Musical review: Innamorati by Toy Factory Productions

Drama Centre Theatre/Last Friday

It is a tale that has been done to death: An aspiring musician wants to make it big, but en route to stardom has to battle rejection, misunderstanding and self-doubt.

Toy Factory Productions' Innamorati takes this prosaic formula, and multiplies it sevenfold.

The result is a production which suffocates under the weight of its own ambition. Each character does not have the space to develop into anything more than a skimpy cardboard caricature, which is a pity given the potential of some of their stories.

The first half of the debut script by Jiang Daini paints a backstory for each wannabe musician, while the second half brings them all together through a tenuous spiderweb of industry connections.

At the beginning of the show, we are introduced to the ensemble via snippets of each character's life. Wei En's (Kewei Tay) father forces her to devote her time to the erhu despite her love for pop songs, while Shan Wen (Bonnie) is mollycoddled by her mother. We hear how saxophone player Jing Lun (Trey Ho) was rejected from his school's band, and of Mei Yi's (Chriz Tong) absent father.

However, having to squeeze seven stories into a two-hour long musical means that the treatment of each is rushed. Each character does not build up enough of a connection with the audience for us to feel devastated when they get rejected, and jubilant when they succeed.

Also, with a large ensemble of seven musicians, the constant swing of focus from one character to another is frankly quite confusing, and their stories soon seem to blend into a non-stop stream of rejections and parental objections.

The show really only takes off in the second half, as the characters begin to develop connections with one another, albeit very loosely.

Si Jing (Wong jing Lun) abandons his bandmate He Hong (Sugie Phua) for a shot at individual stardom, while at the same time pining after Shan Wen, who is preparing for a talent competition. Kewei (Benita Cheng) helps Shan Wen with her dance routine, while Wei En, Mei Yi and Jing Lun are caught in a love triangle.

There are some gems hidden in their semi-autobiographical stories. Jing Lun's love affair with his saxophone ("My personality is like the instrument I play - weird," he says) is probably the most well-developed relationship in the show, and Si Jing and He Hong have enough quirky chemistry to make their two-man plan for stardom believable, and the subsequent betrayal heartbreaking.

While Innamorati is billed as a musical, it could have gone on just as well without any of the dozen tracks from Malaysia-born singer-songwriter Eric Moo which were scattered throughout the show. While it is certainly difficult to weave a story around pre-existing songs, the issue lay more in the delivery of the songs than the content. Whenever a song started, the singers seemed to turn on full concert mode, performing only to the audience, and losing the storyline and the connection between the characters.

This is probably due to the fact that most of the performers are trained singers, rising to prominence through television competitions such as Project SuperStar and Campus SuperStar. While their singing is impeccable - Bonnie's crystal clear vocals and Trey Ho's gruff tones are particularly memorable - the singers do not seem as comfortable inhabiting a character on stage.

While Innamorati brings together a cast with strong vocals and several interesting stories, it is also testament to the fact that less is sometimes more.

Innamorati

Where: Drama Centre Theatre

When: Tomorrow until Aug 3. Tues, 3pm; Wed and Thurs, 8pm; Friday and Saturday, 3pm and 8pm; Sunday, 3pm. No shows on Mondays.

Admission: $49, $59 and $69 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

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