Musicals face off

In the year of Singapore's 50th jubilee, blast back into the country's tumultuous past through song and dance, with three upcoming musicals.

Opening next Tuesday is the $2.72-million Singapura: The Musical by Filipino-helmed theatre group The 4th Wall Theatre Company. The production about the dramatic decade leading up to Singapore's independence will unfold within the neoclassical edifices of the newly refurbished Capitol Theatre in North Bridge Road.

Come July, veteran actors Adrian Pang and Sharon Au will ascend the stage in The LKY Musical as the late Mr and Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, whose lives and love story course through the veins of Singapore's history. Its production team includes big names such as award-winning British lyricist Stephen Clark and veteran local composer Dick Lee.

In August, theatregoers can look forward to Nanyang: The Musical, inspired by the lives of pioneer artists such as Georgette Chen and Chen Wen Hsi, who fled war-torn China to settle in Singapore. Performed in Mandarin, its music and lyrics will be penned by songwriting duo Eric Ng and Xiaohan, known for churning out Mandopop radio hits.

Life! presents a crib sheet with all you need to know about the three big productions.

Singapura: The Musical

By The 4th Wall Theatre Company, a Filipino-helmed theatre group founded by veteran Filipino composer Ed Gatchalian in 2007.

Look out for an international take on Singapore's turbulent formative years in this musical written by Filipino composer arranger-musical director Gatchalian, with libretto by established Filipino theatre practitioner Joel Trinidad. He has also roped in American director-choreographer Greg Ganakas, who has directed television specials, musicals and opera concerts in the United States. Local playwright-director Jonathan Lim, best known for his parody show Chestnuts, will lend some Singaporean heft to the production as its dramaturg.

Filipino actors form the bulk of the cast, with Juliene Mendoza as bus driver Tan Kok Yang and Maybelle Ti as his wife Tan Bee Ling. Their daughter, Lee May, is played by Filipina actress Marian Santiago. American actor David Bianco stars as her love interest, the British Lieutenant Flynn. Singapore actors involved include Syaiful Ariffin and Cassandra Spykerman, who play Lee May's friends.

PRODUCTION BUDGET: $2.72 million
VENUE: The newly refurbished 977-seat Capitol Theatre
DURATION: 2 hours 10 minutes, with a 20-minute intermission
RUN DATES: May 19 to June 7
ADMISSION: $65 to $175 from


SYNOPSIS: Divided into two acts, the story begins after the 1955 Hock Lee Bus riots, which leave four dead and 31 injured, when bus driver Tan resolves to move his family to Malacca to keep them safe. His daughter Lee May goes to law school and learns about the political issues surrounding Singapore and Malaya, falling for a British officer there. The second act is backgrounded by a series of deadly racial riots. Guerilla attacks, such as the MacDonald House bombing, are launched by foreign saboteurs against Malaysia and Singapore, derailing the Tans' plans. Soon after, Singapore is expelled from the Malayan Federation.


SAMPLE SOUNDBITE: "Another day in Singapore, and everything's fine/Come rain or come shine, we're shopping online/But long ago, our parents say, it wasn't like this/When they reminisce, it wasn't bliss/They say in 1955, the world was not this way/They say in 1955 they struggled day to day/With crime, corruption, poverty just waiting out the door/They tell us that it was a very diff'rent Singapore." - From the song Another Day In Singapore

"My staging is inspired by the storytelling required. To propel the story forward and inspired by Singapore's history, I let the traditional cultural dances of the Chinese, Indians and Malays permeate the movement vocabulary of the musical." -Director Greg Ganakas

The LKY Musical

By three-year-old Metropolitan Productions, founded by arts practitioner and former public servant Tan Choon Hiong, to help Singapore artists do transnational projects.

Directed by Briton Steven Dexter, with music by Dick Lee and words by Laurence Olivier Award-winning lyricist Stephen Clark - the team behind the 2002 Singapore Repertory Theatre musical Forbidden City, starring Kit Chan. The script is by SRT founding artistic director Tony Petito, based on a story by Singaporean novelist Meira Chand.

One of Singapore's best dramatic actors Adrian Pang as founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew; Sharon Au as his wife and confidante Kwa Geok Choo; Sebastian Tan as Koh Teong Koo, the rickshaw puller who helps Mr Lee elude the Japanese; and Benjamin Chow as opposition politician Lim Chin Siong.

PRODUCTION BUDGET: Declines to specify
VENUE: The 1,600-seat Mastercard Theatres at Marina Bay Sands
DURATION: 2½ hours with a 20-minute intermission
RUN DATES: July 21 to Aug 2, and likely to be extended to Aug 15
ADMISSION: $58 to $108 from Sistic (go to or call 6348-5555)


SYNOPSIS: The musical follows Mr Lee's early days as a student at Raffles College, where his future wife Madam Kwa pipped him to be the top student in English and economics. It then ticks all the boxes of his dramatic life: a narrow escape from a World War II massacre; transition from young lawyer to firebrand orator of a politician; ascending through the ranks to become the People's Action Party's secretary-general; and campaigning for the end of British colonial rule and merger with Malaya. All eyes will be on how the musical portrays Mr Lee's outmanoeuvring of the party's pro-communist faction led by Mr Lim, as well as how he uncharacteristically broke down when announcing Singapore's separation from Malaya in the historic television broadcast on Aug 9, 1965.


SAMPLE SOUNDBITE: "There's a time to turn away/There's a time to choose your friends/There's a time to take the risk/No matter how it ends." -From the song Stand Alone, performed by Pang

"We realised early on that we couldn't tell everything, or it would be four hours long. We wanted to be historically correct, but also to set the musical in a dramatic context, to focus on the man so that it wouldn't be Politics The Musical. The show is, at times, epic in scale, but also intimate from a design point of view. Having directed about six of Dick Lee's musicals, I can say with my hand on my heart that this is his most beautiful musical score. It captures the periods beautifully and is full of heart." -Director Steven Dexter

Nanyang: The Musical

By One Kind Theatre, which promotes artistic exchange between artists of different backgrounds, founded by director and film-maker Alec Tok.

Expect polished, peppy tunes from Eric Ng, who has composed for A-list singers such as A*Mei, Stefanie Sun and Sandy Lam, and Xiaohan, his long-time collaborator who has won the Best Lyrics Award five times at the Singapore Hit Awards. Musical arrangements are by music director Goh Kheng Long, who directed this year's Chingay parade The Mandarin musical with English surtitles is directed and written by Tok, whose credits include the 1996 production of home-grown Chinese musical December Rains. He contested Bukit Panjang constituency in the 2011 General Election as part of the Singapore Democratic Party.

The cast and crew for this production, one of the curtain-raisers for the Singapore International Festival of Arts, have not been finalised.

TOTAL CAST AND CREW: 22 cast members
PRODUCTION BUDGET: Declines to specify
VENUE: The 615-seat Drama Centre Theatre
DURATION: 1½ hours with a 20-minute intermission
RUN DATES: Aug 6 to 8
ADMISSION: $25 to $75 from Sistic


SYNOPSIS: In this production based loosely on the lives of Singapore's pioneer artists, a fictional Xiamen-born painter Chen Kang moves to Shanghai in the late 1930s to advance his career and meets a group of artists, who, like him, question the fundamentals of Chinese painting and Western impressionism. All are forced to flee China as the Japanese armies advance. They settle in South-east Asia, where they develop the Nanyang style which blends Western and Chinese painting techniques with local subject matter. Several of them made trips to Bali to get inspiration from the idyllic island life.

NUMBER OF SONGS: Eight to 10

SAMPLE OF SOUNDBITE: "Smiling face, my rouge and lipstick conceal my tears/I won't let them touch my mask, I won't reveal my fears/Ripping, tearing, my soul is seething, I just want some peace in here/But the truth is all deceiving, for who can say at all/That you will stay for sure." - From the song Please Give Me Love, sung by female protagonist Zhang Li Ying

"I had been interested in the story of pioneer artist Georgette Chen ever since a friend recommended that I film a biopic of her. I also got interested in Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Liu Kang and Cheong Soo Pieng. Through their lives, I came into contact with several significant events - the Japanese aggression in Asia and the Pacific, the Chinese anti-war effort and the overturning of the political order in China. The musical takes as its inspiration the vulnerability and fragility of people everywhere in the face of war, disaster and political upheaval." -Director Alec Tok

This article was first published on May 12, 2015.
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