A Royal Audience With Prince Ali: Aladdin Musical Press Call

For inSing

A ROYAL AUDIENCE WITH PRINCE ALI

inSing journeys to Agrabah for an inside look at Disney’s Aladdin musical

By Jedd Jong

Photo by Jedd Jong

Agrabah might be a faraway place where the caravan camels roam, but Disney Theatrical Productions has brought this mystical locale to our doorstep. Aladdin is now playing at the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Singapore for a limited season of only 50 performances, the English-language production making its first and only stop in Asia.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Aladdin is directed and choreographed by Casey Nicholaw, whose credits include The Book of Mormon, Mean Girls and the recent The Prom. The show features songs like “A Whole New World” and “Friend Like Me” by Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, including songs originally written but eventually cut from the animated film. New songs including “These Palace Walls” and “Diamond in the Rough” were composed by Menken with lyrics by Chad Beguelin, who also wrote the show’s book.

After tryouts in Seattle and Toronto, the theatrical adaptation of Disney’s 1992 movie opened on Broadway in March 2014. A production ran in London from 2016 to 2019, with German and Japanese-language productions still running.

Associate director Scott Taylor with actors Troy Sussman (Babkak), Adam Di Martino (Omar) and Rob Mallet (Kassim). Photo by Jedd Jong

“We have taken away [nothing] from the Broadway production,” proclaimed Associate Director Scott Taylor, who’s been attached to every production of the musical since its inception. “We’ve not made it smaller; we’ve not diminished the magic and the size and the production values in any way. It’s a big, big thing to do,” he stated.

The truly lavish production has the numbers to back it up: a cast of 34 wear 337 costumes made of 1225 different fabrics and featuring almost 500 000 Swarovski crystals. 40 tonnes of flying scenery and 60 tonnes of automation were transported in over 30, 40-foot-long sea containers. The show’s set-pieces, designed by Bob Crowley, include the glittering Cave of Wonders, the vibrant marketplace, the lush palace of Agrabah and of course the hypnotic magic carpet ride.

Gareth Jacobs (Genie), Shubshri Kandiah (Jasmine) and Graeme Isaako (Aladdin). Photo by Jedd Jong

This cast of this production hails mainly from Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada. After performing “A Million Miles Away” and segments of “Arabian Nights” and “Friend Like Me” during the press call, actors Graeme Isaako (Aladdin), Shubshri Kandiah (Jasmine) and Gareth Jacobs (the Genie) spoke to inSing and other media at a group interview.

Photo by Jedd Jong

New Zealand performer Isaako said that he is like Aladdin in that he is energetic, talkative and has a bit of a mischievous streak. He recounted clinching the role after being an understudy for Ainsley Melham, who moved on from playing Aladdin in the Australian production to Aladdin on Broadway. “I was speechless. I honestly didn’t talk for about a minute,” Isaako recalled. “There was a pillow and I screamed into the pillow. I didn’t know that was in me…but I’m so grateful.”

The parkour stunts are a key element to the portrayal of a character who’s always “One Jump Ahead” of those on his tail. “When I found out that I would be jumping over buildings and jumping off and landing on things, it was exciting for me,” Isaako said. “I saw it as a challenge, but it’s also ensuring that I’m safe at all times. It is pretty fun, but I’ve got to make sure that I’m not endangering other people.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

For Isaako, it’s knowing that audiences enjoy the show that keeps him going. “The best thing about it is no audience is the same,” he noted. “The audience smiling back at you is enough, it’s enough petrol for your tank, it’s enough to get you through,” Isaako enthused. “That’s why we do it, we do this because we love it and it changes people’s lives and makes them happy.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

After Belle in 1991’s Beauty and the Beast, Jasmine was one of the Disney Princesses who made an impression by being headstrong and determined, far from your average damsel in distress. In Aladdin, she wants to marry for love rather than being given away to a foreign prince for political expediency. “I love stepping into her shoes every night and becoming this woman that is courageous and feisty and stands up for what she believes in,” Kandiah enthused. “I think she’s such a role model to women with her strength…and that she’s not afraid to voice her opinions, and I absolutely love that.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

Like many, Kandiah grew up a “massive Disney fan,” singing along to the songs each time she re-watched the movies. “It’s honestly such a dream come true to be in this production and playing this role,” she said, adding that a recent trip to Morocco made her realise how relevant the show’s themes, especially with regards to the roles of women in society, still are.

Photo by Jedd Jong

Kandiah’s favourite scene in the show is “Million Miles Away”, a sweet moment shared by Aladdin and Jasmine at his rooftop hideout. “I think there’s a moment there every night when we’re singing about hopes and dreams that I [realise] I’m living my dream every night,” Kandiah said wistfully.

Photo by Jedd Jong

The show is designed to be stolen by the Genie. In the animated film, the Genie was memorably voiced by Robin Williams, whose fast-talking, impressions-and-improv-driven take on the character has become a pop culture cornerstone. The initial conception for the Genie before Williams made the role his own was a character inspired by singers like Cab Calloway and Fats Waller. The musical’s version of Genie is closer to this idea, with the original Broadway Genie James Monroe Iglehart winning a Tony Award for his portrayal of the character.

Photo by: Jedd Jong

“I met James so I got to talk about how he created the role, and I met Alan Menken as well, who created the music and a lot of my childhood nostalgia,” Jacobs said. Jacobs called the task “daunting” because Robin Williams was “the most amazing character that the world has ever seen” and “trying to do it justice without copying exactly what he did out there as well was quite difficult.” Jacobs described Iglehart’s take on the Genie, building off Williams’, as “like a giant Jenga tower that you put together.” Jacobs said that getting to put his own spin on the iconic role “is just so exciting to do every night.”

Photo by Jedd Jong

Jacobs has competition for audiences’ attention, because the Genie makes his debut against the jaw-dropping backdrop of the Cave of Wonders during “Friend Like Me”. The inner walls of the gleaming cavern are coated with the same gold material that is used for the droid C-3PO in the Star Wars films. The Cave of Wonders features 120 gold pieces used to depict the treasure strewn across its floor.

Photo by Jedd Jong

“It’s such an amazing set and there’s so much to see, so knowing that there is that to compete with is sometimes quite difficult to do,” Jacobs admitted, but he added that the script and the song is so well-written “that it speaks for itself.” The number is musical theatre on steroids: “We’ve got pyrotechnics, we’ve got tap-dancing, we’ve got everything involved in that one scene,” Jacobs declared, offering a guarantee: “If someone walks away from that not happy, then please definitely come and talk to me because we’re going to have a very serious conversation about how I can make you happy…there’s no way I think anyone could get away from that [unhappy].”

Photo by Jedd Jong

Company manager Matt Henderson took us on a backstage tour, showing us the wings of the theatre, set pieces hanging up in the flies, the props maintenance workshop and the wardrobe department/dressing room.

Photo by Jedd Jong

“The costumes in the show are almost a character unto themselves, they’re so part of the storytelling,” Henderson enthused, adding that he’s “never worked on a show where the costumes are so beautiful and elaborate. They really help drive the narrative of the story.” The costumes are designed by Gregg Barnes, a two-time Tony Award Winner for The Drowsy Chaperone and Follies. Barnes also designed the costumes for Legally Blonde, Kinky Boots and Mean Girls.

Photo by Jedd Jong

“It’s a spectacle,” Henderson declared, pointing out that one number features 108 costume changes – a world record. “I think there’s 80 of them in like 15 seconds. That’s a full change, including some wigs.” During this number, it is “chaos” backstage – “Controlled chaos, but it’s absolute chaos,” he continued. Henderson talked up a costume change which takes place in two seconds, challenging viewers to spot the blink-and-you’ll-miss it moment. “I’ll give you a clue, it’s Aladdin,” Henderson said. “Don’t take your eyes off him, because he does go from being a street rat to a prince in two seconds, and it happens onstage.”

Photo by James Green

One of the show’s most closely guarded secrets is naturally the one that draws the most curiousity. Every performance, the magic carpet takes to the skies with Aladdin and Jasmine upon it, seemingly flying around the stage without the use of wires.

“I’ve got family and everyone’s like ‘I’ll buy you a drink if you tell me how the carpet works’ – and you don’t want to know!” Henderson cautioned. Cursed with the knowledge that has dissolved the wonderment, Henderson said “I do know how it works and I was so upset when I found out because I love the magic of it.”

The magic lamps in their protective case. Photo by Jedd Jong

Has Henderson snuck a ride on the magic carpet himself? He’s not allowed. “I’m also a little bit afraid of heights,” Henderson confessed, adding “I like to complain that I haven’t been on it, but if they let me go, I’d be like ‘no no no.’ Terrified. I don’t trust Graeme as a driver as well.”

Experience the music, the magic and take a journey to Agrabah with Aladdin, which runs from now until September 1. Tickets start at $68 (not including $4 booking fee). Visit https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/aladdin0919 to buy tickets and find out more.

Clockwork Fantasy: Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities press call

Clockwork Fantasy: KURIOS press call

inSing peeks into the Cabinet of Curiosities at Cirque du Soleil’s KURIOS

By Jedd Jong

Beneath the grey-and-white grand chapiteau (big top) situated on Bayfront Avenue lies a world of wonders that comes alive during each performance of KURIOS – Cabinet of Curiosities. KURIOS is the 35th show produced by Quebecois entertainment company Cirque du Soleil, the world’s largest theatrical producer.

Cirque du Soleil has become known for its contemporary circus productions that put a spin on traditional circus acts by combining them with storytelling, elaborate costumes and sets, theming and special effects.

Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

KURIOS takes inspiration from the steampunk genre of science fiction and is set during the turn of the century in an alternate past. The show is about a character known as the Seeker, who opens a portal to a dimension called the Valley of the Possible Impossibles. This is where the most outlandish and imaginative ideas reside. The otherworldly characters upend the way the Seeker sees the world, inspiring him with their incredible abilities.

inSing was at the press call ahead of the show’s opening for a limited engagement in Singapore. Since its debut in 2014, KURIOS has toured North America, and Japan, where the company spent one-and-a-half years before taking the show to Singapore. After its month-long engagement here, KURIOS will move on to Australia.

Writer-director Michel Laprise. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

KURIOS is written and directed by Michel Laprise, who set out to create something unlike any other Cirque show before. “We wanted to do something different, but true to the core of the values of Cirque du Soleil, what we love,” Laprise told the press. Laprise joined Cirque du Soleil in 2000, spending five years as a talent scout before being appointed Special Events Designer. He collaborated with Madonna on her Super Bowl XLVI Halftime show, before going on to direct the pop diva’s MDNA tour.

In devising the show, Laprise and his team drew up a list of what previous Cirque shows had done out of necessity and out of convenience. “We kept what we do out of necessity, but everything else, we challenged ourselves to transform it,” he declared. KURIOS has a lower stage than the company’s other touring shows, meaning the performers are closer to eye level with the audience, creating more of a connection between them.

Photo credit: © Martin Girard shootstudio.ca

Speaking about the climate that led to the creation of KURIOS, Laprise said “We were in a very bizarre mood in 2012-2013, people were sad. I thought ‘why are we sad? We live in abundance!’ People were talking as if we were living in hell.” Laprise decided to create a show that would make audiences feel good and realise how lucky they are. “After the audience leaves the big top, they will think ‘wow, everything is possible’,” Laprise mused.

Head of Wardrobe: Julie Desimone. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

To create the enchanted Cabinet of Curiosities which comes alive in KURIOS, more than a hundred costumes and 426 props are used in the show. The costumes are designed by Philippe Guillotel, and it falls to Head of Wardrobe Julie Desimone to, in her own words, “maintain the integrity of the costumes as if every night is opening night.”

Mathieu Hubener as Mr Microcosmos. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

“You want to keep it beautiful, you want to keep it creative, and it also has to really be safe and it has to be comfortable,” Desimone stated. Her favourite costume in KURIOS is that of Mr Microcosmos, a fastidious figure who represents technological progress. “It’s a challenge for my department because it’s not just a costume, it’s not just a jacket and a tie, it is a prop. It is a very large, foam, fiberglass, roughly 30-pound (13.6 kg) prop,” she said of Mr Microcosmos’ outfit. It took a team of propmakers approximately 250 hours to build Mr Microcosmos’ belly, which opens up to reveal several surprises.

The amount of moving parts in the show keeps Desimone very busy. “We do a lot of maintenance every day. We have a full team of people that just do maintenance for hours. By the time the show comes, what we’re putting on stage has been looked at and gone through many, many hands,” she said.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

While there are unique challenges to being the Head of Wardrobe at a show like KURIOS, Desimone described it as “the best job in the world.” She called the cast “incredible,” adding “When you think about what they do on a daily basis, you have to have that energy, you have to have a little bit of youth, and have to be ready to roll with the punches.” Desimone said of her cohorts, “we all have a common thread, we’re all really adaptable, we like to change, and we like to explore. We’re all very adventurous.”

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

One of the acts we watched during the press call was the Aerial Bicycle act performed by French acrobat Anne Weissbecker. The typical aerial hoop used in acrobatic performances is replaced by a bicycle, which Weissbecker rides onstage. The bicycle then takes to the air, with Weissbecker hanging beneath it.

Anne Weissbecker and Mathieu Hubener. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

When asked what the hardest part of the act is, Weissbecker replied that it’s “To make it look easy”. She pointed out that she must maintain the right speed and the perfect amount of tension on the rope so the take off is smooth and she doesn’t swing too far out from the ring. “You have to make people dream, so you have to hide what is difficult,” Weissbecker said, voicing a sentiment that many of her fellow performers probably share.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Weissbecker began studying circus arts at the age of ten, eventually overcoming her biggest fear. “I didn’t like trapeze because I was afraid of heights. It was not high, it was probably about one metre, but I felt it was so high. I get used to it, with training, you can push yourself and really have fun doing what you love,” she enthused.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The other act we saw was the Banquine, a tumbling act performed by 13 acrobats. The act was previously featured in Cirque’s Quidam and is something Laprise specifically wanted as part of KURIOS.

Ekaterina Evdokimova and Kirill Tyurganov. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Kirill Tyurganov, who was a member of the Russian Sports Acrobatics Team before joining Cirque du Soleil, is one of the Banquine performers. “For me, this act is about breaking limits and going [beyond] the edges,” Tyurganov said. “We don’t have any additional equipment, we don’t have any props on stage, it’s all about skills and reactions.”

Tyurganov said his background as a professional athlete prepared him for the world of Cirque, but there was still a lot to learn. “When you come to Montreal, to international headquarters of Cirque du Soleil, you really dive deep into the atmosphere of creation, of something crazy and sometimes it’s mad,” he recalled.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Tyurganov has taken his wife and two young children with him on the road, describing it as an extended vacation for them. He was full of praise for Singapore, declaring “As soon as I arrived, it was like ‘oh my god, the future is coming’.” He expressed an admiration for “the mixture of cultures, food, people,” calling it “wonderful”. Tyurganov described his visit to Gardens by the Bay as “like living in Avatar”.

KURIOS features a score by French film composer Raphaël Beau, which is performed live every night. The band is led by Marc Sohier, who plays the bass guitar and double bass. “The role of the music is to support the image, the action, with the right intensity, the right volume,” Sohier said.

Marc Sohier and Eirini Tornesaki. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

The star of the band is Greek vocalist Eirini Tornesaki, who portrays the Street Singer. She described the show’s sound as “electro-swing”, and said she appreciates being part of “a big group of people working all together for the same goal, to deliver one show.” Tornesaki continued, “Sometimes when I step back and look at that, I feel very privileged to be part of such a beautiful group that puts so much energy and effort and professionalism to make this show happen.”

Rachel Lancaster, who has a background as a dance artist, choreographer and director, is the show’s resident artistic director. She voiced her hope that the show serves as more than mere escapism, saying “more than just the two-and-a-half hours that you spend watching the show or the journey emotionally that you’re taken on, it should also be with you for days or months or years.”

Some of the cast and creatives of KURIOS. Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Lancaster gave praise to the team of people from many disciplines who work on the show, saying she finds fulfilment in “the small things we achieve every day.” “My job is to facilitate and help to make them happen, and when they reach their goals, I’m incredibly proud, but it’s all of their hard work,” she said of the many artists and technicians who help make KURIOS happen.

Photo credit: Jedd Jong

Focusing on the theatrical presentation aspect of KURIOS, Lancaster said “That’s the beauty of theatricality, how to create something that touches the audience and takes them on this journey out of nothing sometimes.” She remarked that “the best theatrical moments are usually the simplest,” stating “You can throw all the bells and whistles and light and magic at things, but if on a basic theatrical level it doesn’t work, you can masquerade, but if you really want to touch people, it’s got to be real.”

KURIOS is turning fantasy into reality from July 5 to August 4 2019 at the Big Top at Bayfront Avenue. Tickets start from $95 (excluding $4 booking fee) and can be bought here: https://www.sistic.com.sg/events/kurios0819

 

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.

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

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.

 

 

 

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.