Toy Factory to stage musical with Hokkien songs

The cast of Sometime Moon includes (front row from left) Abby Lai, Ian Chionh, Chriz Tong, Joel Low, Trissie Liew and Derrick Tay. In the back row are (from left) composer Benny Wong, director Goh Book Teck, producer Justin Wong and vocal coach Elain
The cast of Sometime Moon includes (front row from left) Abby Lai, Ian Chionh, Chriz Tong, Joel Low, Trissie Liew and Derrick Tay. In the back row are (from left) composer Benny Wong, director Goh Book Teck, producer Justin Wong and vocal coach Elaine Chan.PHOTO: TOY FACTORY PRODUCTIONS

Toy Factory Productions' new work is an original Mandarin-Hokkien musical that follows the story of a clan association

Theatre-maker Goh Boon Teck has written an original Mandarin-Hokkien musical, inspired in part by the history of a 100-year-old clan association in Singapore.

The musical, Sometime Moon, runs from March 29 to 31 at the Victoria Theatre and is produced by Goh's Toy Factory Productions.

The title comes from a proverb from Quanzhou in Fujian, China, "sometimes the moonlight shines, sometimes the starlight shines", which means life has its ups and downs.

Sometime Moon follows the story of a fictional Quan Ji Huay Kuan, or Quan Ji Clan Association, from its founding in the 1890s to the present day.

It is inspired by the Chin Kang Huay Kuan in Bukit Pasoh Road, which was founded in 1918 by Chinese immigrants from Jinjiang county in southern Fujian province.

The association helped early immigrants and was a centre for anti-Japanese activities during World War II. Some of this history is fictionalised in the musical.

Composer Benny Wong, who has worked with Goh on other musicals, such as Kumarajiva (2016), composed 20 new songs for Sometime Moon. The lyrics are in Hokkien, while the musical's dialogue is in Mandarin.

  • BOOK IT / SOMETIME MOON

  • WHERE: Victoria Theatre, 9 Empress Place

    WHEN: March 29, 3pm; March 30, 3 and 8pm; March 31, 11am and 8pm

    ADMISSION: $59 to $79 from Sistic (call 6345-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

    INFO: In Mandarin and Hokkien with Chinese and English surtitles

Goh says, with a laugh: "I think if everything was in Hokkien, most people wouldn't get the full story."

Of his eight-member cast, not everyone speaks Hokkien. The performers are Chriz Tong, Timothy Wan, Zelda Tatiana Ng, Abby Lai, Derrick Tay, Joel Low, Ian Chionh and Trissie Liew.

They play multiple roles throughout the musical, including the founders of the clan association and students fighting the Japanese Occupation in WWII.

Singer-actress Lai, 29, plays one such student in wartime.

She is Cantonese and says: "I can't speak Hokkien at all. I can use English to spell out the words, but the intonations are different."

She is memorising the sounds for her parts and the Chin Kang Clan Association is helping with pronunciation.

Chionh, 43, lost touch with Hokkien after his grandparents died, since there was no one to speak the dialect with.

Working with the association, he came to realise that Singapore's Hokkien is quite different from dialects spoken in China.

"We don't pronounce it quite right. We are influenced by Malay."

But this very mix of languages makes Singapore unique, says 34-year-old actress Liew, who speaks Hakka at home.

"In one sentence, we string all these different languages together and we understand it. We should embrace this," she says.

Goh agrees with her. He is Hokkien and in September last year, directed his mother, street wayang performer Oon Ah Chiam, in a concert of Hokkien songs.

His well-known play Titoudao is based on her life and work and is performed in Mandarin and Hokkien.

"I think there's more of an interest now in dialects. Dialect is no longer our enemy in Singapore, it's our friend," he says, referring to the decades-old pro-Mandarin policy here.

"I want to use dialects to represent the cultural diversity of Singapore on stage," he adds, revealing that next year, he plans to work on a Teochew opera and is thinking about one day working on a Malay musical. "Even if I don't know Malay, I love how it sounds."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2018, with the headline 'Musical with 20 Hokkien songs'. Print Edition | Subscribe