Singapura: The Musical tells the story of an average private citizen in Singapore living through her most tumultuous years in the 60s. The biggest strength of this production is ironically, its greatest weakness. The plot is the bildungsroman of Lee May, a young girl studying to be a lawyer, as she struggles with the unrest in her country, generational conflicts with her parents, and her budding relationship with British soldier, Flynn. On one hand, this seems like a more refreshing take on this portion of Singapore history – through the eyes of an average citizen who have no say over the unravelling of major events, rather than that of political figures who were directly involved.
On the other hand, the production seems to be trying to do too many things at once, wanting to achieve the scale of an epic similar to Les Miserables and Miss Saigon, without its subtlety and fine touches. The Hock Lee bus riots, the merger and separation with Malaya, the bombing of MacDonald House – all these are significant events that had made their mark on Singapore history, only to have them be given a touch-and-go treatment in this rather limited production.
The set design itself seems to be the perfect metaphor of the musical as a whole – oversized and largely awkward on the limited space available on stage at the ex-cinema, Capitol Theatre. That, combined with the large ensemble cast, makes the stage look cramped and chaotic. The efforts to include lines that seemed to have been taken directly out of Social Studies textbooks (or the famous video recording of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s tears during the separation announcement) are contrive at best, cringe worthy at worst.
The biggest peeve, speaking as a Singaporean born and bred, is the cast’s poor attempt at recreating the “Singlish accent”. It’s like listening to foreigners butchering the pronunciation of your pinyin name – you wished they hadn’t even tried.
What was most enjoyable about the experience, other than the songs that are admittedly, very catchy (I was humming parts of the songs for the rest of the night after the show), is to be sitting in Capitol Theatre again. It was a place that held many memories for Singaporeans. As I looked up at the zodiac murals on the ceiling, I wonder who else, from generations ago, had sat under the same ceiling, and shyly held the hand of a loved one throughout a movie.
Singapura: The Musical is showing at the Capitol Theatre from now till 7 June 2015. Tickets are available from www.singapurathemusical.com
Photos courtesy of Singapura: The Musical
By Tessie Tan
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