Year-end fireworks

Year-end fireworks

December used to be a sleepy period for the arts, what with many Singaporeans going overseas for the holidays, but not any longer.

With the likes of local companies such as Wild Rice and the Singapore Symphony Orchestra (SSO) putting on annual Christmas shows, and impresarios bringing in foreign productions at the year's end, arts lovers can now ring in the holiday cheer with a show or three fairly easily.

Wild Rice staged its first pantomime, Cinderel-LAH!, at the end of 2003. Artistic director Ivan Heng says at the time, the December period was a "dead slot" and there were few shows on.

He adds: "The idea was to create a local musical that audiences could enjoy with their family and loved ones, to celebrate the holidays and ring in the new year."

The experiment has worked for the past 11 years.

Monkey Goes West is this year's pantomime, a cheeky local take on the Chinese epic fantasy tale, Journey To The West.

Written by Wild Rice's resident playwright Alfian Sa'at and directed by Sebastian Tan of Broadway Beng fame, it includes characters such as Princess Iron Fan (Chua Enlai), Sun Wukong or the Monkey God (Sugie Phua) and Sandy the river ogre (Siti Khalijah Zainal). The two-hour production is running at Victoria Theatre.

Also banking on the celebratory December mood is Selena Tan. The founder of Dream Academy is bringing back the chirpy cabaret trio of which she is a part, Dim Sum Dollies, to the stage next month with the show The History Of Singapore Part 2.

Tan feels people head to the theatre at the end of the year to give themselves a little treat. "Something has been accomplished. We want to pat ourselves on the back because we've made it through the year," she says.

Dream Academy has been staging its annual Christmas revue, Crazy Christmas, since 1998. This year, it breaks with tradition a little by choosing to stage Dim Sum Dollies during the December slot. The Dollies have appeared in past editions of Crazy Christmas.

One avid theatregoer who is a big fan of these year-end productions is civil servant Jeanne Tan, who has been catching Crazy Christmas every year with her friends. She will catch the Dim Sum Dollies next month.

"Towards the year-end, people get into the festive mood and want to catch up with family and friends. Catching up over a production - it's intellectual and there's some 'soul' too," says the 36-year-old.

Judging by the ticket sales, she is not the only arts aficionado willing to dish out money for these December productions, which can cost between $20 and $230 a person.

The Crazy Christmas series attracted 12,000 people last year. This year's Dollies show has sold about 10,000 tickets so far, or about one-third of the house.

Wild Rice's annual pantomime is watched by about 15,000 to 20,000 people each year. Monkey Goes West has sold about 10,000 tickets so far, or about 60 per cent of its available tickets.

And all four days of the SSO Christmas Concerts this year, held at the almost 700-seater Victoria Concert Hall, are sold out.

The orchestra's general manager Anthony Brice says: "We always work hard to schedule concerts... during holiday periods as we know this is when audience members particularly want to come to see the orchestra."

While SSO's sold-out series features Christmas-themed pieces such as Ave Maria and White Christmas, not all year-end productions are about the holiday specifically.

What they do share is a cheery tone to set one in the mood for merry-making.

The Singapore Dance Theatre will cap its 2014 season with Don Quixote, a classical ballet whose titular character goes off in pursuit of romance and chivalry.

The company's artistic director, Janek Schergen, says the ballet has a "very lighthearted and happy tone".

He adds: "The finale of every year would be a significant big-name ballet that is a landmark in our repertoire and we usually perform ballets that are uplifting in tone at the end of the year."

In the end, each arts group's finale for the year is about letting audiences have "a fun, fabulous time with the whole family", as Monkey Goes West's director Sebastian Tan puts it.

"With the show, I hope they can take a piece of local magic - a piece of Singaporean magic - home with them."

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