Filipino team tells story of S'pore

A Filipino team will be at the helm of a musical on Singaporeans striving to build a nation.

The musical, planned for April next year, is to mark the re-opening of the iconic Capitol Theatre.

It promises to feature prominent moments in founding father Lee Kuan Yew's life and career as he helped shape Singapore pre-independence.

It is a worthy subject, especially since next year will be Singapore's 50th birthday.

Titled Singapura - The Musical, it will be helmed by a Filipino team from The 4th Wall Theatre Company, which is based in the Philippines.

But can a crew of foreigners authentically and accurately portray a Singapore story?

Singapura's Filipino director, Mr Loy Arcenas, is confident of pulling it off.

He was previously based in New York, where he worked on Broadway as a set designer for award-winning plays like Love! Valour! Compassion! and Once On This Island.

The 51-year-old told The New Paper at a preview event on Thursday: "I'm very aware of the worry that the public has about having a Filipino behind the construction of the musical.

"However, I do believe that if you aim for the heart and you strive hard enough to get there, it will happen and that's exactly what I plan to do."

The president of The 4th Wall Theatre Company, Mr Ed Gatchalian, added: "It was an idea that came to me after two Singaporean businessmen approached me after one of my plays ended in Manila in February 2012, and they (suggested we) do a story about Singapore.

"I have an admiration for Singapore's first Prime Minister, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, and that's basically what made me want to do this play even more."

He read the bestselling autobiography The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (Volume 1).

He said: "Singaporeans know the stories of politicians and what happened when it comes to history, but not many know exactly what life was like for regular Singaporeans, how they felt and what happened to them during that time. And that's what I plan to put on that stage next year."



Mr Gatchalian, 71, clarified that his company was not commissioned or chosen by Capitol Theatre to stage Singapura for its relaunch.

He said: "We had already started work on the music aspect of the production and after 12 drafts, we finally settled on the plan that we have.

"We then started looking for a venue and it just so happened that we managed to organise for it to be held at Capitol Theatre."

Singapura's preview was performed at The Arts House at the Old Parliament building on Thursday by a temporary cast of about 20, comprising Singaporeans, Filipinos, Canadians and Americans.

The company will start casting for the show in August.

The musical - which is set in Singapore between 1955 and 1965 - will have more than 40 cast members, including Filipinos, Singaporeans and "possibly other nationalities", said Mr Arcenas.

The production will highlight Singapore's declaration of independence and the joining of the Federation of Malaya, and explore the two tumultuous years Singapore spent as part of Malaysia.

Mr Gatchalian said that more than 20 Singaporeans who were "around to experience the turmoil during that decade" were interviewed for research purposes.

Singapura is set to travel to London's West End and Broadway in New York following its Singapore debut.

"It is uncommon for a foreign production house to put forth a uniquely local storyline," said Mr Alvin Tan, artistic director of local theatre company The Necessary Stage.

"I wouldn't say it is impossible to do it well. If the company does their research well, they might be able to pull it off."

This article was published on April 26 in The New Paper.

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