Newbie Andie Chen in December Rains comeback

TV actor Andie Chen will make his stage debut in the musical, which will include a new song by Jimmy Ye and Liang Wern Fook

(From left) Composer Jimmy Ye, director Goh Boon Teck and lyricist-playwright Liang Wern Fook are reunited in the restaging of December Rains. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO
(From left) Composer Jimmy Ye, director Goh Boon Teck and lyricist-playwright Liang Wern Fook are reunited in the restaging of December Rains. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO
The cast of musical December Rains include (from left) Sugie Phua, Chriz Tong and Andie Chen. -- ST PHOTO: DANIEL NEO

Bilingual theatre company Toy Factory Productions will restage its December Rains musical in August with a theatre debutant in the lead role.

TV actor Andie Chen, in his stage debut, and singer-songwriter Chriz Tong will play star-crossed student lovers Ying Xiong and Li Qing, who are separated by circumstance and reunited decades later.

The duo are stepping into the shoes of George Chan and Kit Chan, who had starred in Toy Factory's first staging of the musical in 2010.

"These are huge shoes, or rather huge high heels, to fill," says Tong, 30, with a laugh. "I watched Kit in the 2010 show and loved her in it. I told her about it when we met at a concert recently. I was in total fan-girl mode. She wished me good luck."

Tong, who is best known for composing and performing television theme songs, adds: "Singing in theatre is more emotional and I've to emphasise my words to convey the meaning. The songs are my dialogue."

Channel 8 actor Chen, 29, who is juggling vocal boot camp with shooting a television serial, calls his singing a "work in progress".

"The key difference between TV and theatre is the way of expressing emotions. Some techniques like subtle gestures may not work on stage, so it's about finding that equivalent," he says.

The musical is an introspective choice for Toy Factory, says its artistic director Goh Boon Teck, who is also directing the production, which is set in the 1950s, a time of social unrest and anti-colonialist sentiments.

"As we celebrate 50 years of nation-building, there's discussion about our history, identity and pride," he adds.

"December Rains, being an original local Chinese theatre production, is a chance for us to reflect on that," he tells Life! at a press event held recently for the musical, which his company is staging for the second time.

Its 2010 staging of December Rains scored multiple nominations at the 2011 Life! Theatre Awards, including Best Production.

It clinched Best Original Score, Best Set Design and Best Supporting Actor for Jeffrey Low, 42, for his turn as Ming Li, the female lead's good friend who carries a torch for her. The role will be filled by theatre actor-singer Sugie Phua, 33, this time.

Phua, who is also a host, says of his character: "He's very different from me, so I had to research the physicality of the role, like how to stutter and how to demonstrate anxiety."

Set designer Eucien Chia, who worked on the 2010 staging, will helm the production's backdrops. Two Thai designers are in charge of the 150 costumes this time, such as shirts, pants and dresses mottled with pale watercolour streaks of green and blue, which the cast members turned up in. Its executive producer James Toh declined to reveal the production budget.

While the musical's playwright-lyricist Liang Wern Fook and composer Jimmy Ye spent two months auditioning actors, they claim that they are unfazed by expectations to live up to the bar that they set in 2010.

The duo have also composed a new song titled What Am I Waiting For, for this staging, on top of old hits such as Please Let Him Know and The Rain In My Heart.

Ye, 48, says: "The 2010 version gave us a good base, so we'll build on that. Of course, comparisons will be made, but we'll take them as they come. I hope viewers can judge this production on its own merits."

Liang, 50, says: "It's good that we have a young cast who can bring their own fresh take to the production.

"The musical in a way represents Singapore as a nation, as it is about young, hot-blooded and idealistic people who must choose between love and their dreams and ambitions."

This is the third reunion for Ye and Liang, who have worked together on the musical since it was first staged by Brink Creative Company at the World Trade Centre in 1996.

For Goh, working with his staff brought back memories of the 2010 production as well.

"It's like a family reunion for us. When we met some of the other staff initially, they told us: 'Oh look, we're all back together, working again'."

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