An old Xinjiang folk tale, Nasirdin Afandi, will be given a new lease of life when it opens at the Kallang Theatre later this month in the form of a Mandarin musical drama.
The show tells the story of a naive young man, Kaisaer, and his relationship with Afandi, a wise old philosopher. It will be performed by the Beijing Huaxia Musical Performing Troupe.
The production is jointly presented by Singapore's Chinese-language daily Lianhe Zaobao and Asia Arts & Culture. The 105-minute show premiered in Beijing last year and has since toured various cities in China including Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou and Nanjing.
Director Xiao Jie, 30, says that when deciding which piece to stage, the story of Nasirdin Afandi was a natural choice.
He says: "We asked ourselves, 'What kind of story should we choose to demonstrate the optimism and positivity of young people?' Then we decided on Afandi because it is a well-known story with a positive theme and rich, exotic artistic elements which we could use to make the show fun and exciting."
Nasirdin Afandi was a philosopher who is believed to have lived in 13th-century Turkey. He appears in numerous folk tales, but in this iteration, he befriends a young man, Kaisaer, who has been tricked by his landlord into posing as Afandi to win the trust of people.
With the help of the real Afandi, Kaisaer exposes his landlord's scheme and sets things right with the villagers.
Cai Peng, 32, plays the lead role of Kaisaer. He says of his character: "Deep in his heart, Kaisaer is a nice, kind and smart young man. When he realises he is not doing things right, he has the guts to change, despite all the challenges this might cause. I hope I can fully represent these attributes."
The musical will also retain elements of its roots in Xinjiang, an autonomous region of China. In the north-west, Xinjiang shares a border with countries such as Russia, Mongolia and Afghanistan. As such, it has assimilated cultural influences from those areas.
Cai says the highlight of the show is "definitely the exotic art". He adds: "The songs, the dances and the costumes are all full of Middle Eastern flavours."
However, getting into authentic Xinjiang character is no easy task. Cai explains: "Xinjiang songs and dances have a unique flavour which can be delivered fully only if you do every minor detail right - every step, every pose and even every facial expression.
"To get it right, I watched many relevant performances and consulted local art experts for advice. After numerous practices, I hope I can now make my Kaisaer a real young man from Xinjiang."
Cai adds that the musical drama will speak to both young and old alike.
He says: "The lessons in the musical are very simple but eternal: Let us always be honest, kind and optimistic. No matter how bad a storm is, as long as we stay true to our heart, we will see the rainbow soon after."
Where: Kallang Theatre
When: May 23, 8pm & May 24, 3 & 8pm
Admission: $38, $48, $68 & $88 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)
This article was published on May 14 in The Straits Times.
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