Teresa Teng’s life restaged for the 20th anniversary of her death

Perry Chiu sings about 30 songs by Teresa Teng in the musical.
Perry Chiu sings about 30 songs by Teresa Teng in the musical.PHOTO: PERRY CHIU EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE

Hong Kong stage actress Perry Chiu plays the late Chinese superstar in a new biopic musical that includes her romances and rise to stardom

The tumultuous life of the late Taiwanese songbird Teresa Teng, whose lilting, nightingale-like voice resonates across the epochs of Chinese popular culture, will play out on stage to audiences here in the Teresa Teng Musical starring Hong Kong theatre actress Perry Chiu.

The production, timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of Teng's death, chronicles her ascent to superstar status and a string of short-lived and ill-fated romances. Teng died in 1995 from an asthma attack aged 42 while holidaying in Thailand.

The musical has already been staged in Hong Kong and Genting in Malaysia. It has also travelled to countries such as Canada and the United Kingdom, a sign of Teng's enduring popularity worldwide.

Chiu, 39, is unfazed by the mammoth task of playing the iconic Teng, whose music is so ubiquitous that a popular Chinese saying once went: "By day, Deng Xiaoping rules China, but by night, Teresa Teng rules."

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  • WHERE: Jan 22 and 23,8pm

    WHEN: Kallang Theatre, 1 Stadium Walk

    ADMISSION: $48to $108 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: Go to www.vizpro.sg

"We're doing a musical, not an imitation contest or a concert, so we're more concerned with developing the plot through her songs. To me, the most difficult part is to bring the audience into her inner world, to channel her emotions and motivations," she tells The Straits Times in an interview while in town to promote the show.

Decked out in a long, flowing fuchsia dress, with an accompanying hair corsage, the willowy, rosy-cheeked Chiu looked the part, occasionally crooning short snatches of song to illustrate a point.

To study the role, she went through footage of Teng's performances and pored over books and fan biographies, taking notes.

Says her partner and the musical's producer, Hong Kong director Clifton Ko, 57: "She put in a lot of effort to step into Teng's shoes. For example, she even mastered the way Teresa Teng says 'thank you' at the end of a performance."

Both Chiu and Ko hail the script by Chinese playwright Sha Yexin as a thoroughly researched and revelatory one.

It will not only dramatise her love life - her lovers include Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan and Mr Beau Kuok, son of Malaysian billionaire Robert Kuok - but also explain things such as why she never held a concert in China, and how she lived her years abroad in countries such as France and the United States, away from the spotlight.

The story behind the script is no less dramatic. Sha, 78, had been roped in by Teng's late younger brother, Chang-Hsi, who worked at the Teresa Teng Foundation, to pen a drama serial about her. But before its completion, he died from a heart attack in 2008, and Sha swore in front of Teresa Teng's grave near Taipei to tell her life story.

Sha recalls: "I said to her, 'Don't worry, leave it to me, it will be done.' To me, it is also a big deal that the show goes to London as it shows how Teresa Teng is big not just in the East, but also the West."

Chiu, who has also played Feng Fei Fei, another popular Taiwanese songstress, in a show here in 2012, adds: "Everyone thinks of Teresa Teng as sweet and gentle because of her music and that quality in her voice. I see her as a repressed person, who started to pursue what she wanted only in the second half of her life."

The production will feature some 30 songs by Teng, to be performed as the story unfolds. These range from lesser-known gems to hits such as The Moon Represents My Heart and Goodbye My Love, the show's finale song.

Says Chiu: "Goodbye My Love is one of my favourites. There are multiple layers of meaning to it. She is saying goodbye to her lover in the song, but she is also bidding farewell to her fans and her music."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2016, with the headline 'Teresa Teng's story told through her songs'. Print Edition | Subscribe