1965 – film review

1965 was a movie that failed several counts in execution, but shone in the way it reminded its local watchers about difficult truths, even if it didn’t intend to. From the madness of the mob to the irrationality of living along communal lines, this historical drama surely brought home the arbitrariness of life during those years.

Set in the merger years between 1963 – 1965 and during the Konfrontasi, the lives of several persons collided to dramatic effect, when a Chinese police inspector (Qi Yuwu) was accused of ignoring the pleas of a widowed Malay hawker (Deanna Yusof) to save her son during a riot. Introduce into the mix the hawker’s son, a police constable (Sezairi Sezali), and a daughter of a coffee shop owner (Joanne Peh).

Choppy screenwriting and over-ambitious riot and street fighting scenes may have detracted from the depth that the film could have explored on racial issues, especially the origin and resolution of those issues.

Propaganda and LKY tribute messages aside, the movie’s expositions caught one by surprise, in a strangely buoyant way.

“To make yourself happier, remember this; he who spends his time facing the unpleasant facts of life is more likely to resolve them,” Lim Kay Tong playing the Lee Kuan Yew, said atop a car adorned with orchids, as he spoke at a rally on the streets after one of the riots.

Sadly, not all the lines of the characters were memorable and most of the narration was banal and cliched. What was memorable, however, were three elements; the camera work, sets and thespians who gave their all to the craft despite the flaws in the writing.  Camera work was gorgeous and clean. The sets and venues in Batam boasted some authentic looking places ranging from aged coffee shops, kampung houses on stilts to dusty brown streets with roadside carts. Towering coconut trees swayed in the wind, framing picturesque shots that hearkened back to a simpler time past.

And who can forget those standout performances from Qi as unflappable cop, Yusof as bitter and grieving mother, and Sezali as the voice of reason and common sense?  Lim Kay Tong also gave his own respectful interpretation of LKY during some patchworked-together public moments.

One can fault the technical flaws of this film, but cannot deny that it tried quite hard to celebrate the peace that the multi-racial country has today, through contrasting the troubled times when it was birthed. What is laudable is that it brought home that a socially diverse fabric can be so fragile despite best efforts. The profound effect that racial bigotry and discrimination has on one’s psyche can and should not be ignored, and the explosive events of 1963-1965 were a testament to how senseless suffering can be when men give in to their primal instincts.

1965 was a good reminder of what Singaporeans should not take for granted, preceding all the pomp and pageantry to come in the nation’s 50th birthday celebrations next week.

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The Henderson Project – Unconventional theatre space in a suburban place

Dream Academy sails into uncharted territory with its new theatrical and music outing, “The Henderson Project”, a collection of 2 shows held at its office in Henderson Industrial Park.

“The Last Five Years” is a musical by Tony-award winning Jason Robert Brown featuring the up-and-coming Mina Kaye, and the multi-talented Linden Furnell. The musical is about the relationship of a struggling actress and a novelist, with the story of one character told backward, and the other in chronological order. The characters do not directly interact save for somewhere in the middle, during a wedding song. 

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“Happy Robin” is a solo set of songs sung by Robin Goh, a familiar face in the arts and entertainment industry. Sharing stories and belting out a set of songs that he loves, Goh is set to charm the audience with his soulful voice and the connection he has to the songs.

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The theatre company has also created a bar to complete the experience. In such an intimate space, audiences await with much anticipation the effects of this experimental venue on an off-Broadway musical and solo set. Limited seating is available, so do book early if you want to be part of this “off-the-beaten theatre-path” adventure. 

The Last Five Years is playing on 6, 7, 13, 14 February 2014 at 8pm and 8, 15 February 2014 at 3pm and 8pm. Happy Robin is showing on 7,8, 14 and 15 February 2014 at 10pm. Both shows are held at 203 Henderson Road (Lift Lobby A) #02-01 Henderson Industrial Park. Tickets available at +65 9874 4465 and boxoffice@dreamacademy.com.sg.

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Images and e-flyer courtesy of Dream Academy 

Pre-show feature: Melancholy Play

In this pre-show feature, I interview Jasmine, a co-founder of Couch Theatre, on the upcoming production “Melancholy Play”.

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“Melancholy Play” is a play written by Sarah Ruhl, two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist. In a bold move, new local theatre company Couch Theatre will attempt to make sense of melancholia (ie sadness) and also de – stigmatize this common emotion felt in modern society, promising unabashed melodrama and shameless comedy on the depressive topic.

I got wind from the team that Couch Theatre was formed by a young group of twenty-somethings, ex – Raffles Players Rei-en, Shien, Izabel, Ziyad and Jasmine. “Melancholy” would be Couch Theatre’s debut, and director Jasdeep Singh Gill’s first public production (one notable credit of his is a 2011 Players’ production of Jean Tay’s “BOOM”). The lead Tilly is played by Cheryl Foo, who has been in theatre for a good part of her teenage life.  

When asked how the play actually challenges the traditional concept of depression, Jasmine explains that although the word melancholy brings to mind a quiet sadness and a dreamy pensiveness, melancholy in the play would be “bold, outward, sassy, sexy and unashamed”. This accords with the playwright’s urging for one “not to be afraid of sincere melodrama”.

In fact, even though the play was written in 2001 and probably a reflection of the young and depressed in the late 20th century, Jasmine says that melancholia is a universal feeling that transcends time. Notwithstanding the exact causes may vary across time, melancholia is still relevant as suffering is a universal human condition, and setbacks are an unavoidable part of human life.

As this is the stage premiere of Ruhl’s play in Singapore, the interpretation of the comedy and melodrama in Ruhl’s script would differ from an American’s interpretation of the same, due to the difference in cultural influences driving the directing/acting of the play. The actors will also bring their personal notions about melancholia, and whacky personalities into the play.

Jasmine lets on that the audience will find the “nonlinear realism” of Ruhl’s play refreshing, as the nonsensical elements in the storyline give the audience a rare opportunity to stretch boundaries and let their imagination run free. At the same time, the plunge into a whimsical world will provoke the audience to reflect upon the realities of their own lives and their relationships.

Couch Theatre hopes that through the play, Singaporeans can recognize that sad emotions are not bad; and that they too help us appreciate life and its beauty. In this world of suspended disbelief, quirky and sad take centre stage in what will hopefully be a beautiful spectacle.

Melancholy Play by Couch Theatre is playing at the National Library Building, Level 5, Drama Centre Black Box from 25 – 27 July. Tickets available from http://www.couchtheatre.wix.com/melancholy.

 

Jtbeans celebrates its 2nd year anniversary!

This blog has evolved and I am glad that I still have the space to share my thoughts.

In celebration of the 2nd year gone by, I have changed the appearance of the blog – hopefully to make it cleaner to read, and to add a playful / quirky touch for readers who had a long day at school or work.

I am thankful that these 2 years have paved the way to many kind collaborators reaching out. Thank YOU for stopping by. It’s been a fun ride!

Review of The Book of Living and Dying

Title of performance: The Book of Living and Dying

Theatre Company: The Finger Players in collaboration with Teatri Sbagliati

Date of performance: 6 July 2013, 3.00pm

Performance venue: Esplanade Theatre Studio

What a treat for me to go to another show in Esplanade’s 2013 The Studios series – I caught my favourite production of 2012, “Freud’s Last Session”, at the series last year. And this time, I was utterly blown away by The Book of Living and Dying by The Finger Players. 

The opening scenes of “The Book of Living and Dying” were breathtaking. An Italian tranvestite Martina (Antonio Ianniello) explains to adopted daughter Eve (Nambi E. Kelley) about her parentage in a roundabout fashion, just when a spinning universe burst into light and cut-out patterns shone on the walls. Eve doesn’t take “from the good soil” as an answer, nor buys that she was there from the beginning of the universe.

Soon enough, Eve leaves the nest and only returns when Martina tells her she has stomach cancer.  Eve brings her cat along, Meow Meow (Oliver Chong), who reacts strangely to Martina. A few parallel storylines then unfold, leading us to understand that Martina and Eve have been interlinked through all their past lives and the cat has been a witness to it all. Master and slave, soldier and comfort woman, now, mother and daughter.

Before the creation of this play, the entire company took a two-week trip to China to study Tibetan Buddhism under a monk in a monastery. It shows in the religious bent of the plot, largely about the cyclical nature of life and death, and steeped in questions about reincarnation. With such heavy subject-matter at hand, how did the production fare?

Under Chong Tze Chien’s careful direction, a stimulating and profound play was born, with every element of the play strong in its own right.

Against the backdrop of The Finger Player’s signature puppetry, a dying Martina literally unearths past mistakes through a chilling shadow-play of skeletons, trees and dinosaurs. She was a thief in her past lives, and her mistakes have come back to haunt her. The urgency of an impending death, strangely enough, helps the characters make sense of life. Eve confronts the questions of where she came from, and Martina’s inner conflict finally comes to a head when she admits the sins festering inside of her.

Flitting in between the mother and daughter story are a caricature of a Chinese doctor, Priest and Monk who serve as dots to connect the narrative, and also speed bumps in the fast-paced play.

As much as the work and process of the actors / co-playwrights impressed me, it was the attempt of the production to grapple with the hard questions that left the deepest impression. The play exuded honesty in portraying the struggle of humanity to understand each other, the world, death, and rebirth. The funny thing is that in the hodgepodge of philosophy and platitudes in the play, there was one single, running thread of clarity – the connectedness of human lives with each other and with the Universe.

The profundity of the play, unfortunately, was like a double-edged sword because there were so many ideas packed into the 90 minutes. It made it hard for a theatre-goer to keep up with the pace, if their minds lingered on the lines spoken the moment before.

The few flaws in the production did not detract from its depth and flow. The crowning jewel had to be the innovative use of chalk by the artists, who timed to perfection every symbolic outline and illustration on the floor and walls of the Theatre Studio, erasures included.  Drawings sometimes crossed scenes but this messiness added to the feeling of connectedness, surrounded by every overhanging note in the minor chord which Darren Ng (sound artist) played.

There was a certain resignation at the end of the play, but also a strange sense of grandeur, as death made way to life, and humanity was rendered helpless at the reinforced notion that humans cannot choose the consequences of their actions.

Overall, this thoughtful play definitely deserves a second or third watch, to fully chew on all that is within. But just watching it once is also enough to leave you in awe and wonder.

The Book of Living and Dying first played at the 2012 Singapore Arts Festival. It recently played at Esplanade Theatre Studio from 4 to 7 July 2013.

Review of Unleashed! The Woman Before

Title of performance: Unleashed! The Woman Before

Theatre Company: Part of the LASALLE show 2013

Date of performance: 9 April 2013

Performance venue: Creative Cube, LASALLE College of the arts

A suspenseful 75-minute long play written by German playwright Roland Schimmelpfennig about the disintegration of memory and the melodramatic lives of 5 characters, was recently showcased at the Creative Cube venue in LASALLE College of the Arts. The play was part of the LASALLE show 2013 and directed by final year theatre and performance student Cherilyn Woo.

The performance area was unembellished, and ambient music interspersed with cricket-sounds played in the background as the audience filed in. The first thing that met the gaze of the audience was the shrink-wrapped partitions that bordered the two seating areas perpendicular to each other in the Cube. Cardboard boxes were carefully strewn across the stage, and 4 irregularly-shaped wooden cupboards were placed against the other walls of the venue.

The first character the audience saw was the narrator Tina played by Jean Toh, whose presence chilled the air as she glided across the second level of the Cube on what looked like the second story of a power plant. She perched atop a seat and stared at the scene below, as the ambient music faded out.

The audience, together with Tina, soon observed a domestic quarrel, where an enraged wife Claudia had slapped her husband Frank of 19 years, for suspicions that he was involved with another woman.  The altercation was prompted when a woman involved with Frank 24 years ago, Romy, unexpectedly turned up at the couple’s doorstep proclaiming that Frank still loved her. The characters stepped in and out of the wooden cupboards, which were supposed to be the rooms in the house that the couple was moving out of.

Frank managed to clear up the misunderstanding swiftly and chased Romy away, where she disappeared that moment into a cupboard which doubled up as the front door. But Frank and Claudia’s son, Andi, soon came running in with the unconscious Romy in his arms, panicking that he had killed her. He recounted that he and his girlfriend Tina were standing at the top of the fictional river bank and throwing stones at people indiscriminately, when one hit Romy.

The rest of the events made the play accelerate in eeriness as the recuperating Romy worked her way to destroy the family and stake ownership on Frank. She slept with Andi, killed him by suffocating him with a plastic bag, and neatly packed his body away into a cardboard box. Romy almost managed to wrestle Frank away from Claudia, but walks away from him after she realizes that Frank has forgotten most of his time with her, and is using her just to escape from his stale marriage. The play ended on a horrific note, where Frank discovers Andi’s body and Claudia discovers the gift that Romy left for Frank, which spontaneously combusts and burns her alive.

The overall rhythm of the play had an unrelenting tempo which was gripping. The theme of disintegration and distortion of memory was skillfully enmeshed in the various devices that the playwright wrote into the play, one of which was the time-switches. This fragmentation of the story saw one part of the scene being played out, which continued on to a freeze-frame and rewind by the actors and actresses to a few moments before that scene took place. This was accompanied by sounds of a videotape rewinding and the dimming of stage lights. The actors and actresses carried out the time-switches with finesse and it provided a very cinematographic feel to the production.

The time-switches, along with the set design, drove home the idea that memory can sometimes be compartmentalized, blanked out, and juxtaposed with reality. Frank made declarations of endless love with Romy which he can barely recall after 24 years. Andi and Tina, madly in love, physically tried to draw “tags” on everything they see so they can make an imprint that they were there. But memory, even of moments before, is capricious, and Andi proves to be easily seducible by Romy.

Dialogue was terse and direct, but full of meaning. In one climactic scene representing the dissolution of their marriage, Frank tells Claudia: “You’re old, clapped out, and ugly.” Claudia responds with emotion welling inside of her, “You just don’t say that, not after 19 years of marriage, not after they raised your child. You just don’t say that to anyone. ”

Timothy Nga as Frank and Sharda Harrison as Claudia played off each other’s energies to a good portrayal of a couple worn with the tedium of a long marriage. Jean Toh was notable as Tina because she pulled off long monologues which heightened the air of suspense. But Farez Najid’s portrayal of Andi did not match the intensity of the other actors and actresses, and Zelda Tatiana Ng as Romy, played the character as less unhinged than what could have been.

Parts of the plot were baffling due to the leaps in logic in the story. I suspect these were to do with the metaphors that Schimmelpfennig had written into the play, when he made his characters  throw stones at strangers and pick up stones with holes in them “to see the future and look back into the past”.  The play also had touches of senseless brutality and violence toward the end, when  Romy managed to single-handedly destroy an entire family.

There was definitely talent in Cherilyn Woo’s direction and in the production team, as they capitalized on the short length of the play and the unique limitations of the venue, to bring about a very emotional and dark production. The acting of the seasoned veterans was polished and there were some very nice finishing touches to the play that made for certain enthralling moments, which includes the time-switches. The resolution of the play taught us how an obsession with one fragmented and twisted memory can wreak havoc in our lives and those of others.

Unleashed! The Woman Before played at LASALLE College of the Arts, Creative Cube, from 9 April 2013 – 11 April 2013.

Pre-show feature: Going Local 3

In this feature, I interview Gloria Tan and Adib Kosnan, each directing a one-act play in a collection of 4 presented by Buds Theatre Company.

Going Local 3

Buds Theatre Company has been established for more than half a decade in Singapore, and is a not-for-profit group that provides young theatre practitioners with a professional platform to hone their craft.   In a year when the National Arts Council of Singapore has signaled their enthusiasm for the arts by upping the funding of arts groups by nearly thirty per cent, groups like Buds have come into the fore for putting up productions that showcase emerging amateurs alongside professionals.

In “Going Local 3” by Buds, 4 short one-act plays directed by different directors will share the same Drama Centre Black Box stage. The content of these plays will delve into current local issues, ranging from coming out as a homosexual, living in an HDB flat with a hoarder, a family at breaking point, and the dilemmas faced by a returning Oxford graduate.  All plays are completely original works by playwrights Joel Tan (Walking In), Mohammad Aminuddin bin Abdul Rahman (Space), Renee Yeong (Gutter), and Kenneth Kwok (The Promise of James Toh Han Meng). Some of the playwrights graduated from Buds Youth Theatre programme, aimed at providing free drama training for people aged 14 – 24 years.

Gloria Tan, a full-time freelance theatre practitioner directing “Walking In”, said that the play will be a high energy, light-hearted and comedic one. The lead character is a 28-year-old male coming out as a homosexual to his family, who have decided to throw a huge party in celebration. Religion does get in the way, as one of the character’s aunts is a conservative Christian. Strong writing, fights and bold colours will feature in this play. What is creative is the set given the constraints – the stage is cut into three, where stage left is a gay bar, the middle is the lead character’s house and the stage right is the inside of a bus. The actors will bend the rules a little by walking across the scenes. Acting-wise, Tan tells us to look out for Daisy Yeo and Gladys Tan from The Necessary Stage’s Theatre for Seniors.

Adib Kosnan, a full-time theatre practitioner who has been acting with Theatre Kami, let on that the play he is directing is a reflective one. “Space” is about a big Malay family grappling with the lack of space in a 4-room flat where their father is a hoarder. Kosnan said that Amin wrote the play as a social commentary and reflection on the society he knows.  It will be a play about how one person’s actions can affect the whole family, and how each family member in the all-Malay cast struggles to find their own space. In exploring the concept of space and territory, Kosnan said that he tried his best to make sure no actor or actress left the stage. Since space is so precious and sought after in the play, the actors and actresses will embrace and conquer the whole space when they are onstage. Space will almost become a character in itself.

With a very varied range of subject-matter in the plays, one wonders whether the lack of focus detracts from the sampling of originality and talent which will be highlighted. Nevertheless, the dedication to current and local issues will certainly make the plays ones to watch, given that a great number of the notable theatre fare in Singapore today are written by non-Singaporeans.

Going Local 3 is playing at the National Library Building, Drama Centre, Black Box from 30 May 2013 – 2 June 2013, 8 pm (with a 3pm Saturday matinee). Tickets from http://www.apesnap.com/event/GL3.

Pre-show feature: Nine Squares

In this feature, I interview Isaac Tan, 16, and Vishnucharan Naidu, 17, who independently conceptualize, manage, produce and direct their own double bill about the lives of young Singaporeans.

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‘Let no man despise your youth,’  I believe to be the operative proverb in this production put up by two St Andrew’s Secondary School alumni.

From former rivals to artistic collaborators in a production entitled ‘Nine Squares’, Isaac Tan and Vishnucharan Naidu had loftier ambitions than just doing well in school. Both individuals had been active in the Drama Club in school, and according to Isaac, decided to take a risk to do something which had the potential to end up both disastrous and embarrassing.

“Vishnu always had the aspirations to direct his own play and in a simple Facebook ‘conversation’, asked me if I believed he could do it. Then, the both of us kind of had this urge to take this leap of faith… And since we had always been preaching on how we should always do what we believe in life regardless of circumstances, we decided to practice it,” said Isaac.

Aptly titled ‘Nine Squares’, the first play ‘Gin-Nah’ (meaning ‘children’ in Hokkien) by Isaac features 9 different Singaporean students, and the second play, ‘Navarasa’ by Vishnu features the 9 different Hindu expressions. The set design and the direction of the play essentially moves towards the number ‘9’, the artistic concept through which the two are displaying the production.

When asked about what messages and themes the two wished to portray in ‘Gin-Nah’, Isaac replied that the play infused with local humour focuses on the kind of children we are bringing up in Singapore, and serves as a mirror to remind parents that acceptance is important. He hopes to encourage a society which is not only Intelligence Quotient- inclined but more importantly, Emotional Quotient- inclined.

“This play is to remind youth to cut out all the irritating behavior that they might have, and remind parents that their children may have flaws, but it’s time they teach them to improve on themselves instead of trying to be someone they are not,” he said.

When asked what the audience could look forward to, Isaac elaborated: “‘Gin-Nah’ is going to be outrageous. In the rawest of forms, I will depict real students because I believe it is time to show the genuine side of society instead of perfecting my script just to make everything seem more presentable or professional.”

As for ‘Navarasa’, Vishnu explained that it follows the nine different human emotions and is emotional and intense. A play largely about freedom of expression and dealing with the misconceptions people have about others, Vishnu pointed out that it would “stab you in your heart, back, front, and in everything you have actually.”

“‘Nava’ means ‘9’ and ‘rasa’ means ‘expressions’.  Many a time people always misinterpret others’ feelings and emotions, and make fun of them. But not everyone is exactly the same. There are moments when someone can’t express themselves freely because of what another person might say. I believe in a society where every word and feeling is acknowledged and not hidden because of the dominant people in society. Everyone has a say in society. Also, everyone needs to be accepted for who they are, however they differ in sexuality, race, family background or if they are simply different,” Vishnu said.

Amidst juggling their ‘O’ Level exams and a packed schedule preparing for the production, the two did encounter several setbacks. The process of putting up the production was both physically and mentally draining. There was also a lot of insecurity within the two because of the gossip and criticism about their over-ambition.

Fortunately for them, there were special people in their lives who motivated them to persevere despite the difficulties faced. Vishnu’s former teacher Mdm Sujatha was a constant pillar of support, and St. Andrew’s principal, Mrs. Lucy Toh, was generous and helpful, being one of the reasons for which the production could take flight. Isaac was extremely grateful to a close friend of his, EeTer, for giving him the necessary assurance to perform the show. According to Isaac, EeTer’s enthusiasm and faith in him was what really kept him going.

The two were also inspired by their mentors, and having this one chance to bring across a message with the performing arts.

“I strongly believe that only youths are able to connect to youths. This show will cause a spark in the minds of people,” said Vishnu.

When asked what aspirations the two had for the performing arts scene in Singapore, Isaac and Vishnu were candid and thoughtful in their response.

“I believe in the freedom of the arts and hence hope we allow members of the audience to decide for themselves what is acceptable and unacceptable, instead of censorship every now and then,” said Isaac.

“I want to be able to inspire, and at the same time bring change to community and make the arts a reason for society to be a better place to live in,” said Vishnu.

Jtbeans lauds the two for their courage to put up this independent production, and encourages them to keep creating, performing and collaborating.

Nine Squares’ is playing at the Goodman Arts Centre Black Box Theatre on Friday, 15 February 2013 (7.30pm), Saturday, 16 February 2013 (3.30pm & 7.30pm), and Sunday, 17 February 2013 (3.30pm & 7.30pm).  Tickets at S$15. For tickets, please contact +65 90849318 or email ninesquaresproduction@gmail.com.

Review of Les Misérables the movie (2012) by Ceadsearc

In this review, special guest writer and musical-watcher Ceadsearc shares his astute and analytical observations about the film version of Les Misérables.

Les Misérables has long been one of my favourite musicals, and when news broke that they were going to release a movie version, I became rather excited for the chance to see what a Les Misérables movie would be like. The trailers that were released were just astounding – to see Anne Hathaway sing “I dreamed a dream” with the epic backdrop was wonderful advertising for the movie. But of course, we all know that movie-musicals are a mixed bag. At their best, they transcend the limitations of a musical – think “The Sound of Music” – but at their worst, they are pale imitations of what the musical can bring (“Phantom” comes to mind) as they  forsake the advantages of the medium of the musical (the audience interaction, etc) and yet not have the realism and the beautiful cinematography that a good film has. So how did Les Misérables fare?

I thought the movie was a competent adaptation, although it certainly did not live up to the musical. Moreover, certain directional choices were strange. One of my key gripes was the pace of the movie, which was much too fast. Scenes just moved furiously into the next, and there was just too little dialogue in between the songs – particularly in the second half of the movie. Granted, there was a necessity to keep the movie not too long (and it was already 2 and a half hours), but it was almost an unnatural, relentless, pacing.

My second key gripe was the camera work – I just did not understand why there was a need to have so many close-ups of the characters singing. At certain junctures, it worked, such as when Anne Hathaway was emoting as Fantine (she put in a really good performance, it has to be said), but by the end of the show, I was just tired of seeing them sing into the camera when all you see on screen is their face and nothing else. Surely the director had missed the opportunity to use the camera to shoot various angles, formations, etc. to keep things interesting.

One of the things that the production team stressed about this musical was that the actors were actually singing live – accompanied presumably by a piano of sorts – instead of singing to a pre-recorded track. If that was the case, the pianist or accompanist left much to be desired. Having played for, and written for musicals, I can tell you that the difference between musical music and pop music is that, for musical music, the phrases are of irregular tempo – the beat is not kept constant and it would be a crime to do so. Yet, in this movie, the beat seems to have been kept extremely constant even though the accompanist would have accompanied the singer “live”. This leads to situations where the singers in the show would “wait” for the music to finish the requisite beats before coming in on the next phrase, which is an extremely unnatural way of singing. It would have been much better to allow the singers to ebb and flow according to the natural rhythms of the songs, and then to fit the orchestra with it later. Also, I felt that the orchestration could have been better. Comparing the music of the movie to the music of the 10th anniversary concert is a no-contest: the latter’s orchestration is far richer with brasses, lusher strings, etc. which simply was not present in the movie. A disappointment, from that angle.

The singers by and large were good – Anne Hathaway’s performance was brilliant, she can really sing, and can probably be counted for an Oscar nomination. I was also impressed with Samantha Barks as Eponine – although it was a role she’s very familiar with having played Eponine in the West End production – but even so she was very convincing. Amanda Seyfried was good as Cosette, and so was Eddie Redmayne as Marius – the performance of “in my life” and “A heart full of love” was rich with youthful charm and warmth and the setting was appropriate. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine Jean Valjean was quite convincing – although the image of Wolverine keeps coming back (sadly). The only problem was Russell Crowe as Javert – Crowe did not seem to possess the determination and hunger to “do the right thing” that a person playing Javert requires, and his voice was seriously not up to the mark – thin and strained. A simple search on YouTube with Philip Quast’s version will show you how Javert is supposed to be portrayed – that majestic, unflinching, character, with a voice to match, not one of a sissy. Gavroche was brilliant – very adorable; and by and large the majority of the ‘student leaders’ were convincing in their role. The same could not be said for Sacha Baron Cohen whose potrayal of Monsieur Thernadier was far too muted for my liking, as compared to the potrayal in the musical. Apparently he was struck with a bad throat and hence could not deliver the lines (as the singing had to be done live), but still – I was expecting a far more animated performance from him. Helena wasn’t too bad, though.

The set at the beginning was excellent – lush scenery, a picturesque chapel, etc. – although, unfortunately, the second half was not as good. Paris in the 1800s could have looked more realistic, and the gun scenes could have featured far more smoke, guns, big effects, etc. The “inns”, the buildings where the student leaders died under gunfire, etc. all looked rather CGI-like and could have, honestly, looked far more realistic.

The thing about Les Misérables is that it has a very heavy subject matter with heavy themes, such as mercy vs justice, mercy creating love, compassion, freedom to love, and so on. The musical succeeded because, ironically, it knew when to show restraint, not to overwhelm the audience emotionally but to capture them subtly such that, by the time the ending scene appears, Valjean’s death and the famed words “To love another person is to see the face of God” is sung, the audience is touched and hearts are warmed that they tacitly agree with what the musical is saying and then the entire last song “Do you hear the people sing (Reprise)” can become something that the audience enthusiastically agrees with. In the movie, there’s already so much emotion running throughout that by the time the ending is there, one is mentally and emotionally drained from feeling so much throughout the entire movie. Maybe it’s just me, but the build-up could have been managed far better.

Overall, Les Misérables the movie was a flawed though competent adaptation.

ABOUT CEADSEARC

Ceadsearc is a coffee-guzzling, big-time foodie who has a very discerning palate, but also takes the time to enjoy the other finer things in life, like the occasional theatre production or movie. Do visit his food blog at http://www.thefoodieinme.blogspot.com/, which never fails to give me good recommendations.

No less crazy than it was a family affair

Title of performance: Crazy Christmas 2012 – Silver screen meets silver bells

Theatre Company: Dream Academy Productions

Date of performance: 30 November 2012

Performance venue: Esplanade Theatre

Ever since I had my virgin Crazy Christmas experience last year, I realized that the extravaganza is a staple to many people at this time of the year. It’s not a musical, or a pantomime, and hardly a play. When asked, I still hold to the description that it is more like a gathering of exceedingly talented friends and family who sing and dance of Christmas cheer.

Image courtesy of dream Academy Productions

Despite the absence of some Crazy Christmas regulars, this year’s show boasted the talents of new Crazy Christmas faces like Judee Tan and Adrian Pang. It was refreshing, and the family-friendly feature was a standout. Crazy Christmas offspring, as I would like to call them (Zack Pang, Xander Pang and Rachel Quek) performed a number with parents Adrian Pang and Karen Tan respectively, presenting rocked-up versions of Christmas favourites like We wish you a Merry Christmas. Suffice to say that the audience was really impressed with Rachel’s angelic and full-bodied voice at the tender age of 16. Hossan Leong’s impression of Charlie Chaplin was a nice PG alternative to the more risqué Kumar during the stand-up comedy section, and his mime of Silent Night was gold.

Image courtesy of Dream Academy Productions

The promos of the show were a bit misleading though, as it hinted at a more integrated 1930s – 50s-esque collection of famous entertainer impersonations. There were at least two segments which were divorced from that theme, one being the cleverly parodied Wizard of Oz, and the other being the section featuring Judee Tan’s caricature of Dr. Teo Chiew Muay a.k.a. TCM, both of which were funny nonetheless. Judee managed to plug the event’s support of World Aids Day in an accessible manner, and she also literally blew her own trumpet on stage!

Image courtesy of Dream Academy Productions

Special mention goes to Selena Tan and her Marilyn Monroe impersonation. From jibes on the recent scandals in Singapore, to proclaiming she was “Marilyn, and more”, Tan pulled it off with aplomb. She sang an uncanny version of Monroe’s famous Happy Birthday, Mr. President, with a Christmas twist. George Chan’s impersonation of Gene Kelly in his jazzy Singing in the Rain number was impressive too, supported by the lively dancing of the 8 Merry Miss a Toes who were all decked out in yellow bathing suits and transparent PVC raincoats. The 8 girls were a little nondescript throughout the show, but their wardrobe was so, so creative – think candy-striped knee-length socks and angel-winged hairpieces.

Image courtesy of Dream Academy Productions

Music-wise, Crazy Christmas has always been big on its mash-ups, and this year did not disappoint. It takes a lot of skill and practice to carry off an a capella song featuring disjointed song stanzas and sound effects from movies like JAWS, The Little Mermaid, Xanadu, Titanic and the like. Adrian Pang can really beatbox.  As for the rest of the music performances, I noticed that Christmas classics were not featured so heavily this time around, which may or may not have worked for some, and the luscious sounds of Vocaluptuous were only showcased during one song.  Robin Goh and Michaela Therese’s beautiful duet for What are you doing New Year’s Eve did however bring some fine music to the show.

With the right mix of comedy and heart, Crazy Christmas managed to pull off a night of great entertainment that got the audience in the festive mood for celebration and remembering the source of all blessings. And all this, in its 5th year running too. Bravo.

Jtbeans is grateful to Dream Academy Productions for the invitation and ticket to review the production. The views and opinions in this piece are purely the author’s own. “Crazy Christmas 2012 – silver screen meets silver bells” is playing at the Esplanade Theatre from 28th November to 2nd December (Hossan Leong) and from 4th December to 9th December 2012 (Kumar).