Stories in the songs

Cantopop Queen Sammi Cheng rekindled the love of fans with a soulful performance packed with humour

Sammi Cheng sang and danced in costumes that incorporate peekaboo leotards.
Sammi Cheng sang and danced in costumes that incorporate peekaboo leotards.PHOTOS: ONE PRODUCTION/ MARCUS LIN
Sammi Cheng sang and danced in costumes that incorporate peekaboo leotards.
Sammi Cheng sang and danced in costumes that incorporate peekaboo leotards.



Singapore Indoor Stadium/Last Saturday

Singapore's char siu (barbecued pork) is skinnier than me, a giggling A4-chested Sammi Cheng declared at her concert last Saturday night.

"Such small, finely chopped pieces, not like the chunky ones we have back home."

This from someone who "hardly eats", to quote fellow Hong Kong star Andy Lau in a video teaser during the show.

The Cantopop Queen had posted her Really-Love-Muesli lunch on Instagram and had eaten very little at dinner "in order to be S (her short form for sexy) and fit into this dress", she said to much laughter from the full-capacity 8,000- strong audience.

The 42-year-old fitness buff offered to treat them to Hainanese chicken rice for screaming their voices hoarse.

Now reportedly married to fellow star Andy Hui after a marathon on-off relationship, she had cooked her version of it recently and shared photos on her Facebook.

It did not matter that she had last performed in Singapore five years ago. The fans responded wildly to her like a long-distance friend who had kept in touch on social platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Weibo) with kooky selfies, and the sharing of her thoughts, books she had read, movies she had seen, places she had been and meals that she had cooked or eaten.

With humour, grace and humility, she rekindled the love of her fans by dusting off her crowd-pleasing hits and performing new ones at a blistering pace.

She toggled through a set-list of about 30 syrupy ballads, streetwise rap (with guest artist MC Yan), theme songs from movies and pulsating dance numbers. She was backed by 15 dancers, 15 musicians and the same lighting that had woven magic into her Hong Kong tour-opener of 12 concerts in December last year and this January.

The over two-hour show was sheer sensory overload, with razzle-dazzle pyrotechnics, confetti and at least eight costume changes, including peekaboo leotards, a bat-cloak and a funky tutu with cowboy boots.

And her singing? It was impeccable - who could fool three huge screens that zoomed in on her throbbing throat, beads of sweat and pretty freckles? Nor two rows of sonic-earred reviewers and instant video uploads from light- waving fans.

Can a voice get better with age? Why yes, Cheng's was mellow (Out Of Bounds) and soulful (Can't Bear To Let You Go) and yet sweet on wistful numbers (Ask Me).

And oh, the sheer audacity of it - her set-list included Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah, which has become a k.d. lang anthem. They are two of Canada's finest singers.

But nail it Cheng did, with equally heart-wrenching emotion. The Canadian chanteuse's live version at her 2005 and 2011 concerts here sent shivers up the spine of this reviewer but my eyes misted over when I heard Cheng's Christian rendition in a church setting with shafts of light and hooded nuns.

The first bars of her own anthem, Believers Gotta Love, elicited as many squeals as they did goosebumps. As much rock as it is spiritual, this song has become a highlight of her shows as it never fails to energise fans to jump to the "High! High! High!" chorus.

The charismatic singer's joy at entertaining was contagious, by turns teasing fans with a flirtatious wink, wiggle and a flying kiss, as well as high-flying kicks and executing a daring backward "trust fall" onto her dancers.

The audience went "Oooh!". And later, Cheng went "Aiyah!" when she told them about her heavy headgear and that her heels were "only 7 inches... would you like to wear them?"

Through her songs, she also shared nuggets of wisdom from some of her own painful experiences - depression can be overcome (Chase Again) and time heals (Time Reveals) in a duet with guest-star Kenny Chan of Hong Kong's C AllStar a cappella quartet.

Like Leonardo DiCaprio at the Oscars, Cheng has never won an acting award though she has been a multiple nominee for her lead roles in box-office hits through the years. Hearts melted when she joked about it and sang of embracing defeat gracefully in Beautiful Loser while the screen behind her showed poignant scenes from her films.

Undergraduate Vanessa Leong, 23, who was in the audience and a fan since she was 10, said she teared as she saw her own teenage years flash by in those movies.

Cheng had earlier said on stage that her fans were growing younger and she had ploughed through her catalogue to please everyone, "but the younger ones asked for older ballads" such as Why Is This Wrong, from her 1998 movie The Lucky Guy co-starring Stephen Chow.

She closed the show with a two-part encore of five full-length songs, including her signature tunes, You Are Irreplaceable and Forever Beauty.

Indeed, while Cheng touched the audience on Saturday night, she admitted to also being touched by her fans. "I've performed here many times before and audiences seem to be polite and reticent. This is the first time I've felt this overwhelming warmth and energy from you."

The loud roars came in part from diehard fans who conspired to sing a rousing Happy Birthday to her, to which she could not resist joking: "My 25th birthday is still 18 days away. What? Only a song, no presents, no birthday cake?"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 03, 2015, with the headline 'Stories in the songs'. Print Edition | Subscribe