Hello Goodbye: Safe And Predictable Romantic Comedy

Hello Goodbye proves that a man and woman should never be left alone in an apartment.

Singapore Repertory Theatre presents Hello Goodbye, the first romantic comedy staged in 15 years not since 2001’s Barefoot in the Park. The play will be staged at the DBS Arts Centre from 2 to 26 September 2015. Hello Goodbye is written by Peter Souter and directed by Lisa Spirling.

“Who the freezing fuck are you?” exclaimed the vulgar damsel upon discovery of a man in her supposed newly rented apartment. Gold 905 radio DJ Denise Tan plays outspoken and fiesty Juliet whose life is in a mess while heartthrob Shane Mardjuki plays introverted toy collector Alex whose life is about to become one.

PHOTO: SRT

PHOTO: SRT

Turns out, there has been a mistake on the side of the side of Juliet’s property agent, leaving her in distress. However, our heroine is not be outdone, exchanging snappy banter and witty one-liners in an attempt to lay claim on the apartment as her rightful birthright.

Despite being threatened that a beating by Juliet’s muscular boyfriend ensures should he not vacate the apartment, Alex doesn’t buy it. The two begins a narrative exposition where Juliet reveals she is in a crisis after being caught red-handed for a serious case of infidelity with her flatmate’s husband-to-be on the wedding day itself.

Temperatures rising as Juliet takes off her top and makes out (and proceeded onto you-know-what) with Alex who in an earlier moment, swore off being interested in the former. Fast forward by 10 years, the duo is filing for divorce. Old and new issues surfaced in one climatic scene that unsurprisingly does not derail the narrative which ends with a happily-ever-after.

A romantic comedy that runs on the typical Hollywood-prescribed formula, it’s difficult to dislike Hello Goodbye. But I’m not saying that it is the ‘Romantic Comedy Play of the year’. The dialogue overladen with witty banter and wordplay was well-thought-out and funny on many occasions. Eg. “The moment I drop my front (meaning her emotional barrier), you’ll want to see my front (meaning her chest).” Yet I find myself grasping for air – and for something different for a change – by the end of the first act.

PHOTO: SRT

PHOTO: SRT

Tan did a stellar job with Juliet but I would reckon that audiences find it hard to sympathise with the female protagonist. Her infidelity becomes a recurring topic in the play as was the case with us audiences since she did indeed have an affair with her flatmate’s husband and later with some dude who drives a Aston Martin behind Alex’s back.

Although Tan and Mardjuki had great chemistry on stage, it was a stretch to find any compatibility at all between Juliet and Alex other than the fact that they are both warm-blooded and they both enjoy a good sex. The narrative was advanced through dialogue a tad too recklessly as both went from complete strangers and mortal enemies, to can’t-take-my-lips-off-yours lovers in a matter of 40, or 39 minutes to be exact. Blame the pheromones!

There were some sweet moments in the play though. I liked the part where soon-to-be-single Alex hands Juliet a piece of bubble wrap because she loves to “pop the bubbles” and when she discovers that the locked chest actually contains a collection of all things Juliet – including her passport?

But the story plot goes critically thin when issues like Juliet’s desire to have babies, Alex’s lack of verbal affection is brought out again after 10 years. A newlywed’s honeymoon phase would have worn out by a year and those issues should have surfaced 10 months into marriage and not 10 years after.

However, if you get logic out of the way, Hello Goodbye is every bit of the feel-good romantic comedy that it positions itself to be. Both Tan and Mardjuki did a wonderful job in their roles. In the end, Hello Goodbye leaves you feeling everything is going to work out just right – if the baby comes. RW

Many thanks to SRT for the media passes.

Hello Goodbye

DBS Arts Centre

Opens 2 to 26 September 2015

After a sell-out run at the Hampstead Theatre in London, SRT is delighted to bring Hello Goodbye, the hottest romantic comedy of the year to Singapore. Featuring a star cast including Shane Mardjuki (Shakespeare in the Park – Twelfth Night, Unlucky Plaza) and Denise Tan (Dim Sum Dollies, Gold 90.5FM DJ).

Ticket Pricing: $15 – $60

Web Link: Hello Goodbye

The LKY Musical: A Bold Account of Singapore’s Founding Father

Lee Kuan Yew is human after all. His is the story of personal triumphs, insecurities, moral struggles and setbacks much like every other Singaporean.

Lee Kuan Yew. A three-syllable name that will either strike fear or invite forth countless praises depending on which side of the fence you’re on. But no matter. It’s applaudable (or downright foolish) of anyone to even attempt at telling the story of Singapore’s legendary statesman for it can only result in glorious success or epic disaster.

Metropolitan Productions takes on the gargantuan task of telling Mr Lee’s story. The LKY Musical follows his story from pre-war days as a student at Raffles Institution through his transformation into a powerful political leader struggling to win Singapore’s Independence. The musical is performed at the MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands from 21 July to 16 August 2015.

Here’s what I saw: Take away the theatrics and the singing (which was fantastic by the way), what the musical sought to do was to help audiences come to a realisation that Mr Lee was as human as everyone of us. He too, experienced the basic human emotions of happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise and disgust. The musical provides insights into Mr Lee’s (Adrian Pang) life through the events that shaped him, and his relationship with wife Mrs Lee (Sharon Au), Rickshaw Puller Koh Teong Koo (Sebastian Tan), and even political opponent Lim Chin Siong (Benjamin Chow).

Adrian Pang and Sharon Au in The LKY Musical (2015)

The Prime Minister’s First Love

The musical opens with Mrs Lee recounting her beating Mr Lee in Mathematics and Economics in Raffles College much to the dismay of Mr Lee. Back in school, Mrs Lee was the only entity that stood in his way in being Raffles’ top student. It was pretty funny to picture a very upset and jealous Mr Lee getting all angry over the defeat. The two will later meet again under the circumstances of the war and fall madly in love with each other but their love story was never really developed from there on.

For all the publicity and posters about Mr Lee and his love relationship with Mrs Lee, I was left disappointed perhaps more so with how the script was worked out than with Sharon’s performance. If the musical sought to portray Mrs Lee as the submissive ‘good Asian wife’ to Mr Lee, they certainly achieved their objective, if not too overly-excessive. But history knows Mrs Lee not to be a docile figure. Sharon just didn’t stood out. I couldn’t feel the firm presence of the strong-willed Woman behind Singapore’s most powerful Man. Sharon blended in like a fixture to the musical and I kind of feel bad for her because I thought that she was capable of doing better.

Also, Sharon could certainly use more singing classes when put on the same stage with actors to the likes of Adrian and Sebastian. I felt apprehensive for her as she was belting out the high notes. However, Sharon did had some redeeming moments in the musical. In the final scene where a downcast Mr Lee sat down in the sofa head-bent contemplating Singapore’s future in light of Separation, Sharon’s singing of the Singapore’s National Anthem was haunting and touching at the same time. Swept throughout the entire theatre was more of this burden and sense of fear than anticipation over Singapore’s future which Mr Lee carried on his tired shoulders. I was stirred almost to the point of tears.

Mr Lee’s Only Formidable Opponent

If there was one person who stood the chance to topple the immovable statesman, it had to be Lim Chin Siong. For all the existing State censorship over national media outlets on the former PAP leftwing leader, I thought that the story of Lim and Mr Lee was pretty objective and even more interesting than Mr Lee and Mrs Lee’s story.

Jet back to the 1950s, Lim’s passionate speeches and ability to rouse the crowd had left a deep (positive) impression in Mr Lee despite his concern on Lim’s communist tendencies. Such was Mr Lee’s admiration for Lim that he asks if Lim was ‘the better side of me?’ in song item Look at him there.

Forming the opposition party PAP which won the hearts and minds of Singaporeans, they were practically unstoppable. The two tangos through the scenes, each having a deep admiration while trying to best the other. But one stern warning from Mrs Lee reminds Mr Lee that he is playing a very dangerous game, one of which he could very well lose.

Young actor Benjamin Chow did an outstanding performance as Lim Chin Siong. You know you have made it if you could make your audience feel – fear. I was at the edge of my seat as I watch Benjamin transverse through the scenes and dialogue with Adrian. His stellar delivery of lines made us felt that he was indeed the worthy adversary who could very well defeat Mr Lee and PAP.

Kudos to the creative team for not reducing Lim to a mere villain and plot antagonist, instead giving layers to the controversial figure which was very, very refreshing.

Sebastian Tan and Vester Ng in The LKY Musical (2015)

The Rickshaw Puller Singapore is Indebted to

I must admit that I didn’t know much about Ricksaw Puller Koh Teong Koo and his relationship with Mr Lee, so much of what was reenacted on stage was news to me. Played by Sebastian Tan, Koh was a major character throughout the musical. Being mindful of Singapore’s successful present, it is chilling to even consider that Mr Lee was so close to being massacred in the Sook Ching Massacre. Had it not been for Koh, one wonders how would Singapore be like today.

At first thought, I questioned the directors’ choice to feature so heavily the story of Koh and his rickshaw-pulling colleague Ng Kai. Perhaps Mr Lee’s larger-than-life persona could be told through the perspective of many other individuals, but in hindsight; Koh’s interactions with Mr Lee presents a candid and intimate account of the would-be Prime Minister in his younger days.

I liked that the musical chose to illuminate the story of Koh over other important characters in Mr Lee’s life. In one particular scene, Koh (Sebastian) performs ‘Progress’, a number that celebrates the progress of ordinary Singaporeans from poverty to luxury. There, Koh works hard and acquires three trishaws – as if highlighting that with diligence and hard work, anyone can make it in a meritocratic society like Singapore.

Adrian The Right Man for the Job

Can you imagine any other actor playing Wolverine other than Hugh Jackman? Or any other actor playing Jon Snow than Kit Harington? (Laughs) Nope, neither can I. Adrian dazzled on stage as a singing Mr Lee. Anyone might have crumbled under the pressure of playing Mr Lee but not Adrian. I thought that he resembled Mr Lee in mannerisms and personality, but wasn’t too concerned with ‘trying to get it right’.

Despite having little resemblance to Mr Lee, Adrian did a phenomenal job portraying Mr Lee as fighter, lover, political opponent, compatriot and friend. I particularly liked how Adrian acted out Mr Lee’s own insecurities, fears of failure and the moral dilemmas he faced, stripping down Mr Lee’s tough exterior many have known to reveal an intimate side people don’t often think about.

It’s one thing to be a versatile actor, but another to personify the role. And I felt that Adrian did just that. Right from the beginning, Adrian commanded such an enormous stage presence that it was easy for anyone to readily accept him as Mr Lee. While not many people have taken on the role of Mr Lee but for now, I can’t see anyone else a perfect fit for this position other than Adrian.

The LKY Musical_3

Some Scenes Which Stood Out

How Can Heroes Be So Cruel?

“The British will take care of us!”, says young Mr Lee. At the beginning, English-educated Mr Lee was all praises for the British Empire. We witnessed Mr Lee adamantly defending the pride of British when doubts of their inability to defend Singapore against the Japanese arose. Singing Great Britain’s National Anthem with all his heart, Mr Lee was a British compatriot through and through. But all that came crashing down when he experiences a double blow; Britain’s failure to defend Singapore during WWII and Mr Lee’s coloured treatment during his time in London.

In the song item, Adrian laments on ‘How can heroes be so cruel?‘ That was perhaps one of the key moments in Mr Lee’s life that changed his mindset on colonialism, thus cementing Adrian as one of Singapore’s finest actor.

Four National Anthems in One Musical

The national anthems of Britain, Japan, Malaysia and Singapore was sung in the musical. That in itself was a very powerful moment for me. As I witness the singing of the different national anthems through the eyes of Mr Lee, it made me realised that, perhaps we don’t grasp the gravity of the situation until we realised that hey, “I could still be singing some other country’s national anthem today.” I thought that that was a very clever way of telling Mr Lee’s motivations.

Plus Points

Packing 24 years of Mr Lee’s life into a 2 hour musical is not easy at all. Nevertheless, the show’s pacing was comfortable and I never felt lost throughout the entire musical. Veteran composer Dick Lee proved to be the right person for the job. Without turning its political importance into circus tunes (like Singapura the Musical), I thought that his lyrics and tunes were pleasant. The (use of the) very charming rustic nine-grid stage setting in the background was a brilliant idea and added much depth to the musical’s mise en scene. The production did however experienced some technical problems during last Sunday’s matinee, resulting in a few minutes of waiting time.

Points to Improve

Again, I would have loved to see the blossoming romance of Mr and Mrs Lee than Ng Kai’s backstory being played out in the show. Interactions with important characters Mr Goh Keng Swee and Mr Toh Chin Chye was relegated to a few minutes within the show. It would have been interesting to see the dynamics between Mr Lee and his former colleagues acted out in theatre.

Overall, The LKY Musical was extremely well executed and the lines polished. Everything about the musical was great from the plot, music, stage set, and all-local actors. I have no complaints at all. Less the concerns of cherry-picking or government intervention, I thought that the musical was perfect for both local and international audience. It is an understatement to say that I have enjoy it terribly. Many thanks to the organisers for the press invite.

If there’s a show Singapore would like to export, The LKY Musical is it. I would think that Mr Lee himself would have liked this musical. RW

The LKY Musical

MasterCard Theatres, MBS

21 July to 16 August 2015

The LKY Musical is an original play with an epic span and tremendous emotional depth. It explores the tumultuous times of pre-independence Singapore, an era rich in drama. Central to the play is the figure of Lee Kuan Yew whose life, political battles and enduring relationship with his wife form the crux of the story. This is a tale of high drama, intrigue, betrayal, love and loyalty. It offers new insights into the emotional struggle faced by LKY and his friends at a time when Singapore history balanced on a knife-edge.

Ticket Pricing: $58 – $150

Web Link: The LKY Musical

5 Things You Didn’t Know About The LKY Musical

We are just five days away from the premiere of The LKY Musical! Before that, here are five things you didn’t know about this epic musical.

Read my previous article on The LKY Musical here.

lkymusical

The LKY Musical

MasterCard Theatres, MBS

21 July to 2 August 2015

The LKY Musical is an original play with an epic span and tremendous emotional depth. It explores the tumultuous times of pre-independence Singapore, an era rich in drama. Central to the play is the figure of Lee Kuan Yew whose life, political battles and enduring relationship with his wife form the crux of the story. This is a tale of high drama, intrigue, betrayal, love and loyalty. It offers new insights into the emotional struggle faced by LKY and his friends at a time when Singapore history balanced on a knife-edge.

Ticket Pricing: $78 – $108

Web Link: The LKY Musical

Singapura: The Musical – The Singapore Story Gone Wrong

The first Broadway musical to tell Singapore’s story, Singapura: The Musical was every bit of a mistake from beginning to end.

Singapore may be a small maritime nation with a relatively short history, but her rich and tumultuous past leading to independence makes for a good musical. Sadly, Singapura: The Musical isn’t it. The musical which runs from 19 May to 21 June was composed and written by 4th Wall Theatre Company’s composer-creator Ed Gatchalian and scriptwriter Joel Trinidad both hailing from the Philippines. Seeking to tell ‘Singapore’s untold stories’ and even staging the musical in its country of origins, the theatre company was undertaking a colossal project which they unfortunately failed to deliver.

Sitting through Singapura: The Musical was like taking a Skinkansen (Japan’s bullet train) through Singapore’s history. The Hock Lee Bus Riot, Singapore and Malaysia’s merger and separation, everything was touch and go. The musical’s pacing was so rushed, it did not give audiences any breathing space to think and absorb in what it was like to live through what was to be some of the most important milestone in Singapore’s history between 1955 to 1965.

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All of a sudden, we are being fed with information that a boy was shot and killed. All of a sudden, the protagonist’s family wants to leave for Melaka. All of a sudden, the man in white (presumably Mr Lee) was petitioning for the country’s merger. All of a sudden, the musical’s protagonist falls in love with an ‘ang-moh’ (Caucasian). The musical simply could not decide their focal point as to which and what Singapore story to tell.

I may understand that the relationship of protagonist Lee May (played by Marian Santiago) and her British officer boyfriend is a metaphor of Singapore’s relationship with her coloniser – if it was ever their intention – but really? Is this necessary to tackle interracial marriage in a musical that sought to tell Singapore’s story?

In their second song item, they performed ‘Kopitiam’, a song that depicts everyday life at Singaporeans’ favourite hangout place. I cringed everytime they sang out the word ‘Kopitiam’. The actors could also certainly sing, but the lyrics and tune were terrible. Forgettable, cringe-worthy tunes mixed in with lyrics that were badly written, I could barely stay on my seat, only sitting through the entire musical as a form of respect to the actors. The cast which were mostly Filipino sang really well, but their attempts to speak Singlish evidently showed that they were far from ready to convince the Singaporean crowd that they are indeed Singaporeans.

Scenes-from-Singapura-The-Musical-credit-to-Singapura-The-Musical

There were moments in the musical which showed some promise (and gave me hope that they can salvage the show so that I can applaud for them at the end). One such scene was when the man in white climbed and stood at the top of a two storey ladder. But a few words, some unimpressive singing, and that was it. One of the only few interesting scenes, it was haphazardly portrayed. Their avoidance in tackling political scenes by its horns was also their undoing (they couldn’t explicitly portray Mr Lee since they couldn’t get the rights and permission). My beef is, if you can’t get permission, meaning you also can’t portray the statesman in a way that will do him justice, why bring him into the picture at all?

Archival footage of the late Mr Lee and Tunku Abdul Rahman were screened midway to provide exposition and to give the audiences some bearing of the sentiments during the separation period. But for the musical who’s clearly unclear about their direction, screening those footage did not compliment the two hour long musical. Instead, it made the creative team look extremely lazy for using the footage instead of reenacting their own scenes.

For all the publicity generated on the print and digital media, the musical was a complete letdown and utter disappointment. Maybe you could say that I’m being biased since I am a Singaporean, but for a musical that sought to tell the Singapore story, Singapura: The Musical has missed the mark by more than a mile.

Singapura: The Musical is a titanic scaled production, grossly under-delivering for all that it has promised. But they played theirs cards right to premier in Singapore during her jubilee year. The sales will come, people will flock in by the hundreds to catch the performance. I can only hope that the shows’ creator and composer do some soul-searching, intensify their research into those historical moments and seriously rework the script, before bringing this to the international stage. The Singapore story is not as you have told. RW

Singapura: The Musical

Capitol Theatre (New theatre along Stamford Rd stretch)

Opens 19 May to 28 June 2015

Ticket Pricing: $65 – $175

Web Link: Singapura: The Musical

Photos: Google

The LKY Musical: Story of Singapore’s First Prime Minister

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny that he did indeed play a pivotal role in making Singapore what she is today. Come July 21st, the life of our late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first and longest serving premier will be played out in The LKY Musical performed at the MasterCard Theatres, Marina Bay Sands.

Metropolitan Productions’ The LKY Musical was conceived three years ago when a group of theatre-loving friends came together and lamented why Singapore did not have any plays or musicals centered around their statesmen – like many other countries do. This deep admiration for Mr Lee thus became the driving force behind production of the world class musical which also doubles as a tribute to the late statesmen.adrian-pang-the-lky-data

The LKY Musical follows the life of Mr Lee from his early days at Raffles College to the founding of Singapore. The musical is based on a story by Singaporean writer Meira Chand. and its script is written by US playwright Tony Petito, the founding artistic director of the Singapore Repertory Theatre – the folks who brought you the highly popular Shakespeare in the Park!

The LKY Musical will be the second of three musicals centered around Singapore’s history, the first being Singapura: The Musical (19 May-7 Jun) and the third; Nanyang, The Musical (6-8 Aug). Tackling Singapore-themed topics can be extremely difficult because of potential political red tapes (the musical explores the dynamics between Lee and party member-turned-arch rival, Lim Chin Siong), Singaporeans’ high expectations, self-censorship, and Singaporeans’ personal take on how Mr Lee’s life should be played out on the international stage. Not to mention, emotions are still high since the jubilee year also marks Mr Lee’s passing which took place less than six months ago.

Heavyweights in the creative industry has been drafted into the musical cast and creative lineup.

adrian-pang-and-sharon-au-dataAdrian Pang stars as the man of the hour. Having performed in HamletMacbeth, Into The Words, Forbidden City, Twelfth Night… This man needs no introduction. I last saw Pang as the dysfunctional dad in Tribes and he was gold. I have no doubt that Pang is the best man for the job and that he will put up a spectacular performance.

Sharon Au stars as our late Prime Minister’s love interest, the late Kwa Geok Choo. In recent years, the media has revealed the contributions made by Mdm Kwa and her paramount importance to Mr Lee. Hence, whoever’s playing Mdm Kwa has to be crème de la crème. In all my years of couch potatoing, I have always known Au to be a terrific variety host. So it was conflicting for me when the role of Mdm Kwa was given to her. But since she supposedly nailed her audition to be awarded the most important (and only female) role, I will be anticipating her performance on the Mastercard Theatres. Hopefully she doesn’t disappoint!

The musical will also shed light on Koh Teong Koo (played by Sebastian Tan) the rickshaw rider who saved Mr Lee during World War 2 – God bless his soul- and his political arch rival Lim Chin Siong (played by Benjamin Chow).

Music veteran, Dick Lee holds the honour of composing the music for the musical. His lyrical accolades include sellout musicals such as Beauty World (1988), Fried Rice Paradise (1991, 2010), Forbidden City (2003) and so on. I happened to be watching The 5 Show on Channel 5 and that episode featured Lee’s first performance for the new song he wrote for this year’s NDP. It was… too musical-ish. Lee’s forte is clearly in musical song writing. I am looking forward to his score for The LKY Musical.

I must say I am also a teeny weeny bit apprehensive about the musical since the first Singapore musical (Singapura: The Musical) was supposedly a disappointment (according to reviews).

But The LKY Musical shows promise in delivering a solid Singaporean-ish musical experience that will make us relish and cry for the late Mr Lee who’s had so much to do with Singapore’s success today. Mark down your calendars, and book your tickets for The LKY Musical between 21 July to 16 August 2015. RW

The LKY Musical

MasterCard Theatres, MBS

21 July to 2 August 2015

Ticket Pricing: $78 – $108

Web Link: The LKY Musical