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Singapore Musical Theatre

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Singapore Musical Theatre
by Kenneth Lyen
In Singapore Soundscape edited by Jun Zubillaga-Pow and Ho Chee Kong (2014)

Ever since Singapore became independent, the government has been trying to forge a unique Singapore identity. Two decades of exceptional economic growth lifted Singapore from a Third World into a First World country, and the basic necessities of employment, housing, health and education were largely met. Singaporeans had more time for leisure and were now clamouring for the higher things in life.  Art and entertainment were no longer trivial subsidiary components; they had become essential elements of the good life. Musical theatre quickly assumed that role. It told stories that the public could identify with, embellished with a youthful and earnest corp of singers, actors and dancers.

In the 1970s, Singapore was regarded as a ‘cultural desert’. Committees on music, literature, drama, art and dance were established by the government in 1977 to accelerate cultural development. In 1989, the government published the Report of the Advisory Council on Culture and the Arts.  The  then Deputy  Prime  Minister  Ong Teng Cheong  wrote, ‘Countries  all over  the world  are recognising  the positive  impact  of the arts on  the economy.’  In order to attract overseas talent to live and work in Singapore, the country needed to transform itself into a gracious society and become an artistically vibrant city.  The arts would play a major role in this endeavour. While the motivation for promoting  the arts  was initially  economic,  nevertheless  the government  did commit  to the establishment  of the National  Arts Council  and the investment of $600 million  in the development  of the Esplanade,  a complex  of theatres,  a concert  hall and  a performing arts library. Furthermore, it liberalised its attitudes towards censorship.

Prior to 1988, the only musicals seen in Singapore were Western imports from Broadway and the West End. Their influence was pervasive but the companies that performed these shows did little in terms of technology transfer. There was no tradition of Singapore librettist, lyricists, composers, producers, directors, choreographers, designers and engineers. There were no experienced mentors to guide the novice creative and performing teams. The Singapore musical had to start from scratch.

Because Singapore sits at a crossroads between the East and the West, its theatre and musical influences are mainly from Britain and the United States on the one hand and, to a smaller extent, from China and Japan on the other. To an even lesser extent, there are also influences derived from Southeast Asia and India. Interestingly, English-language musicals have continued to dominate the landscape. It could be argued that after nearly 140 years of British rule, when the only musicals performed in Singapore were Gilbert and Sullivan, Noel Coward and other West  End musicals, one should not be  surprised that Singapore would begin by imitating British musicals.

As the urge to create became overwhelming, two theatre companies created the first Singapore musicals in 1988.  Act 3 assembled a team and produced Makanplace, while TheatreWorks originated Beauty World. Despite the lack of experience and no track record, both theatre companies created stories and characters that Singaporeans could identify with, accompanied by appealing and danceable songs. These pioneer Singapore musicals were exuberant and competent and were instant successes, performing to sell-out crowds.

Subsequently, many more locally-written musicals were created, but the attendance at these productions has been inconsistent at best. Most Singapore musicals were unable to sustain a run longer than a couple of weeks. By contrast, imported shows  from the United States and Britain,  like Phantom of the Opera,  Chicago and Les Misérables,  not only had relatively longer runs but were also brought back for multiple runs.

What are the reasons for the short runs of Singapore musicals? In the main, support for locally-written musicals is not as strong compared to foreign imports. A large percentage of the population speaks Chinese as a first language.  The segment that speaks English well and attends English-language theatre remains relatively small. In addition, musicals with a short run often do not break even.  Without adequate profits, production companies have to rely heavily on corporate sponsorships and government subsidies. Unfortunately, government help is accompanied by restrictions in terms of what is deemed acceptable for public performance. For example, funding support has been reduced when a production company produces shows that glorify alternative lifestyles or are too risqué. Because of the fragile nature of obtaining regular funding, and the uncertainty of commercial success, production companies are reluctant to take risks and often cut costs to minimise potential losses. As a result, production values suffer.

Otherwise, a few successful Singapore musicals like Beauty World (1988) and Chang and Eng (1997) have travelled overseas in Asia. While Beauty World toured the  Japanese cities of  Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Osaka and Tokyo,  Chang  and  Eng  was  performed  in Bangkok, Beijing  and Hong  Kong. To date, however, no Singapore musical has made it to Broadway or the West End.  Neither have Singapore musicals achieved international quality. Why is this?

Foremost, Singapore is a relatively young, independent nation and its musical theatre is even younger. Entering so late onto the international scene can be a disadvantage. On the one hand, writers and composers write for their audience. In general, the average Singapore audience prefers low-brow humour and melodic songs, and tends to avoid intellectual or deeply emotional themes. Knowing this, the creative teams write accordingly.  Thus, two decades have not been long enough for Singapore writers and composers to discover their own voice.

On the other hand, Singapore writers and composers are not bound by West End or Broadway traditions.  One might have expected them to look at the musical from a fresh perspective and to be more experimental in their efforts. However, they tend to be rather conservative. There may  be many Asian stories to  tell, and indeed the Singapore  musical does well in telling these stories, but the stories chosen tend to be rather bland and without intellectual or emotional depth. 

International versus Local 

Art and entertainment in the globalised world of today is heavily influenced by the West. When the inexperienced writer or composer faces an audience brought up on a diet of Western musicals, it is doubly difficult to find that unique Singaporean voice. This includes telling stories, creating characters, describing the physical and emotional landscape, and expressing the values, history and personal experiences of Singapore and its peoples. Furthermore,  most  homegrown  musicals  generally  do not  have a sufficiently rigorous developmental process  of polishing and  refining, so  the final product  fails to  achieve an international calibre.

Singapore  audiences  like  to  identify  with  their  characters  and,  if  the  story  is  set locally, it  is then  expected that  they will  speak Singlish,  a colloquial  form of  English. It incorporates words from Malay, Hokkien and other Southeast Asian languages. Singlish often raises laughs among Singaporeans, and its use in theatre is mildly subversive:  the Singapore government frowns on and actively discourages Singlish in schools and public broadcasting. Also, non-Singaporeans may have difficulty understanding Singlish, and too much of it might reduce a show’s exportability.

Therefore the writer is caught in a dilemma – should one write for an international audience with the hope that these shows can travel overseas? Or should one write something that reflects the authentic local culture? Theatre companies, aware of the relatively small size of the Singapore theatre-going audience, try to produce shows for an international audience, hoping to export these shows overseas. The need to write for an international audience inevitably influences their style of writing.  Because of this dilemma, English-language musical theatre will continue to face difficulties finding its own voice in Singapore because of the nation’s varied uses of English.

There is also a shortage of good scriptwriters in Singapore. The scriptwriter is responsible for the story as well as the spoken dialogue. It is important for the success of a musical that the writer tells a compelling story and develops interesting characters. As a result, some songwriters, like Dick Lee, have frequently collaborated with non-Singaporeans in their musicals. Dick Lee teamed up with British and American writers Steven Dexter and Tony Petito and lyricist Anthony Drewe for the musical A Twist of Fate, and British writer Stephen Clark for the musicals Sing to the Dawn and Forbidden City. Some have argued that to develop a truly Singapore musical, there needs to be less reliance on non-Singaporean writers.

The music component of Singapore musicals seems to have become stuck in the period between 1950 and 1970. Beauty World has a Latino slant, Nagraland leans towards Indonesian ethnic music and Chang and Eng features a lyrical Broadway style with Asian elements. The music of many English-language musicals sounds like church music:  not gospel music, but rather contemporary Christian music. The music is melodic and the harmony tries to be slightly unpredictable so as to give it a modern feel.  The structure follows the traditional verse-chorus plus bridge convention.

Chinese-language musicals, on the other hand, are influenced by the xinyao style, a genre of songs unique to Singapore. Xinyao songs have a unique style with a clear melodic line, sung by one or more singers usually accompanied by a guitar. Liang Wern  Fook is a proponent of this  xinyao style, and his  two musicals, December  Rains (1996/2010) and If There’re Seasons  (2009) are  of this  genre. However, not all Chinese-language musicals employ the xinyao style. For example, Liao Zhai Rocks! (2010) employs mostly rock music. What  is  conspicuously  missing  among  Singapore  musicals  is  a  lyric-centred  style of songwriting exemplified by the works of Stephen Sondheim and Jason Robert Brown.

Chinese-Language Musicals

In its early years, all Singapore musicals were written in English; it is only from the mid-1990s that Chinese-language musicals gradually made their appearance. Despite being performed in Chinese, the structure and style of Chinese-language musicals reflect Broadway and West End musicals. One of these musicals is Mr. Beng (1999/2000), which was produced by Drama Box and staged at the World Trade Centre Auditorium. The librettist was Otto Fong and the music composed by Iskandar Ismail; the musical was directed by Kok Heng Leun. The story follows the rise and fall of Chow Kok Beng, a young contractor who strives to discard his image of being ‘beng’ (a man perceived to be loutish and uncouth) after falling in love with Peach, a wealthy English-educated brat. He falls prey to Peach’s coaxing to alter his lifestyle and to discard his ‘beng’ friends for the finer things of life, such as dining in French restaurants and speaking proper English. However, he is unaware that Peach is only putting on an act of loving him so as to crush him both financially and emotionally. The dialogue and lyrics are in English, Mandarin and Hokkien, and could be confusing for those who do not understand all three.

Another Chinese-language musical is Lao Jiu (2005), which was produced by The Theatre Practice and staged at the Drama Centre. Based on a 1990 play by Kuo Pao Kun, it was adapted into a musical by librettists Zhang Xian and Wu Xi, with dialogue in Mandarin and Hokkien. The lyrics were written by Yang Qian, Wu Xi and Xiao Han, with music composed by Jonathan Price and puppetry by Tan Beng Tian and Rene Ong. The show was directed by Kuo Jian Hong and choreographed by Kuo Jing Hong.  The title refers to the ninth and last child, the only son, born to the Chng family. They have a family friend, a traditional Chinese puppeteer, who predicts before birth that the boy will be talented and intelligent. Indeed, the predictions come true and the boy excels in his studies. He is invited to sit fora scholarship exam that could open the doors to a promising academic career. However, he dreams of becoming a traditional puppeteer, a dying art form. In the middle of the exams, he suffers a crisis of confidence and decides to follow his artistic dreams rather than the more prosaic career option strongly advocated by his parents and other family members. Despite a strong storyline, the music does not have much emotional resonance.

Directed by Goh Boon Teck, December Rains was first staged in 1996 and again in 2010. The xinyao music was written by Liang Wern Fook and Jimmy Ye. The story is about rich girl Li Qing who falls in love with her schoolmate Ying Xiong, an idealistic left-wing revolutionary typical of 1950s Singapore. The girl’s parents object to their friendship and lock her at home so as to prevent the two from communicating with each other. Ying Xiong’s idealism drives him to go to China to support the Communist cause and he asks Li Qing to join him. However, she wants Ying Xiong to remain in Singapore and sends him a letter via a mutual friend, Ming Li, who has a crush on Li Qing. Ming Li fails to deliver the letter and Ying Xiong sails to China.  Thirty years later, Li Qing’s daughter, Meng Yu, falls in love with Yang Guang, an actor from China, but Li Qing disapproves of this union. History is about to repeat itself until Ming Li intervenes and persuades Li Qing to give Yang Guang a chance. When Yang Guang’s adoptive parent’s fly in to Singapore, Li Qing takes the opportunity to meet them. Yang Guang’s adoptive father turns out to be Ying Xiong! Ming Li finally decides to reveal that he was the one who failed to deliver Li Qing’s letter to Ying Xiong, but just before he manages to confess, he dies from a heart attack. The xinyao music is pleasant and melodic, but too many ballads prevent the musical from reflecting the emotional highs and lows of the drama. The development of Li Qing and Ying Xiong’s love is perhaps too rushed and one does not feel for them.

In 2011, Goh Boon Teck, the director of Toy Factory Productions, adapted Royston Tan’s 2007 film 881 as a musical.  Staged at the Esplanade,  the musical tells  the story of two friends,  Min Min  and Yan  Yan, who  dream of  singing  in the  Seventh Month  Ghost Festival stage (getai).  They seek the help of an ex-getai singer, Ling, who helps them rehearse and gives them their stage name, ‘Papaya Sisters’ (which sounds like ‘881’ in Mandarin).  Three deities (Fu, Lu and Shou) narrate the story, help the Papaya Sisters, and provide slapstick comic relief. Competing for the same getai stage are the irritating Durian Sisters from Romania. The  Papaya  Sisters’  prospects  end  abruptly  when Min Min collapses  from an  undiagnosed brain  tumour and  eventually dies.  881 is a jukebox musical featuring old Hokkien songs that used to be very popular in their day.

Dance is the weakest element of Singapore musicals. In general, the choreography is unadventurous and the dancers are not well synchronised. The lack of good dancers may be due to the decline in popularity of jazz ballet, modern and abstract dance. Most young dancers in Singapore are learning hip-hop, which does not have the range of expression or subtlety of interpretation seen in jazz ballet, for example. As a result, many Singapore musicals have little or no dancing.

In an effort to forge a more systematic developmental process, an association called Musical Theatre Society (later renamed Musical Theatre Live!)  Was set up in 2004. This organisation discovers new creative talent and helps find collaborators for writers and composers. It nurtures talent by inviting experienced playwrights, composers and directors to critique and mentor the creative teams. Readings of the embryonic musical are conducted in front of small groups, and when ready for public display a staged reading is performed in front of an invited audience that includes producers from established theatre companies who are invited to take up the work for commercial staging. To date, this organisation has incubated over 30 new musicals, including Georgette by Ng Yi-Sheng and Clement Yang, about the life of Singapore artist Georgette Chen. This musical was staged in Singapore and the Philippines in 2007. There have been several experimental short musicals, like 10 Days of Mourning by Carolyn Camoens, who is active in the Singapore Indian arts scene. This musical featured traditional Indian music composed by Nawaz Mirajkar in 2006.  Another experimental musical from 2006 was The Swami, the Cow and the Spaceman by Musa Fazal, with music by Sean Wong.

One advantage Singapore has over the West End and Broadway is that the cost of a production remains relatively low. A reasonably good production can be mounted for around $750,000. This contrasts with  the multiple   millions  of  dollars  that  must often be  spent  in  the  West.  Also, the theatres in Singapore   are relatively new   and   are equipped with   state-of-the-art    acoustics and stage facilities.  However, assembling the right team of producers, directors, choreographers, performers, musicians, lighting and sound designers and stage managers remains a perennial problem. It must  be  remembered  that  the  Singapore musical started in 1988 virtually from scratch and  over the  past  two decades production companies  have  gradually   built   up   their expertise. This is a continuing evolution and remarkable progress has already been made. 

The term ‘triple threat’ refers to performers capable of singing, dancing and acting. Local performers who possess this ‘triple threat’ are rare, so the same faces tend to crop up in many musicals. Since 2004, there has been only one school – LASALLE College of the Arts – that offers a degree course in musical theatre. Even though only a very small handful of Singaporeans manage to pass the audition to enter this school, the musical theatre course will probably play an important role in supplying well-trained performers in the long run.

Musical theatre in Singapore is fresh and energetic. It is influenced by both the West and the East, and in time, will find its own unique voice.  But the future of the Singapore musical depends on the creation of many more new works, on audience development, on increased corporate and government support, and further liberalisation in the attitudes of the funding bodies.

Selected Musicals

Makanplace (1988) takes pride of place in being the first Singapore musical to be staged. The book on which the musical is based was written by R. Chandran.  The librettist was Jasmin Samat Simon, who also composed the music with Saedah Samat. It was produced by Act 3, directed by R. Chandran and choreographed by Richard Tan.  Set in a hawker centre, it revolves around the lives of those who work there, those who come and go, and how their lives intertwine.  It highlights the value of friendship and of chasing dreams. The music is jaunty with pleasant melodies. Altogether the show contains 10 songs, including two reprises. Notable songs include ‘Makanplace’ and ‘Where Do We Go from Here?’ The musical was first staged at Victoria Theatre and a few years later restaged at The Drama Centre. A made-for-television version was aired by Singapore Broadcasting Corporation in the early 1990s.

Beauty World (1988) was first staged at the World Trade Centre Auditorium. The script was written by Michael Chiang, with music and lyrics by Dick Lee. It was produced by TheatreWorks, directed by Ong Keng Sen and choreographed by Najip Ali. Set in Singapore in 1965, the story follows Ivy Chan Poh Choo, an illegitimate child abandoned by her family in smalltown Batu Pahat, Johor. The only clue to her heritage is a broken jade pendant with the words ‘Beauty World’ inscribed on its back. She  comes to Singapore in  search of  her father,  meets up with  her dotty  pen  friend, who informs her that Beauty World is a sleazy nightclub in Singapore. She meets Lulu  the main cabaret dancer, Mummy  the mother figure,  Ah Hock a  gangster  and  bartender,  and  eventually Boss  Quek, the owner  of the  club.  One of the patrons of the club, Towkay Tan, lures Ivy to a room upstairs and attempts to rape her. Luckily, she is rescued by Ah Hock, who is attracted to her. Eventually, Ivy learns who her parents are and there is a happy ending.

The dialogue uses Singlish quite liberally, which raises laughs with the local audience. Dick Lee’s music is pleasant with a style out of the 1950s. The most memorable tunes are  ‘Beauty  World  Cha  Cha  Cha’,  ‘Single in  Singapore’  and  ‘Ivy’.  The  musical  had a  second run  in 1992,  and  went on  tour in the  Japanese cities  of  Fukuoka, Hiroshima, Osaka  and  Tokyo  in  September  1992.  In 1998,   it   was   reproduced   as   a   television musical production for the fourth President’s Star Charity.

Fried Rice Paradise was originally produced in 1991, but was completely rewritten by Dick Lee to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the People’s Association in 2010.  Set in the 1970s, the story centres on Bee Lean, who is  trying to  save her  father’s coffee shop  from being  bought over  by Rickson  Goh, the owner of  a disco joint. She is also trying to save their entire row of shophouses from being repossessed.  Bee Lean’s idea is to transform her father’s coffee shop and attract more customers by selling her mother’s famous fried rice recipe. The most memorable song is ‘Fried Rice Paradise’. Unfortunately, it takes almost half the musical just to set up the plot and the insertion of community songs is a bit forced.

Big Bang! (1995) was staged at the Kallang Theatre. The script was written by Stephen Yan, the lyrics by Desmond Moey, and the music by Kenneth Lyen and Desmond Moey. Additional music was written by Adrian Oh. It was directed by Bob Turoff. The story is based on the life of Cambridge cosmologist, Stephen Hawking, and covers the history of astronomy from the ancient Chinese, through Galileo, Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein and Fred Hoyle. Memorable songs include ‘Big Bang!’, ‘I like Your Mind’ and ‘Stars’. The music was also used during the opening of Fusionopolis in 2008, with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in attendance.

Sing to the Dawn (1996) was produced by the Singapore Repertory Theatre and staged at the Kallang Theatre.  The script was written by Ho Minfong and Stephen Clark, with lyrics by Stephen Clark and music by Dick Lee. It was directed by Steven Dexter and choreographed by Gani Abdul Karim. Based  on Ho Mingfong’s  novel of the same name, Sing to  the Dawn  is the  story of  Dawan, a  Thai peasant  girl who  wins a  scholarship to study in the city, but has to overcome parental and societal objections to achieve her goal. Despite such a simple storyline, the book explores the deep emotional conflicts both within and outside the family.  The music captures the ethnic character of Thailand and covers a wide range of moods. Three songs stand out: ‘My Child’, ‘The City’ and ‘It Just Flies’. The musical is unrelated to the 2008 animation with the same title and story.

Chang and Eng (1997) was written by Ming Wong with music and lyrics by Ken Low. It was directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham and choreographed by Mohd. Noor Saman. The story is based on the life of a pair of Siamese twins, Chang and Eng. They are taken from Thailand and brought to America to be part of a freak show. They meet a pair of American twins with whom they fall in love, marry and produce a total of 21 children. Ken Low wrote a varied score ranging from the comic ‘The Grand Midwife of the West’ to touching ballads like ‘From Now On’ and ‘Mai Phen Rai’. The show was a commercial success and toured China, Hong Kong and Thailand.

Temptations (2000) was produced by the Rainbow Theatre. The script was written by Kenneth Lyen, with lyrics by Desmond Moey and music composed by Kenneth Lyen, Desmond Moey and Iskandar Ismail.  The show was directed by Jonathan Lim.  The story is about food critic Shawn who takes his fellow reporter and date, Leila, to a high-class restaurant called ‘Temptations’. But because of their improper dress, the snobbish restaurant owner, Cat, treats them condescendingly. As a result, Shawn writes a poisonous article about the restaurant in his newspaper column. Cat subsequently turns up at Shawn’s newspaper office to protest, but Shawn refuses to retract his article.

Not long after Cat and her restaurant’s cook go for drinks at a nearby café where they bump into Shawn and Leila again, and all four are forced to share a table. It slowly becomes apparent that behind the duelling words of Shawn and Cat is a subtext that they are actually enjoying each other’s company. The unlikely pair gradually fall in love and a series of events draw them closer. There is a subplot concerning a cross-dressing cook and Leila. Four other actors make up a Greek chorus and act as intermediaries to the audience. The highlights of the musical are the songs  that drive the plot forwards, including ‘No  Slippers, No Shorts’, ‘Getting Burnt’ and ‘Manya’s Story’.

Forbidden City (2002) was first commissioned to mark the opening of Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay.  The script was written by Stephen Clark and Dick Lee, with lyrics by Stephen Clark and music by Dick Lee.  The musical draws from Sterling Seagrave’s controversial biography of Empress Dowager Cixi. It narrates her struggle for survival behind the closed doors of the Forbidden City, maintaining her power in the face of calumny from her own subjects as well as the English press. The story is told from the point of view of American painter Kate Carl and an unscrupulous British journalist George Morrison. There is comic relief provided by the Record Keepers. The music is pleasant and enhances the drama. Forbidden City was restaged in 2003 and 2006.

Phua  Chu  Kang  (2005)  was  staged  at  the  Kallang  Indoor  Stadium.  The  script  is unaccredited; the  lyrics were written  by Edmund Ooi,  Catherine Casey, Vivienne  Lin and Adeline Tan,  and the music  composed by Edmund  Ooi and Peter  Casey. The show was directed by Edmund Ooi and choreographed by Bill Calhoun. The story finds contractor Phua Chu Kang on the brink of turning 40. He drops copious hints to his relatives and workers, but they all pretend not to know while secretly planning a surprise birthday party. In the meantime, Phua Chu Kang’s arch nemesis, Frankie Foo, is angry that Chu Kang had stolen his childhood sweetheart Rosie and vows vengeance. He plants one of his relatives, a Chu Kang lookalike who claims to be Chu Kang’s brother Chu Kok. Chu Kang is hoodwinked by this imposter, who takes him to see a Feng Shui master. The latter informs Chu Kang that he will die on his 40th birthday.  Depressed, Chu Kang signs away his house and all his belongings to his brother. Chu Kang’s family is angry and upset that everything has been given away to this fraudulent brother. Just as the villainous Frankie Foo is about to claim Phua Chu Kang’s home and evict the entire family, he has a heart attack.  Phua Chu Kang resuscitates Frankie, who then tears up the contract, but secretly vows to destroy his savior in the future. The story is predictable and the set-up takes too long. The music is largely functional and some of the songs do not advance the plot or enhance characterisation.

Georgette (2007) was produced by Musical Theatre Ltd and staged at the Esplanade Recital Studio.  The script and lyrics were written by Ng Yi-Sheng and the music by Clement Yang. The musical focuses on the life of Singapore artist Georgette Chen during her younger, formative years.  The first half  sets the tone  by focusing on  the relationship between  Georgette and  Eugene, an  ethnic Chinese  from Trinidad  who is  twice her  age and eventually  becomes the foreign  minister of China.  Georgette is fiercely independent while Eugene is reserved.  Nevertheless, they marry against the wishes of Georgette’s wealthy parents.  The story follows the pair as they travel from China to Paris to Trinidad and are ultimately caught by the sweep of history. They are imprisoned by the Japanese in Shanghai during the Second World War and they encounter communist forces. The music reflects the different countries and periods very well. It is one of the more innovative Singapore musicals.  The show was also staged in the Philippines.  Memorable songs include ‘Woman on the Wall’, ‘Don’t Cross Your Chopsticks’, ‘Raise the Flag’ and ‘A Bowl of Fruits’.

H is for Hantu (2009) was produced by Stages and originally staged at the Alliance Française Auditorium.  The script and lyrics were written by Jonathan Lim and the music was composed by Bang Wensum. Puppets were designed, created and manipulated by Frankie Yeo. The show was directed by Jonathan Lim. Sazali is a schoolboy who can see hantu (Malay for ghosts). He is living in Singapore’s last remaining kampong, where a community of spirits lives nearby. When Angie  Seah,a woman from  the Housing  Development Board,  comes to  evict the residents  so that  the kampong can  be redeveloped, Sazali  decides to fight  the bureaucrats.  However, it turns out that Angie is a victim herself, possessed by an unspeaking ghost who drives her to scramble through the jungle at night, searching for something. Sazali investigates and finds out that Angie used to live in that kampong as a child and her best friend, Swee Choo, a mute girl, died soon after her departure for city life.

It comes to light that Angie is not a villain and actually fought hard to be put in charge of the kampong’s relocation so that she could ensure the residents were treated properly. Since one cannot defeat the government once it has made up its mind, it would be more pragmatic to get the best deal possible for the residents. When Angie offers them attractive new apartments, they are happy to move and ultimately keep their community together using a Facebook group.  Angie eventually meets the ghost of Swee Choo face-to-face and presents her with the token of their friendship she has been searching for. The best thing about the show might be the puppets, which are spectacular. The music supports the mock spooky feel of the musical.


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Hales, Aaron. ‘The State on Stage: A Socio-Political Critique of Singaporean Musical Theatre.’ Ph.D. Dissertation, School of Music and School of Social and Cultural Studies,  University of Western Australia, 2009.

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Tan, Kenneth Paul. Renaissance Singapore: Economy, Culture, and Politics. Singapore: National University of Singapore Press, 2007.

Yeoh, Lizhen Geraldine. ‘The Singapore Musical: Perspectives, Paradigms, Practices.’ Honours Thesis, Department of Theatre Studies, National University of Singapore, 2011.