look more expensive than it is. There are Gothic accents in the right places, and plenty of cascading fog. The Addamses are all instantly recgonisable, with Pitarch’s costume designs retaining signature elements while judiciously adding flourishes. For example, Wednesday has a corset, and her dress isn’t straight black but a dark bluish-green.

The most impressive costumes belong to the assorted spectral ancestors who comprise the show’s Greek chorus, which include a pirate, a matador, a tribal warrior, a Spanish Inquisitor, a Roman Emperor and a Tudor Queen. These reminded this reviewer of the work of Colleen Atwood, who is Tim Burton’s regular costume designer. They look sufficiently authentic, while also being heightened and fantastical.

 

Blakely is a charismatic Gomez – the actor has remarkable physical comedy chops, and looks like he’s relishing every moment. It’s a larger-than-life performance that includes dance moves that seem physically impossible for human legs to execute – or at the very least, improbable. As the henpecked head of the house, the audience empathizes with Gomez, while also rooting for him because he’s such a dedicated father and husband. His warm rendition of the bittersweet number “Happy/Sad”, which draws inspiration from Sondheim’s song in Company named “Sorry/Grateful” aims squarely at heartstrings.

Thornhill sticks to what works, dutifully conveying the traits that Morticia has always been identified with. She exudes a wonderfully sardonic air, and glides across the stage with an effortless slinkiness. Her solo number “Death is Just Around the Corner” exemplifies the show’s synthesis of dark humour and pastiche of classic Broadway musicals. Blakely and Thornhill’s big dance number, “Tango de Amor”, is absolutely mesmerising.

Carrie Hope Fletcher – that’s all we need to say. The boundlessly talented, immensely likeable theatre star/online personality/author is a truly winning Wednesday. She and Blakely sell the father-daughter bonding moments for all they’re worth – it’s the second time they’ve played father and daughter, since Fletcher played Éponine and Blakely played Thénardier.

Just watching how she purposefully strides across the stage, crossbow in hand, one can tell she completely gets the character. Carrie’s largely teenage female fanbase contributed significantly to the show’s success in the U.K. If you’re overly attached to Christina Ricci’s specific portrayal of Wednesday, hearing the character sing about how she loves all things cute and cuddly might be discordant, but the character still feels like Wednesday throughout.

With the makeup and costumes, the supporting cast members are all convincing as their respective Addams denizens. McIntyre hits the sweet spot of making Pugsley unsettling but also weirdly endearing, while Aviks gets several key opportunities to steal the show. English’s Fester is bizarre and likeable, just the way the character should be. The already-towering Dickon Gough gets some extra height out of his platform boots, and displays laudable physicality as the inarticulate Lurch.

Alas, the weak link in the cast seems to be Oliver Ormson. He has the look of a handsome all-American jock, but his voice is too reedy and doesn’t complement Fletcher’s well enough, with Fletcher singing rings around him. Still, the pair generates adequate chemistry, and “Crazier Than You” is the wild ride it should be.

Page is the surprise standout as Alice – her character goes through quite the dramatic arc, and her solo in the Act One closer “Full Disclosure” has resonant feminist undertones. Page gives the part her all, and Rapley complements her nicely as the buttoned-down conservative, midwestern dad.

The Addams Family Musical is far from the kookiest, most out-there depiction of Charles Addams’ beloved creation, but even with its conventional storyline, there’s enough dark humour and stylistic oomph to propel the show. It’s a devilishly good time for the whole family, if you don’t mind lying to your kids when they ask you to explain some of the bawdier jokes.

Jedd Jong

 

Next to Abnormal: The Addams Family Musical Press Call

For inSing

NEXT TO ABNORMAL: THE ADDAMS FAMILY MUSICAL PRESS CALL

inSing gets acquainted with the mysterious, spooky, and altogether ooky clan as the musical comes to Singapore

By Jedd Jong

One might not realise it at first, but The Addams Family has been around as long as Superman has. The first one-panel comic by cartoonist Charles Addams debuted in The New Yorker in 1938, the same year the Man of Steel first appeared. In the intervening years, the characters of Gomez, Morticia, Wednesday, Pugsley, Fester and Grandma Addams, along with Lurch, Cousin Itt and Thing, have become pop cultural icons. The Addams Family has spawned numerous TV and film adaptations, and is a touchstone of the goth subculture.

In this musical, the Addamses confront a family crisis: Wednesday (Carrie Hope Fletcher) has fallen in love, and is planning to marry a boy named Lucas Beineke (Oliver Ormson). The catch – Lucas is from a normal all-American family, hailing from Ohio. When patriarch Gomez (Cameron Blakely) discovers his daughter’s intentions, he endeavours to keep it a secret from his wife Morticia (Rebecca Thornhill), putting a strain on their hitherto blissful marriage.

The Addamses invite the Beinekes, including Lucas’ parents Alice (Charlotte Page) and Mal (Dale Rapley), over for dinner. The Beinekes baulk at the surfeit of strangeness they encounter once they step past the gates of the Addamses’ dilapidated mansion in the middle of Central Park. The Beinekes meet the Addamses, including Gomez’s brother Fester (Cory English), the 102-year-old Grandma (Valda Aviks) and the family’s towering, inarticulate butler Lurch (Dickon Gough). Of course, there’s also Wednesday’s brother Pugsley (Grant McIntyre), whose impulsive actions upon fearing that he will lose his sister to Lucas lead to chaos for the Addamses and Beinekes alike.

The Addamses are temporarily moving into MediaCorp’s MES Theatre in Singapore, following a successful and widely-acclaimed U.K. tour. The show, with music and lyrics by Andrew Lippa and a libretto by Jersey Boys creators Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, had tryouts in Chicago in 2009, before opening on Broadway in 2010. This initial version received mixed-to-negative reviews, and has since been retooled with a reworked story and several changed songs for the North American tour, which began in 2011.

inSing was at the press call, where three of the show’s numbers were performed: “Death is Just Around the Corner”, in which Morticia reassures herself with the prospect of her eventual demise; “Pulled”, in which Wednesday tries to make sense of her affection towards Lucas and the change it’s had on her demeanour; and an excerpt from the dramatic Act 1 closing number “Full Disclosure”. We also got to witness the Ancestors in action – the show’s equivalent of a Greek chorus is a congress of five male and five female ghosts from Addams history past, including a pirate, a matador, a ballerina, a Tudor Queen and a Roman Emperor.

Cameron Blakely was just in Singapore on tour last year, playing the innkeeper Thénardier in Les Misérables. When asked to compare the way the two characters are as fathers, Blakely observed “Thénardier has no parenting skills whatsoever, he’s disastrous as a parent, whereas Gomez is the opposite. Unconditional love is what we strive for.”

For the role of Gomez, Blakely not only has to sing and dance, but do some swordfighting. “It’s so satisfying: he’s funny, romantic, serious, he’s got beautiful songs to sing,” Blakely said, adding that the role provides the opportunity to “free yourself completely: every little emotion you have, I can channel that through Gomez.”

Gomez’s beloved wife, the coolly seductive Morticia, is portrayed by Rebecca Thornhill. Thornhill, who is best known for playing Mrs. Wormwood in the musical Matilda, replaces Samantha Womack, who played Morticia in the U.K. tour. “The cast is so welcoming and so lovely. They’re just looking out for you all the time,” Thornhill enthused. She called the musical “a great piece” and the Morticia role “a great part,” saying she “lucked out” by clinching it.

Thornhill readily admits that she is unlike the elegant, coolly detached Morticia in real life. “I’m one of those people who goes across the floor and trips up before they get to the other side,” she said with a laugh. Putting on Morticia’s immediately recognisable ensemble helps Thornhill get into character. “When I get the makeup on, and the wig, it’s pretty different. Then for me, she’s there,” she revealed.

As in many other versions of The Addams Family, Morticia wields significant control over her husband, who has always been in her thrall. “I think she knows exactly how to drive Gomez insane, completely. You think it’s Gomez who’s the patriarch, but it’s Morticia who’s running the family,” Blakely observed.

For many audiences, Carrie Hope Fletcher, who plays the droll Wednesday, is the big draw. The 25-year-old is not only an accomplished theatre performer, but a popular YouTube celebrity and an author whose second book All That I Can See was published in July 2017. Fletcher’s turn as Éponine in Les Misérables earned her rave reviews – she had previously played Young Éponine as a child. Fletcher does ‘Watch Me Wednesdays videos, documenting the backstage goings-on and what the cast and crew get up to in their off hours.

Fletcher graciously posed with this reviewer’s custom action figure of Wednesday. Comparing herself to Wednesday, Fletcher said “she’s very feisty, she doesn’t let anyone get away with anything, and I think I’m good at standing up for myself. I’m very sure of who I am, as is Wednesday.” As a fan of the two films in which Christina Ricci played Wednesday, Fletcher actively pursued the part. “Wednesday is a dream role for any woman. She’s so crazy, and there are so few roles that let you be that crazy and let you run around with a crossbow shooting boys,” she quipped with a laugh, calling it “the best role ever”.

Fletcher’s life might seem absolutely charmed, but she is quick to remind fans that rejection is an unavoidable part of any actor’s existence. “Everyone’s who in this show probably went through ten reactions before they got this job,” she said, revealing that in the last three months, she herself had been turned down for six different roles. “It’s so easy to get discouraged, to get disheartened when you keep getting those rejections, but you just got to push forward, because when you do get that ‘yes’, it’s so worth it,” Fletcher explained.

The Addams Family happens to be in Singapore the same time The Sound of Music’s Von Trapp family is. When this writer asked Fletcher if the Addamses or the Von Trapps would win in a fight, she responded, without missing a beat, “The Addamses win hands-down. Wednesday’s got a cross-bow!” Fletcher imagined Wednesday killing the Von Trapp kids in descending order.

“Oh, we save the youngest for the last,” she deadpanned.

Playing Lucas, the object of Wednesday’s affections, is Oliver Ormson, who played Elder Price in The Book of Mormon. As the regular outsider, Lucas is the straight man in a show full of outlandish characters. “It was actually quite hard,” Ormson said about having to exercise the restraint to play the strait-laced, somewhat boring Lucas. “As an actor, it’s easy to lean over and try to be crazy as well.” Ormson is a comic book geek, and this reviewer had a brief conversation with the actor about the Justice League and Thor: Ragnarok movies after the interview.

Grandma is a scene-stealing character, and one that Valda Aviks has fun playing. “Being allowed to say whatever I think, I enjoy that, and that’s what Grandma does,” Aviks said. Aviks added that the cast was not given directives to pattern their performances after earlier film and TV incarnations of The Addams Family. “If anything, we looked at the cartoons, and tried to get a feeling of what Charles Addams had in his mind, and just got the idea that it was this kind of wonderful chaos and otherworldliness,” Aviks explained. “They are really strange characters but they live in the real world and they have real emotions,” she said of the Addamses.

Uncle Fester gets to break the fourth wall, addressing the audience and making pointed pop culture references. Fester also gets one of the show’s most bizarre moments, a number he which he serenades the unexpected someone – or something – he is in love with. Cory English has big shoes to fill, since the role was played by beloved English comedian/actor/presenter Les Dennis on the U.K. tour. “He’s not from this plane. He talks to the ancestors who are dead, and he also looks at the future,” English said of Fester. “He’s not just going to fall in love with a normal person, he’s going to fall in love with another object. It’s a different frequency, and I like to live there as well.”

Pugsley is typically depicted as being older than Wednesday, but the order of birth is switched around in the musical. Grant McIntyre’s somewhat unflattering bowl cut fringe isn’t a wig. “This was actually my haircut before I accepted the job. I’ve had this hairstyle for quite some time, actually,” McIntyre said. He joked that the hair cut was what got him the role, saying it “sealed the deal”. Speaking about Pugsley’s trouble-making behaviour in the show, McIntyre explained “because he is a child, he’s uninhibited and unaffected by the world, so he can do what he likes really, so that’s quite fun.”

Producers John Stalker and Katy Lipson spoke about assembling the tour, and paring the production down from the original Broadway version, which Stalker characterised as “over-produced” and “far too cumbersome”. “One of the tours in America toured in 21 trucks. We toured the UK with this in four,” Stalker proclaimed, giving a tip of the hat to scenic and costume designer Diego Pitarch, calling his work a “triumph” that “looks bigger than it actually is”.

Lipson, who produces the show through her company Aria Entertainment, pointed out the different musical styles reflected in the show’s songs: Wednesday and Lucas get a “contemporary pop beat” as the teen characters in the show, Fester’s songs draw on vaudeville tradition, while Gomez’s songs have a distinct Latin flavour. Morticia’s songs hark back to the tradition of showtunes by composers like Jerry Herman. The orchestra, led by musical director Andrew Corcoran, comprises “only eight musicians making such a big sound.”

Take your family to meet theirs from 15 November 3 December 2017. Tickets start from $65 (excluding $4 booking fee). Please visit  https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/caddams1217 for tickets.

 

 

 

Musical Review: The Sound of Music (2017, Singapore)

For inSing

THE SOUND OF MUSIC 

7 November to 2 December 2017 at the MasterCard Theatres in Marina Bay Sands, Singapore 

It’s a musical theatre staple that has resonated across the decades: The Sound of Music returns to the MasterCard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, having last played here in 2014. With its memorable songs, heart-warming romance, adorable children and themes of standing up for one’s principles, it’s no surprise that the show has staying power.

The Sound of Music is a fictionalisation of The Trapp Family Singers, the autobiography of the real-life Maria von Trapp. With music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein and a libretto by Howard Lindsay and Russel Crouse, the musical debuted in 1959. The Sound of Music skyrocketed into the public consciousness with a blockbuster film adaptation released in 1965. Directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer, the film won five Academy Awards.

It is 1938, and young Maria (Carmen Pretorius), who is studying to be a nun at Nonnberg Abbey, is sent to be a governess to the seven children of Naval Captain Georg Von Trapp (Nicholas Maude). The Captain has become distant to his children after the death of his wife, and implements strict discipline in the household. Maria baulks at this, and decides to teach the children music.

While the Captain is initially resistant to Maria’s methods, they eventually warm to each other and romance blossoms. However, the Captain is about to marry the wealthy Elsa Schraeder (Haylea Heyns). When the Captain and Elsa’s mutual friend Max Detweiler (Jonathan Taylor) hears the children sing, he is impressed and enters the family of singers into the upcoming Salzburg music festival. With the impending annexation of Austria by the Third Reich, the Captain receives an offer to join the Navy in Berlin. The family must make a stand and escape the Nazis before it’s too late.

With the widespread adoration it’s received, The Sound of Music has also garnered its share of criticism. The show is typically decried and treacly and overly-sentimental, and makes large deviations from the true story. As Agathe (the real-life analogue of Liesl), the oldest Von Trapp daughter put it, “It’s a very nice story but it’s not our story. If they hadn’t used our name I probably would have enjoyed it.”

That said, the show’s charm is irresistible, and anyone who’s a fan of the film should experience it live. There’s something quaint about its old-fashioned nature, and yet the staging is anything but stodgy and dull. This production was originally staged at the London Palladium in 2006, and is co-produced by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Under the baton of musical director Kevin Kraak, the orchestra sounds marvellous, achieving the illusion that the ensemble is far larger than it is. This production uses the original orchestration by Robert Russell Bennett from the 1959 show.

The set and costume designs by Rob Jones are sumptuous, and the stage seamlessly transforms from Nonnberg Alley with its arched hallways into the stately Von Trapp mansion with its grand staircase and chandelier. Mark Henderson’s lighting design is naturalistic, but gently heightened in a painterly way when required. The thunderstorm sequence is especially realistic. The choreography by Arlene Phillips of Strictly Come Dancing fame is playfully dynamic without being overly busy.

Pretorius is a sprightly, energetic Maria, effectively conveying the free-spirited liveliness that is one of the character’s defining traits. When the production last came to Singapore, she played the oldest daughter Liesl. The South African actress’ vocal inflection seems patterned after Julie Andrews, but does not come off as mimicry. There’s a pleasant lightness and subtle strength to her voice, and there is precision to her movements which doesn’t sacrifice the feeling of spontaneity. She makes for a Maria who is eminently loveable and easy to root for.

Maude is dashing and refined as the Captain. This is role that’s all too easy to play as overly stiff, but Maude’s interpretation of the role is anything but. The warmth beneath the stern exterior is readily visible, and his rendition of “Edelweiss” is appropriately tender.

Janelle Visagie previously played the Mother Abbess when the show ran here in 2014, and proves to be a perfect match for the role. She imbues “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” with the ideal balance of solemnness and inspirational uplift, and her soaring performance of that number, which closes out Act 1, is a highlight of the show.

The six younger Von Trapp children are played by locally-based actors who were cast via an audition held in May. 18 children share the six roles. The young performers are impressive, and are no doubt a big draw for audiences. It’s hard to pick a favourite, but this reviewer is especially fond of Max Makatsaria as Kurt. Emily Kitamura is cute as a button as the youngest child, Gretl. In our performance, Friedrich was played by Louis Beatty, Louisa by Samantha Lee, Brigitta by Sasha Suhandinata and Marta by Chloe Schueler.

The one casting choice that didn’t quite work for this reviewer was Zoe Beavon as Liesl. It might seem like a superficial complaint, but Beavon is significantly taller than Pretorius, and appears older than Michael McMeeking, who plays Liesl’s boyfriend Rolf. She isn’t as believable as a 16-year-old as the child actors are playing the corresponding ages of the other Von Trapp kids. This ordinarily wouldn’t be too big of an issue, but the song “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” does call attention to it.

Jonathan Taylor and Haylea Heyns inhabit the roles of Max Detweiler and Baroness Schareder splendidly. These supporting characters are easy to play too broadly, and they keep their performances the right level of comedic.

There’s nary a dull moment in the show and it feels much shorter than its running time, but the story also feels rushed. Everything moves so quickly, and the relationship between Maria and the Captain doesn’t get much room to breathe. The Von Trapp children also go from being indifferent towards to Maria to absolutely adoring her in a matter of minutes. The show downplays the politics, and as such it is somewhat jarring when Swastika-emblazoned banners are unfurled, and Nazi Stormtroopers are standing onstage.

Those attached to the film version should just be prepared that since the movie made some changes from the stage show, some songs appear at different places that one would be familiar with: “My Favourite Things” is a duet between the Mother Abbess and Maria before she leaves the abbey, and “The Lonely Goatherd” is sung during the thunderstorm. “How Can Love Survive” and “No Way to Stop It” were excised from the film, and show up here. “Something Good”, which in the film replaced “An Ordinary Couple”, remains.

The Sound of Music has become an easy target for cynics, but for those of us whose hearts haven’t calcified into a blackened, angry mass, there’s plenty here to enjoy. With strong lead performances and plenty of talent on display from locally-based kids, the performances complement the well-appointed set. The timeless music continues to be stirring and powerful, and as one leaves the theatre, one might feel a twinge of sadness that it’s time to say “so long, farewell”.

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.

By 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.

Les Misérables Musical Review

For F*** Magazine

LES MISÉRABLES

Cast : Simon Gleeson, Earl Carpenter, Chris Durling, Patrice Tipoki, Kerrie Anne Greenland, Emily Langridge, Paul Wilkins
Run Time : 2 hrs 55 mins (With 20 mins interval)
Runs : 31 May to 24th July 2016 at Esplanade Theatre

When one thinks of juggernaut musical theatre extravaganzas, the show that immediately comes to mind (apart from the one about a disfigured genius who kills a bunch of people in an opera house) is Les Misérables. Based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel, considered to be one of the greatest works of 19thCentury literature, the musical was composed by Claude-Michel Schönberg, with French-language lyrics by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel. After becoming a hit in Paris, an English-language version with lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer premiered on the West End in 1985 at the Barbican Theatre. Weathering some nasty reviews from the British press, the show has gone on to be a worldwide sensation, with touring productions, translations into multiple languages, anniversary gala concerts and a 2012 Oscar-winning film adaptation. Touring productions have previously visited Singapore in 1994 and 1996.
            It is 1815, and Jean Valjean is a convict who was sentenced for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s dying son. Valjean breaks parole to start a new life, eluding the capture of Inspector Javert. Following an encounter with a gracious bishop, Valjean reinvents himself as “Monsieur Madeleine”, eventually becoming the mayor of Montreuil-sur-Mer and a factory owner. Factory worker Fantine gets fired and is forced into prostitution. As she lies dying, Valjean vows to care for Fantine’s daughter Cosette. He rescues Cosette from the cruel innkeeper Thénardier and his wife. Years later, Cosette meets and falls in love with Marius, a dashing young student drawn into a rebellion led by the passionate Enjolras. In the meantime, Thénardier’s daughter Éponine pines for Marius but goes unnoticed. Through all this, Javert continues his relentless pursuit of Valjean, whom he sees as no more than “Prisoner 24601”.
            The show has such an in-built following that one has to remember that for audiences who have had no prior exposure to the story in any form, there’s some legwork to be done. While the lush score and exceedingly memorable songs do sweep one up, it’s clear that even at a running time of 3 hours (including intermission), the story has been greatly truncated. There are two major time skips: the story begins in 1815, then skips to 1823, and then further ahead to 1832. Characters reunite out of what seems like sheer convenience –Thénardier even references the serendipity that fuels the plot with the line “Ain’t the world a remarkable place?”. The bulk of the story is set against the 1832 June Rebellion in Paris, but even given spirited speeches from student revolutionary Enjolras, we don’t get all that clear of an idea what exactly they’re rebelling against, apart from vague injustice.
            That said, this is still a show with tremendous emotional impact, enhanced by big-budget spectacle. This new production, patterned after the 25th anniversary reworking of the show, features set designs by Matt Kinley, inspired by the original paintings of Victor Hugo. Hugo’s paintings are also worked into the projected backdrops. The multimedia effects include splashing water projected onto the scrim in front of the chain gang rowing away in the galley, as well as 3D animation of the cavernous sewers through which Valjean carries Marius. It’s a tiny bit tacky. The set is detailed and elaborate, with hinged flats swinging open to let in shafts of light; Paule Constable’s lighting design always dramatic. The askew back-alleys do look authentic enough, though the stage does often seem cluttered because so much is going on at once. Fans of the original staging might find themselves missing that turntable once the barricade goes up or pining for the way the sewer scene was originally lit, but there’s still no shortage of awe-inspiring visual splendour in this staging. Also, those gunshot effects are wont to give everyone in the first five rows mild tinnitus.
            Simon Gleeson’s Valjean is a man who begins as violent and bitter, and through his quest for redemption, never completely shakes that. It’s an interpretation that this reviewer found quite compelling, as Gleeson constantly reminds us that the feral beast with nigh-superhuman strength has never really gone away, and that Valjean is a man who has never been at peace with himself. While he delivers Valjean’s Soliloquy with great conviction, Gleeson has a tendency to go a little shouty during the opening act. His take on Bring Him Home, typically thought of as a tender song, is a little angrier than fans might be used to, but it does work with Gleeson’s characterisation of Valjean. Gleeson has, quite touchingly, said that the moment in each performance he most looks forward to is when Valjean meets little Cosette for the first time. One does get the sense that Valjean is valiantly trying to better himself for the sake of his adopted daughter, and the conclusion of Valjean’s odyssey is both satisfying and heart-rending.
            Earl Carpenter reprises the role he’s played on the West End and in other touring productions, the antagonist Javert. The character is driven by a singular obsession and is unwavering in his hunt for the fugitive who has eluded his capture, so it is easy to make him a moustache-twirling villain. Carpenter stays a safe distance away from that, but his Javert is still easy to root against. The superciliousness and condescension that are vital components of the character are very much present in Carpenter’s interpretation, and the actor’s imposing physical stature certainly helps. His take on Javert’s signature tune Stars is a genuine show-stopper and is one of the best renditions this reviewer has heard.
            Patrice Tipoki’s Fantine is perfectly serviceable and her rendition of the iconic song I Dreamed a Dream is a decent one, but she ultimately doesn’t plumb the depths of the character’s tragedy, failing to make enough of an impact in her limited time on stage. Incidentally, her sister Laura is the conductor and musical director for this production.
Both Paul Wilkins and Emily Langridge are expectedly pretty in appearance and vocals as Marius and Cosette respectively. The “love at first sight” arc, complete with a meet cute in the town square, will set more than a few eyes rolling.
Enter the hypotenuse in our love triangle, everyone’s favourite character Éponine. Kerrie Anne Greenland is plucky and feisty, but is also capable of becoming heart-achingly vulnerable during On My Own and A Little Fall of Rain. Her Australian accent creeps in quite often (listen out for how Greenland sings the word “only”), but it actually adds to ‘Ponine’s charm. She might just be this reviewer’s favourite performer in the show.
            The designated scene-stealers, Mr. and Mme. Thénardier, played by Cameron Blakely and Helen Walsh respectively, with great aplomb. The characters provide much of the comic relief in a relatively downbeat show (it’s there in the title), but also have to possess actual malice and make the audience’s skin crawl. Some of the slapstick in Master of the House is a little too silly, but an elaborate gag involving a blind traveller and his pet bird is downright hilarious. We have to laugh at the Thénardiers and also find them utterly despicable; Blakely and Walsh have got all the bases covered. Over at the barricade, Chris Durling imbues Enjolras with great vigour, but did go off-key a few times while issuing his calls to arms.
            Because of the nature of the 1900-page (in the original French) source novel, Les Misérables might not be a work that’s readily understandable in full, but it is a musical that is easy to connect with. The stirring music, powerful characters and dazzling eye candy stagecraft all make for a thrilling night at the theatre. Despite the long running time, there’s nary a dull moment in this show rife with incident. Rather than pulling one out of it completely, the moments of melodramatics and overall lack of subtlety add considerably to the charm of the show. Those attached to the original staging might bemoan what seems like change for change’s sake, but if you’re experiencing the show for the first time, it will be difficult to resist.
Summary: The storytelling is hampered by various practical limitations and some of the changes in this new production are unnecessary, but there’s no denying that this beloved musical remains a visual and aural treat, with powerful performers leading the cast.
 
RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars
 
Jedd Jong
Photos by Matthew Murphy, courtesy of MediaCorp VizPro International

Join the Upri-sing: Les Misérables Singapore press call

For F*** Magazine

JOIN THE UPRI-SING
F*** Magazine peeks behind the barricade at the Les Misérables press call
By Jedd Jong
It has been 22 years since the barricades arose at the Kallang Theatre, when the blockbuster musical Les Misérables first arrived in Singapore. Arguably the best-known adaptation of Victor Hugo’s landmark 1862 historical novel, the story is predominantly set against the backdrop of 1832 June Rebellion in Paris. Composer Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyricists Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel’s original French-language musical debuted in 1980, with the English adaptation featuring Herbert Kretzmer’s lyrics opening in 1985. Les Misérables has since become the longest-running musical on the West End, and has celebrated its milestones with all-star anniversary concerts. A feature film adaptation of the musical was released in 2012, winning three Oscars.
On Thursday morning, F*** was in attendance at the Esplanade Theatre as a press preview was staged, followed by interviews with the cast and crew. This production is at the tail-end of a two-year tour, which began in Australia and is fresh off their Philippines leg. This staging is different from how fans of the original might remember it; the show was reworked for its 25th anniversary with new set designs and a re-orchestrated score. While iconic elements like the turntable and the barricade set that splits in half have been excised, Matt Kinley’s set design takes inspiration from the paintings of author Hugo, who was also an accomplished visual artist. The paintings, projected onto the backdrop, further enrich the depiction of 19th Century France.
“We’re getting older, but it looks like the show is never aging, and is [in fact] getting kind of younger,” Boublil said. “All the people who play in the show now were not born when Claude-Michel and I were writing it!” Boublil told us about the process of adapting the 1500-page book into a musical. When it debuted in 1985, the English-language version was four hours long; this has now been whittled down to around three hours. Boublil stated that the novel is required reading in most French schools, “but you don’t understand it – you know it’s about injustice, but apart from that, you don’t get the heart and soul of it.”
Boublil is of the opinion that not everything makes a good musical, and described how he and Schönberg were convinced of Les Misérables’ potential. “Many of them are musicalized in an opportunistic way, or they don’t last,” he said of other source material. When asked whether or not he remembers the feeling of first seeing the musical on stage, Boublil replied “I remember it very well.” On the cast of the original West End production, which included such luminaries as Colm Wilkinson, Frances Ruffelle and Patti Lupone, Boublil commented “We had the crème de la crème of musical theatre, but we didn’t know it yet! We didn’t know that they would each become a star in his or her own right.” It might be hard to imagine now, but the show opened to scathing reviews on the West End. Boublil remembered a headline in an English daily which read “What can be worse than a bad musical? A French musical.” “That day was like a death sentence is ringing,” he recalled, thinking that the show would surely close inside of a month after those notices. “To my amazement and pride, it has become the world’s longest-running musical,” he said.
The lead role of Jean Valjean is played by Australian actor Simon Gleeson, who won a Helpmann award for the role. The character, an escaped convict who embarks on a journey of redemption, is one of the most prominent roles in musical theatre. When asked what aspect of Valjean he most connected with, Gleeson answered “My job is to connect with all of them. The frustration that he feels at the start, the anger that he feels towards the world at the start, the joy he gets when he meets little Cosette, I connect with all of them.”
The part Gleeson most looks forward to during each performance might surprise audiences, since it isn’t the grand solos like Valjean’s Soliloquy or Bring Him Home. “It’s meeting little Cosette. Meeting the little girl is the first time the character gets to smile. It’s the first time he goes ‘I can live for something now’.” He had quite the heart-warming story to relate about his daughter. “When I first was rehearsing for the audition years ago, I would sing Bring Him Home in the house and she actually said ‘I forbid you to sing in the house’.” Gleeson related to us. “I didn’t realise it was because she would go to her room and cry, because she locked on to the fact that something was wrong, that I wasn’t happy, that I was in pain and something was going on and she couldn’t comprehend it, she understood just from the music alone.” His son’s reaction after watching the show was a little less complicated. “He just liked the guns,” Gleeson chuckled.
Gleeson played Raoul in Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom of the Opera. “The role I played was a horrible man – alcoholic, abusive, he was a terrible father, he was all the things that Jean Valjean isn’t,” Gleeson remarked, admitting “I had such a good time! It was really great.” Gleeson said the music plays an enormous part in helping him get into character. “The music is so evocative that you can’t helped but be seduced into where you need to be. Good luck if you can resist, you’d be a fool to try.” Gleeson worked briefly with Hugh Jackman, who played Valjean in the 2012 film. “He actually said to me ‘I don’t know how you do it eight times a week,’” Gleeson revealed. Gleeson said that, “frustratingly” enough, Jackman lives up to his reputation as being an affable person. He’s so generous and an incredibly talented guy, I can’t speak highly enough about Hugh.”
Valjean’s arch-nemesis Inspector Javert, a dogged police officer who pursues the fugitive over the course of almost two decades, is played by Earl Carpenter. The English actor has played Javert on Broadway and the title role in The Phantom of the Opera on the West End. He also performed in the 25thanniversary concerts of both shows. “Everyone says he is a bad guy! Not at all!” Carpenter insisted, describing Javert as “a robust individual that knows one thing, which is his belief in the law”. “At that last moment, you see something very different happen to him, which is the fact that somebody has knocked his beliefs off the track and there’s no other way for him to deal with it, he doesn’t have the capacity to deal with it,” Carpenter said of Javert, who is ultimately undone by his own unwillingness to see Valjean as anything other than a criminal. Recalling his first time seeing the show at age 21, Carpenter said “it was just incredible to see something so epic but live, rather than seeing it on the screen, it was extraordinary.”
On Russell Crowe’s much-maligned portrayal of Javert in the 2012 film version, Carpenter pragmatically stated “There’s a reason for everything. Everybody makes decisions. That film had to appeal to a massive audience and to do that, maybe just Les Mis as a musical, wasn’t going to be enough to sell the film. It’s incredibly expensive to put a film on these days.” Coming to Crowe’s defence, Carpenter said “I know he confessed to being very nervous, in front of musical theatre singers. It was an incredibly scary time for him.” Carpenter shared that he thought that “there were moments of Russell’s character that were just absolutely spot on. His persona, for that role, was great.” Quite graciously, he added “there could be people who probably don’t like my singing, it doesn’t matter.”
Central to the story is the love triangle between Valjean’s adoptive daughter Cosette, the dashing, rich young Marius and Éponine, whose parents mistreated Cosette when she was in their care. Emily Langridge plays Cosette, Paul Wilkins plays Marius and Kerrie Anne Greenland plays Éponine. Most fans gravitate to the character of Éponine, who is placed squarely in the ‘friendzone’ by Marius. “Actually, the funny thing is that especially in the rehearsal room, I get to see a lot more of A Heart Full Of Love, where Cosette and Marius finally get to really see each other for the first time, and it’s so beautiful,” Kerrie admitted. “I know I’m Éponine, but it’s really awesome what they’ve got going on!”
“I think it’s hard for Cosette because she actually has gone through a lot,” Langridge said. “We see Cosette as a child and we see Éponine as a child and their roles really swap when they’re older. I think they’re really similar. Maybe if Éponine didn’t die, then they would be friends.”
Commenting on the perceived obtuseness displayed by Marius in his interactions with Éponine, Wilkins said “I think that comes with the territory of young love and experiencing it for the first time and kind of not knowing the signs.” He related a story from his own youth: “When I was in primary school, a girl used to kick me under the table in music. She kicked me, and I thought she hated me – little did I know, months later, that she really, really fancied me!”
Greenland added that Éponine might have stood a chance “if she had a bath”.
The actors spoke of going back to the source material, since much of the material was cut down in the adaptation process. “Cosette as a character has so much description in the book and in so much detail, where in the musical, her role is scaled down quite a lot, so I really try to get as much detail as I can from the book to give the role the most amount of depth in a short time,” Langridge said. This process was also helpful for the actors in creating something that resonated with them, rather than attempting to replicate past portrayals.
Out of all the characters, Fantine, Cosette’s biological mother, probably has the most number of tragic calamities befall her. Fantine sings what is arguably the best-known song in the show, I Dreamed a Dream. Australian actress Patrice Tipoki, who has starred in productions of The Lion King, Wicked and Beauty and the Beast, plays Fantine. She has been a fan of Les Misérables since she was young. “I used to sing Master of the House when people would come to the house, I don’t know how appropriate that was for a seven-year-old girl!” she laughed.

 

“It took a while for me to shake other people’s versions of this song, especially in my head, because I grew up with it,” she said, on the subject of making the role her own. “It was nice to have the rehearsal process that we do to be able to find my voice and my story that I wanted to tell. And of course, that still changes every night, depending on how I’m feeling and how receptive the audience is. It’s nice to know that everyone already loves the song, so it’s starting on a good note.” Fantine’s appearance in the musical, while impactful, is relatively brief. “Every night I go ‘maybe I’ll live tonight!’ It’s never happened yet, still trying!” Tipoki joked.
Co-director James Powell explained the lasting appeal of the show, saying “The story itself is about the human condition. It’s a classic story that’s just as relevant today as it was 400 (sic) years ago. The generosity of spirit is what I think people are moved by, in the face of adversity, they come through, and I think that’s what people find very uplifting. And the music helps a bit.” Working for super-producer Cameron Mackintosh has kept Powell on his toes. “When you work for Cameron Mackintosh, you are always evolving, you don’t stay still,” Powell said.
So, why should audiences go see Les Misérables? Producer Nick Allott, who is the managing director of Cameron Mackintosh Ltd., has the answer. “This is a story that covers everything: it covers love, it covers conflict between two people, it covers the triumph of good over evil, it has battles, it has epic scale and it has fantastically strong characters, characters you can fall in love or identity with,” he enthused. “I can’t think of anyone sitting there being bored. This is a show that picks you up and carries you through in this extraordinary way.”
Les Misérables runs from 31st May to 24thJuly at the Esplanade Theatre. Please visit http://www.sistic.com.sg/events/mis0716 for ticket information.