Sunday 31 May 2015

Singapura: The Musical by foreigners no worse than NDP song by Singaporean

Talk about revisionist history.

Who knew that before nationhood, Singaporeans spoke with a Filipino accent?

But then expecting Singapura: The Musical by the Philippines-based 4th Wall Theatre Company to be an accurate portrayal of Singapore’s struggle for independence is like mistaking Les Miserables for a documentary about the French Revolution with singing.

Miserable is also how you can describe the press reviews for Singapura: The Musical, which premiered at the wonderfully refurbished Capitol Theatre earlier this month and will run until June 7.

The Straits Times complained that the musical “suffers from a horrendous lack of focus”, with “thinly drawn characters” and “pleasant but ultimately forgettable” music.

Today newspaper lamented that the 2½-hour musical is “based on real events, but never at any point feels real” and is “about two hours too long”.

With my expectations sufficiently lowered, perhaps it was not surprising that I found myself well entertained when I attended the performance on Friday night.

This was despite me not being entirely sure what was going on for much of the plot.

For example, if the wife owns a “kopitiam”, why does the husband need to work as a bus driver? Just so he can be involved in the Hock Lee bus riot?

By the way, the title Singapura: The Musical is a bit of a misnomer as it suggests a wider scope than is presented. It should be called Hock Lee Bus Riot & Its Consequences: The Musical.

Anyway, the point I want to make is, if my wife is rich enough to own a “kopitiam”, I wouldn’t be driving a bus. I’d be at home shaking leg all day.

I was further confused by the story because I was seated so far away from the stage in literally the Nth row of the circle seats on the third storey (which I had to take a lift to) that I could barely see the actors’ faces and had trouble identifying a few characters.

That’ll teach me for getting the cheapest ticket, which at $75 wasn’t very cheap anyway.

At that price, binoculars should be provided.

I was mad at myself for forgetting to use my Passion card to get the 10 per cent discount.

But after a while, the plot points and knowing who’s who didn’t matter. Once I let the visuals, songs and history lessons wash over me like magic rainbow dust and went with the flow, that was when I started enjoying myself.

Every time a man in white shirt and pants appeared on stage, I wanted to shout “LKY!” — although the musical strangely doesn’t mention Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s name at all.

So don’t worry, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong. No commercialisation of Mr Lee’s name or image here.

Yes, the accents are wrong, but having been conditioned by the mélange of weird accents on Channel 5 TV dramas from Masters Of The Sea to Mata Mata over the years, Singaporeans should be accustomed to foreign accents being passed off as local by now.

It’s as if the musical’s Filipino cast members are doing a reverse Amos Yee by trying to sound Singaporean whereas Yee is trying not to sound Singaporean with his American accent.

It’s more than a little ironic that a theatre company from the same country as ex-Tan Tock Seng Hospital employee Ello Ed Mundsel Bello, who once posted on Facebook that “Pinoy better and stronger than Stinkaporeans”, would mount a production celebrating the resilience of Singaporeans during the turmoil of the 50s and 60s.

Ello was charged last month with sedition and lying to the police.

So the musical could be seen as the Fililpinos making up for Ello’s transgressions — or another instance where they’re taking jobs from Singaporeans.

But would the show have been better if it were produced by Singaporeans?

Well, this year’s new official National Day Parade song Our Singapore is written by Dick Lee, a Singaporean, but it’s so generic and facile that it might as well have been outsourced to a foreigner.

In fact, Lee’s song probably wouldn’t sound too out of place in Hock Lee Bus Riot & Its Consequences: The Musical — and I don’t necessarily mean that as a bad thing.

Near the end of the show, (spoiler alert) when the “kopitiam”-owning wife dies of injuries from the MacDonald House bomb blast (end of spoiler), I almost cried.

Does that mean that instead of shaking leg, I have to run the “kopitiam” myself now?

At the end of the musical, I was so moved by the closing song that I wanted to shout “Merdeka!” because I felt somebody needed to.

And I did.

Fortunately, there was no one in the seats near me to tell me to shut up.

Vive la revolution, baby.

- Published in The New Paper, 31 May 2013

EARLIER: Dick Lee rhymes 'core' with 'Singapore' because NDP song for SG50

UPDATE: Singapura: The Musical shuts down abruptly after announcing extension