The tender relationship between his father and his seven-year-old nephew inspired director and playwright Chong Tze Chien to create The Finger Players' first musical.
Itsy - The Musical evokes the nursery rhyme, Itsy Bitsy Spider, but the spark was a soothing refrain Chong's father used whenever his grandson woke up crying.
"He would say over and over again, 'It's all right, it's just a bad dream'," says Chong, 41, who does not recall his father ever comforting him in the same way. "It triggered an emotional response."
In Itsy - The Musical, opening on March 24 at the Victoria Theatre, a grandfather seeks his lost grandson in a nursery rhyme world terrorised by Itsy Bitsy Spider and his eight-legged army.
Nursery rhyme characters on stage include Jack and Jill, the Three Blind Mice and Humpty Dumpty. They are played by a 19-member cast - the largest ever for The Finger Players - including Sebastian Tan, Lim Kay Siu, Audrey Luo and Oliver Chong.
BOOK IT / ITSY - THE MUSICAL
WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place
WHEN: March 24 to 26 and March 31 to April 2; 8pm (Fridays and Saturdays), 3pm (Sundays)
ADMISSION: $40 to $75 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
Award-winning sound designer Darren Ng is the "one-man band" behind the music while Raw Moves' artistic director Ricky Sim choreographs.
Itsy - The Musical is The Finger Players' biggest production and marks Chong's first time directing a musical. He co-directed last year's Wagner opera, The Flying Dutchman, with Glen Goei, which gave him some insight into balancing song and dance on stage.
In short? It is not easy, especially for a musical such as Itsy, where more choreographed movement is required.
Chong says: "The musical genre is one we've never tackled, but always wanted to. It appeals to all."
He describes Itsy - The Musical as "darkish". Death and loss are major themes. Elements of illusion are generated by black-light theatre. Puppets - an essential element of The Finger Players' productions - include disembodied body parts and black spider legs.
"It's family-friendly for sure, a musical for sure, but we're doing it our way," says the director. "This isn't a musical for children, but a musical for all ages."