Getai is not all glitz and glamour. New singers are bullied mercilessly, their microphones snatched away mid-song by impatient senior performers.
Resorts World Sentosa's (RWS) new production Ge Tai - The Musical, opening on April 20, goes into the backstage sniping and back- stabbing rife in a very Singaporean musical tradition.
Weekly getai shows draw crowds to the resort's Casino Royale Bar. RWS vice-president of entertainment Andrea Teo, 50, says she was also struck by the buzz when the resort hosted Mediacorp's Getai Challenge last year. "It's very natural for us to bring our affiliation with getai to the next level," she says.
Under its operating licence, RWS is obligated to produce original shows instead of restaging West End or Broadway theatre. Previous efforts have received mixed reviews and ended after short runs.
Ms Teo declines to reveal the cost of Ge Tai - The Musical. It is the resort's first Mandarin production - for wider reach, even though getai here mainly features Hokkien numbers. Theatre veteran Jalyn Han directs from a script by Chestnuts' creator Jonathan Lim - with English surtitles. The show includes popular Hokkien classic Ai Biah Jia Yiah (Must Fight To Win). Three new numbers have been written by xinyao stalwart Jiu Jian, who also acts in the musical.
Getai inspired film-maker Royston Tan's 881 (2007) and a theatrical musical adaptation by Toy Factory Productions in 2011. "881 was like a fairy-tale world," says scriptwriter Lim, 42, who had a bit part in the movie.
BOOK IT / GE TAI - THE MUSICAL
WHERE: Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa
WHEN: April 20 to May 29. Friday, 8pm; Saturday and Sunday, 3 and 8pm, except May 28, 4 & 8pm
ADMISSION: $38, $48, $68, $88, $98 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)
He adds: "This is like reality TV. Bring the cameras backstage and watch the b***hiness happen. This is the sweat, the pain and the angst behind it all."
The musical's cast includes the winner of last year's Getai Challenge, Singaporean Desmond Ng. The protagonist is Hao Hao, a fan favourite from Taiwan who placed third in the contest last year.
The musical is written for Hao Hao, who plays a foreign singer eager to make a name for himself in getai here. The 33-year-old, whose given name is Cheng Shih-wen, came here in 2007 on a contract with NTUC's lifestyle arm, did getai on a day off and caused a sensation immediately.
He is known for glitzy costumes that he rarely wears twice. He charges $1,200 an appearance and has a fan club that stalks his every move online and offline.
"When I read the script, I got a shock. It's me, it's talking about me,'" he says in Mandarin through a translator. "This is a chance for me to express how I felt when I first came to Singapore."
Playing his mentor on stage is Ng, 30, who says that in real life, Hao Hao is his "big brother". Indeed, Hao Hao fixes Ng's bow tie and costume before the photoshoot and also helped him prep for the role. Ng says: "You saw in the scene, how I put my hand on his back? That's how he encourages me."
Equally excited to be sharing the stage are sisters Teresa and Tracy Ong, who have been performing as the Babes duo since 1999. In their 30s now, they play bullies in the musical and share their own stories of being bullied as newbies.
Teresa says: "Seniors must sing first. They might say, 'You, newbie, sing after me'. You reach the venue at 6pm but sing only at 10pm."
Tracy says: "They may even snatch the mike away from you."
Teresa nods. "We would go home and cry."
Expect such stories and more in the script by Lim. However, he says, the musical remains true to the spirit of getai. "No matter how much tension there is, getai is about bringing joy. So you always believe it will be a happy ending."
Hope to hit jackpot
After several unsuccessful original productions, Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) hopes to hit the jackpot with Ge Tai - The Musical. "Our understanding of the audience has become more solid," says Ms Andrea Teo, 50, the resort's vice-president of entertainment.
She says visitors who buy tickets to shows at the resort are more likely to be Chinese-speaking and interested in the getai shows and similar concerts held on weekends. Hence Ge Tai - The Musical, with Mandarin dialogue and Hokkien songs, shows only on the weekends to fill the theatre. "We've attempted Western musicals but the audience didn't like them."
Apart from bringing in The Addams Family in 2013 and Rock Of Ages in 2014, RWS tried Voyage de la Vie, featuring acrobatic acts, and Incanto, developed around magic acts. These in-house productions closed after a few months, unlike the still ongoing anchor show House Of Dancing Water at the City Of Dreams casino resort in Macau.
The multi-million-dollar LightSeeker by Dick Lee, which ran at RWS from November 2013 to March 2014, was panned as cheesy and overdramatic in a Straits Times review. Ms Teo says: "We don't have the benefit of an off-Broadway run to keep improving our shows. With LightSeeker, we had to change the show while it was on every night. We ended up with a show that was much better than the one we opened with. But by then, we'd been killed by the critics and the run was over."
Presenting original productions is a condition of the resort's operating licence. Such shows are capital- intensive and may not draw the Singapore crowd.
In contrast, Halloween Horror Nights at RWS' Universal Studios theme park draws thousands for its run. "The people who come to the theme park are not the ones who will come to the theatre," she says. "We're not a theatre company so much as we're a venue."