Asian flair in festive fare: Mulan the Musical

End the year with The Nutcracker set in Shanghai, Journey To The West retold in a Singapore setting and Mulan The Musical with familiar faces

The last weeks of the arts calendar are usually awash in festive cheer.

But it is not all Christmas jingles and portly men in red suits. Arts lovers can end their year with a rich spread of shows that run the gamut from East to West.

While Christmas favourites such as the Singapore Symphony Orchestra's annual Christmas Concert remain an anticipated staple, there is a strong Asian flavour thrumming through the final weeks of 2016 too.

The Singapore Dance Theatre's take on The Nutcracker, for one, comes with an Asian twist - it is set in pre-World War I Shanghai.

And Asian cultures collide in Ding Yi Music Company's Of Music And Art: The Legend Retold. In it, the folktale of Singapore's southern Sisters' Islands is resurrected through a dazzling mix of Chinese chamber music, sand art and Javanese dance.

Iconic characters such as the legendary woman warrior Hua Mulan and the mischievous Monkey King will stalk the stage too.

For its traditional Christmas pantomime, theatre troupe Wild Rice whisks the 16th-century Chinese classic Journey To The West to Singapore, as a runaway orphan tries to find his way home to Jurong West from Haw Par Villa.

First staged in 2014, Monkey Goes West features wushu moves and a motley crew of recognisable characters, including the Monkey King and the ever-hungry Pigsy.

Meanwhile, another familiar classic springs to life at Resorts World Sentosa.

In Mulan The Musical - a Singapore adaptation of the sold-out Taiwanese production - the tale of a woman who disguises herself as a man to enlist in the army in place of her ailing father gets a comic and colourful reimagining.

This is the first year Resorts World Sentosa has picked an Asian tale for its year-end blockbuster. Last year, it took on Cinderella. Before that, it was Peter Pan.

Mr Khoo Shao Tze, vice-president of resort sales and entertainment, says: "The legendary tale of Mulan is familiar to audiences of all ages".

Mandarin theatrical productions have traditionally been well-received by the local market, but we find that there is a dearth of them and hope to fill this void.

"In line with the year-end festive atmosphere, we also wanted to present something entertaining and light-hearted. So the staging of Mulan The Musical, a rambunctious new comedy, is a natural choice for us."

Mulan The Musical

Caption: Television actress Ann Kok (above) plays Mulan’s pregnant elder sister.Photo Credits: Mulan The Musical Limited Liability Company

With Mulan The Musical, Ann Kok, a television veteran of more than 20 years, is relearning the ropes of being an actor.

It is, after all, relatively unfamiliar ground for the actress, whose first and last brush with theatre was in the 2009 musical, The Peranakan Ball.

But next month, she returns to the stage for a musical comedy based on the story of Hua Mulan, a woman who disguises herself as a man and enlists in the army to take her frail father's place.

Kok, 43, who will play Mulan's pregnant elder sister, says: "I'm hoping the audience will see me on another level, other than just a television actor. In the past, there was no television and people had to go to the theatre.

"Now, I'm going through the process of becoming a stage actor, to start from the basics again and fine-tune my performing skills."

Besides learning to cope with the pressures of live theatre - there are, she points out, no second takes - she is also polishing up on fundamentals for her return to the stage, from her body language to her awareness of where she has to stand.

She is finding a renewed awe for blocking - or the positioning and movement of characters.

"It's important because audiences don't just see my face like they do on television," she says. "They'll be seeing me from head to toe throughout those two hours of performance."

Another well-known face from Singapore television will also be making the leap from screen to stage for the musical, which runs at Resorts World Sentosa from Dec 16 to Feb 5.

Pierre Png, who plays the army's company sergeant major, is taking a step outside his comfort zone - something he sees echoes of in Mulan's story.

"It's not only about her being filial or brave. But it's also about her daring to dream and to dream big. Like a kite soaring up into the sky, we cannot be lazy and be afraid of changes," says the 43-year-old, whose last foray into theatre was the whimsical Phua Chu Kang The Musical more than a decade ago.

"We need to get out of our comfort zone, be tough and be brave enough to go against the wind... Taking on this project has been my'going against the wind.'"

Resorts World Sentosa collaborated with Taiwan's Tainaner Ensemble and Studio M to take Mulan The Musical outside Taiwan - where it had two sold-out runs in 2009 and 2011.

Audiences in Singapore can expect a fresh adaptation with dialogue infused with local humour and colloquialisms, as well as new scenes and songs.

The show - which will be performed in Mandarin with English surtitles - features more than 100 cast, creative and crew members; more than 85 sets of elaborate costumes; and almost 3,500kg of custom-made props and sets.

Taiwanese vocalists Li Chien-na and Lai Ying-ying will take turns performing as Mulan during the show's run, while Chou Ting-wei, a finalist on Taiwanese singing competition One Million Star, plays Mulan's love interest, the General.

For 31-year-old Li, Mulan's male alter-ego Munan is a role she readily admits to identifying with.

"I'm quite tomboyish and that allows me to get into character easily," she says.

Meanwhile Png, in describing his role of the army's intimidating company sergeant major, pays cheeky homage to his own days in green.

"I immediately saw some similarities between this character and the warrant officers I encountered during my national service days," he quips. "I truly love all of them, strict as they were. Their training made me tougher. This will be sort of a tribute to them."

BOOK IT / MULAN THE MUSICAL

WHERE: Resorts World Theatre, Resorts World Sentosa, 8 Sentosa Gateway

WHEN: Dec 16 to Feb 5, 8pm

ADMISSION: $38 to $128 from Sistic (go to www.sistic.com.sg or call 6348-5555)

INFO: The show is rated Advisory 16 for mature content and coarse language.


This article was first published on November 29, 2016.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.