Musical Glitz & Glamour highlights enduring Chinese pop classics from the 1930s to the 1960s

Evelyn Toh (left) and Tan Soo Suan play the leads Lady Star and Budding Rose respectively.
Evelyn Toh (left) and Tan Soo Suan play the leads Lady Star and Budding Rose respectively.PHOTO: CHEN WEE LING

Musical Glitz & Glamour, which highlights enduring classics from the 1930s to the 1960s, will open here on Aug 11

The likes of Zhou Xuan, Bai Guang and Ge Lan were superstars in Shanghai and Hong Kong from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Their songs - from Ye Shanghai (Shanghai Nights) to Deng Zhe Ni Hui Lai (Waiting For Your Return) - are enduring classics that are still performed today, often in concerts.

With the Malaysian musical Glitz & Glamour, writer-director Pun Kai Loon, 58, wants to reach a wider audience beyond mere nostalgia seekers.

He tells The Straits Times: "For the older generation, it will be a trip down memory lane. For the younger generation, we've made it rock like a musical."

He has given a Broadway spin to these golden oldies in the jukebox musical by award-winning music theatre company Dama Asia Productions, which first staged it in Kuala Lumpur in 2010. The show premieres in Singapore on Aug 11 and runs till Aug 21.

Glitz & Glamour tells the story of Budding Rose, a sweet village girl who leaves home to pursue her dreams of stardom in glittery Shanghai, where she has to compete against Lady Star.

  • BOOK IT / GLITZ & GLAMOUR

  • WHERE: Sands Theatre, Marina Bay Sands, 10 Bayfront Avenue

    WHEN: Aug 11 to 21, Thursday and Friday, 8pm; Saturday, 2 and 8pm; Sunday, 1pm

    ADMISSION: $78 to $128 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

As the show also documents the development of Chinese pop, Pun had to cast versatile all-rounders who could exude old-world glamour and also act and sing.

He says: "Unlike the modern Chinese pop songs we're used to now, during that earlier period, a lot of the singers were classically trained. You really need a soprano voice for some of the songs, otherwise you cannot cope with them."

Actress Tan Soo Suan, 39, certainly fits the bill. The soprano - a veteran of the Malaysian theatre scene whose resume includes Empress Wu - The Musical in 2012, for which she won the Boh Cameronian Arts Award for Best Actor in a Leading Role - plays the role of Budding Rose.

She calls it "one of the more physically challenging musicals" she has done. "It is a Chinese musical, but with a West End-Broadway approach. While I am relatively comfortable with my vocals, I have to work harder on the acting and dancing aspects of the show."

What was also challenging was winnowing the huge treasure trove of material to "25 songs that we can stitch together", says Pun, who won the Boh Cameronian Best Director award for Empress Wu and is the artistic director of Dama Asia Productions.

Although he immersed himself in the music of that era for the show, he says it is hard for him to single out his favourite tunes.

"You will just be amazed with so many different singers and their different kinds of voices and styles, that in the end, it becomes a galaxy of superstars that you cannot even pinpoint who is better than whom."

Tan, on the other hand, has no hesitation stating her personal pick - Bu Liao Qing (Love Without End).

"Whenever I sing that song, it brings back fond memories and plenty of images from my childhood days, especially those times I spent with my parents - these are memories that money cannot buy."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 13, 2016, with the headline 'Broadway spin on Chinese golden oldies'. Print Edition | Subscribe