As the year draws to a close, at least five musicals will be entertaining theatregoers here.
Some of them have already begun their run, while others are gearing up for showtime.
Currently showing is Fun Home, a Tony Award-winning production presented by Pangdemonium; while Forever Young by Sing'theatre, which features a script adapted by local blogger Benjamin "Mr Miyagi" Lee, opens tomorrow.
Come next month, Wild Rice will be presenting Mama White Snake, which bills itself as a musical that marries Chinese opera with Western pantomime.
Two other additions to the smorgasbord are foreign productions The Sound Of Music and The Addams Family, which will begin their run here next month.
Secrets and lies behind laughs
Based on graphic novelist Alison Bechdel's best-selling memoir of the same name, Fun Home is a powerful coming-of-age musical by composer Jeanine Tesori and book writer and lyricist Lisa Kron.
It has won five Tony awards, including Best Musical.
This staging is directed by local theatre company Pangdemonium's Tracie Pang.
The storyline explores a daughter's (Alison) determination to connect with her brilliant yet volatile father (Bruce). As the memories of her life unfold and she struggles to come to terms with her own sexuality, more and more of her family's dysfunctionality is revealed.
Director Pang says that she and her husband Adrian Pang, who is the artistic director of Pangdemonium and plays Bruce in the show, were "very captivated" by Fun Home, in terms of how the individual journeys of one man and one woman were brought together in a compelling and compassionate father-daughter story.
BOOK IT / FUN HOME
WHERE: Drama Centre, Level 3 National Library Board headquarters, 100 Victoria Street
WHEN: Till Oct 15; 8pm (Tuesdays to Fridays); 3 and 8pm (Saturdays); 3pm (Sundays, except Oct 15); 8pm (Oct 15)
"While this story is of a particular dysfunctional family undone by secrets and lies, we are sure that many people will see their own family mirrored in the various characters," she says.
The musical is dark and explores the complex themes of homosexuality and identity, among others.
Pang says they wanted to examine these themes because their intent is for the audience to leave with "much more than just 'easy' entertainment".
She says: "We want them to be stimulated to think outside their comfort zone; to question, to challenge, to feel and to empathise.
"There is a lot of fun and laughs in Fun Home, but there is also an emotional core to the piece that I hope makes your one hour and 40 minutes with us impactful."
Fun Home is told through the eyes of Alison, played by three actresses at the different stages in her life. Little Alison, for instance, represents the character's pre-teen years.
Alison has two younger siblings. Together, these three characters are played by children between the ages of eight and 13, which means that these child actors are exposed to mature themes.
Small Alison even sings a song about how she feels attracted to a woman.
Given the themes this musical deals with, Pang says they had to make sure that not only the children were "completely comfortable" with telling this story, but that the parents were also on board.
She adds that whenever younger cast members asked tricky questions, their parents were consulted and the questions addressed "always truthfully".
"The older children were already aware of homosexuality and have been having those discussions at school, but for the younger children, it was new.
"It was a very good way to open discussions that many adults find difficult to have with children," she says.
Humorous snapshots of ageing with friends
Written by Swiss playwright Erik Gedeon and adapted by local funnyman and blogger Benjamin "Mr Miyagi" Lee, Forever Young by Sing'theatre promises to be both moving and hilarious.
Through chronicling the lives of a group of zany, retired actors living in a nursing home in the year 2067, the production addresses the mental and physical deterioration associated with ageing.
In this production starring theatre veterans including Tan Kheng Hua, Karen Tan and Hossan Leong - who also directs - theatregoers can expect to laugh as much as they cry.
Speaking to The Straits Times in a telephone interview, Sing'theatre's artistic director Nathalie Ribette, 54, says she first watched Forever Young three years ago in Paris, France. "I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions watching it," she says. "I cried and laughed and it made me think a lot (about the issues surrounding ageing)."
The production also hit a raw nerve because one of the characters has dementia and Ribette's mother, 86, has the condition.
"As I prepare for this production here, I remember and think of my own mother," she says.
The subject matter of the play is also close to the heart of Lee, 48, who worked together with his best friend, Leong, to adapt the script to a Singaporean context.
Both his parents died within the last seven years.
"I saw them grow old and age and I was able to articulate (through the script) what I saw and experienced during their decline," he says.
He says the musical has an "unusual format", in that it does not have a story arc. Rather, he terms it "a series of snapshots", where audience members get glimpses of the characters' lives as they drift in and out of lucidity, which is true of illness-afflicted old people in real life who have experienced cognitive decline.
"This is real. It happens. They do behave like that," he says. "One moment they could be saying something touching, but the next moment, they are uttering nonsense."
BOOK IT / FOREVER YOUNG
WHERE: School of the Arts Drama Theatre, 1 Zubir Said Drive
WHEN: Tomorrow to Oct 21, 8pm (Mondays to Fridays); 4 & 8pm (Saturdays and Sundays)
INFO: Advisory: 16 years and above (some mature content and coarse language)
Even so, he worked to flesh out each character, so that each has a clear motivation for all that he does.
Ribette adds that the production ties in with Sing'theatre's motto - performing for a better society.
On that note, director Leong says that he hopes audiences will leave with a "warm, fuzzy feeling of hopefulness" by the end of the show.
"Growing old does not mean it's the end of the world," he says. "There's laughter when you grow old with friends."
He says his favourite moment in the show is a striptease. "Who says old people can't have fun?" he says.
Mama White Snake
An East-West show of martial arts
Theatre director Glen Goei returns to the stage as an actor after 30 years, in theatre company Wild Rice's production of Mama White Snake.
Part-Chinese opera, part-Western pantomime, the show promises to transport theatregoers to a world of traditional martial arts displays, acrobatic sequences and daring sword fights.
Goei, 52, who last appeared onstage in M. Butterfly (1987) opposite Anthony Hopkins, says it was "hard to say no" to the role of Mama White Snake, especially when it was written with him in mind.
The musical was written by the company's resident playwright Alfian Sa'at.
Asked how he feels about being onstage again, Goei says halfjokingly: "I'm completely terrified.
"I've not had to memorise lines for such a long time, but in this production, I will be acting, singing and dancing - all of which is done in the guise of a female," he says.
"You could not throw me into a hotter pot. But I've always enjoyed a challenge."
Directed by actress-turned-director Pam Oei, the musical is a funny, playful retelling of the ancient Chinese folk tale, Madam White Snake.
It tells the tale of a young man who suffers an identity crisis after he discovers that there is more to his mother and her best friend, Auntie Green Snake, played by theatre veteran Ivan Heng, than he had thought.
BOOK IT / MAMA WHITE SNAKE
WHERE: Drama Centre Theatre, Level 3 National Library Building, 100 Victoria Street
WHEN: Nov 24 to Dec 16, 7.30pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays); 2.30pm (weekends)
Both Goei and Heng have had to undergo Chinese opera and martial arts training, learning how to master water sleeves and use weapons such as swords and spears. They started the training for the show in July.
Heng, 51, agrees that the twice-a-week, four-hour-long training sessions under martial arts choreographer Gordon Choy and his father, Chinese opera choreographer Choy Yien Chow, have been physically challenging.
"We are using muscles that we didn't even know existed," he says.
Goei quips that he has sustained "lots of body aches" and needs a post-practice massage every week.
Still, they are glad to be learning the dying artform of Chinese opera and are looking forward to introducing it to a theatre audience.
Heng says: "One of the wonderful gifts of acting is picking up new skills and this is rigorous, beautiful and meaningful."
More than 20 young Wild Rice talents aged five to 12 will be singing, dancing and performing wushu stunts alongside the professional theatre-makers in this production.
This is also the first time Goei and Heng, who are best friends and long-time collaborators, will be taking to the stage together.
Goei says: "Like our characters, we have gone through so many adventures and ups and downs together. We've known each other for 42 years. We've had to bail each other out and cover up for each other.
"The stories of our characters parallels our friendship."
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 10, 2017, with the headline 'Let the music play'. Print Edition | Subscribe
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