"Singapura: The Musical" officially opened on Saturday, 23 May, in a world premiere at the newly refurbished Capitol Theatre in Singapore.
The production, which comprises an international cast of largely Filipinos, shows Singapore’s trying times in the decade from 1955 to 1965. It follows Tan Kok Yang, who is a bus driver, and his family, attempting to tell the story of the ordinary people who lived during those turbulent times as Singapore struggled to find its place in the world.
Here are five thoughts on the approximately three-hour long musical.
The production is by a Filipino company, so it is no surprise that a majority of the cast is made up of Filipinos. What is surprising, though, is that although plenty of effort has been put in to create a musical about Singapore’s history, with extensive interviews and research done, they failed to get the accent and language right.
Throughout the show, lines are peppered with Singlish, but delivery was only mildly successful. It is distracting to understand what the actors are saying because of their varying accents. Marian Santiago, who plays female lead Tan Lee May, was particularly bad in saying her lines with a Singapore accent. Certainly, more work has to be done in the area for the show to be seem authentic.
Ed Gatchalian, the creator and musical director of the show, composed the musical numbers for 'Singapura: The Musical'. Although they were entertaining enough with catchy tunes and simple lyrics, the songs seemed to repeat what you are seeing on stage rather than providing any additional information.
If one likes music, you can find saving grace in entertaining numbers such “At The Kopitiam”, “Moving Forward” and “Tomorrow Begins Today”.
As the musical is set during the 60s, the wardrobe and props had to resemble that time, and the production design successfully projected the idea with appropriate outfits worn by the cast.
The moving sets of the kopitiam, or coffee shop, that the Tan family owns also managed to bring a sense of nostalgia with its wooden tables and stools and kitchenware.
Hock Lee bus riot performance
One of the significant moments from Singapore’s history is pulled out of our social studies books and brought to life in the performance of the Hock Lee bus riot in the musical.
The scene of the riot that broke out during the 1955 strike was a good break from the otherwise predictable storyline. From the fights and the screaming and loud bangs, this performance seemed to bring us closer to Singapore’s history as the scene from the trying times was played out right in front of the audience. If anything, it felt real, especially in identifying of the real life people who died during those times.
The show is held at the newly refurbished Capitol Theatre, and one can expect a theatre-like feel with the zodiac ceiling set into the dome of the theatre, and the two Pegasus sculptures set on both sides of the stage.
The theatre also has Southeast Asia’s first rotational floor system, that, with a push of a button, can be retracted into the floor and rearranged to a customisable seating configuration.
"Singapura: The Musical" will be held at the Capitol Theatre from 22 May till 7 June. Tickets are available from $65 at www.singapurathemusical.com.