Wednesday, September 20, 2017

REVIEW: The Play That Goes Wrong

HKAPA Lyric Theatre, Wednesday September 19 


I have always wanted to see this play, but have not until last night. Since it opened in 2012 in London, it has always been shortlisted for shows I would like to see during my visit to London. For some reason, it just never made it to my final list for six years! I am not so sure why. Perhaps, there were too many musicals during that season, or it is just not my theatre friend’s cup of tea. But not really, because I just found out that my theatre friend actually went and saw it, while I was watching a musical! In any case, I am just glad that the play came to me and I saw it! And boy, I am terribly glad that I went to see it! 


This play by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields brought two big names into my mind, Michael Frayn and Buster Keaton. Michael Frayn’s NOISES OFF took farce to a level where ludicrous is played out with high speed accuracy amid a cacophony of banging doors, falling props and relentless stage mishaps. While I thought that Noises Off is the beast of farce, in came The Play That Goes Wrong. There is no pretense with The Play, no pretending that it is a play that happens to have things went wrong. As the title announced, things will go wrong, but what it really implied is, “You think you have seen the worst? Wait till you see us!” And they delivered! 

The Play also feels like homage to Buster Keaton’s art of gag. Arguably the greatest actor–director in the history of the movies, Keaton told stories through action and not by words. The Play’s physical comedy on steroid was almost movie in scale. I also love what Keaton used to call “impossible gag”, wherein one of the actor in The Play exited from the stage but magically came out of the grandfather clock! 


As an ensemble of this most exacting, physically punishing and very silly comedy, the actors were absolutely awesome. As the cast and crew of the “Cornley Polytechnic Drama Society” attempting to stage a 1920s murder mystery, the actors did everything they can to make everything goes wrong goes right.
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Cast
GRAEME ROONEY - Trevor
PATRICK WARNER - Chris
JASON CALLENDER - Jonathan
EDWARD JUDGE - Robert
EDWARD HOWELLS - Dennis
MEG MORTELL - Sandra
ALASTAIR KIRTON - Max
KATIE BERNSTEIN - Annie

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Monday, August 28, 2017

REVIEW: Forbidden City - Portrait of an Empress (Singapore)

Esplanade Theatre (Singapore), Sunday August 27

Touted as Singapore's most successful musical and headlined by somebody called Kit Chan, this production by Singapore Repertory Theatre and Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay was way better than I expected.


First of all, I don't know who Kit Chan is and apparently she was in the cast recording (2003) which I own. I do remember listening to it once and very much forgot about it. However, given that I was going to Singapore to check out the YAYOI KUSAMA: Life is the Heart of a Rainbow exhibition at the National Gallery Singapore, I thought I should also go and see the revival of this musical.


The musical, as the title says, was about the Empress Dowager Cixi; and the dark secrets, whispered rumours, love, betrayal and power that happened in the confine of the Forbidden City. I don't have high expectation, but I was pleasantly surprised at how the whole production was beautifully presented. The set design that was composed of giant screen dividers was for me the highlight as it its simplicity, elegance and flexibility effectively divide and portray various spaces that propel the story at a cinematic pace.


Empress Dowager Cixi was portrayed by three actors with each embodying a different age and life stage of the Empress. Not only was it a good way to not rely heavily on one actor, but it also created a depth of character by having the old Empress interact with the younger Empress. While Sheila Francisco gave emotional depth to the "senior" Empress, Cheryl Tan gave the "young" Empress a beautiful voice that easily drew empathy from the audience. Kit Chan, on the other hand, was unfortunately, the least effective in portraying the "middle-age" Empress. Chan tried, but her Empress seemed so incongruent with the other two; and failed to provide a glimpse of the transition.


Dwayne Lau and Sebastian Tan as record keepers provided a light touch to the all-serious narrative. Meanwhile, Earl Carpenter as the journalist George Morrison was solid in his singing and portrayal.


The music of Dick Lee and the lyrics of Stephen Clark were okay. They were not a pain to listen to. In fact, I would think that they are quite pleasant... so much so that they were almost something that one has heard before.





Thursday, July 20, 2017

Theatre Pilgrimage - 9 Shows in 2 Cities

I rarely travel during summer as it is the peak season in my work. This time however, I snuck out for a week. Apart from the operetta Die Fledermaus that I saw at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff, the rest of the shows were musicals in London. As usual, I tried to book everything in advance except for two shows that I feel I can do without or I do not mind replacing it with something else at the last minute. 



Given that I am very busy, I will make this post very brief with just a concise impression of each show. Before I left Hong Kong, this is the order of shows based on my expectation, expectation in terms of quality and therefore my enjoyment:


  1. Aladdin
  2. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill
  3. Dreamgirls
  4. Die Fledermaus
  5. An American in Paris
  6. School of Rock
  7. On The Town
  8. The Girls
  9. The Wind in the Willows
Instead, this is the actual ranking based on my enjoyment of the show:

  1. Dreamgirls - Savoy Theatre (London), Wednesday June 28 - Glee star Amber Riley alone was worth the ticket. However, the best part was that the whole cast was very good and the production was sleek. It has that cinematic fluidity and the songs flowed through the narrative.
  2. On The Town - Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (London), Thursday June 29 - This show was not even in my radar! I left this night open with the possibility of either seeing Half a Sixpence or 42nd Street. I didn't even consider On The Town because it will be in an open air theatre AND because I have seen several production of this and none really stood out. Luckily, my friend was offered the ticket and she instead offered it to me that morning as she was going to a ballet. What really made this production work was the cast. They were absolutely superb. They sang, acted and danced tremendously well. Also, the container-look set design was spot on without it looking heavy. The worst part, however, was that it was ruined by the big thumping sound from the nearby home of USA ambassador. Apparently, they were having a party and they have exceeded the pre-agreed sound levels... were I surprised? Kudos to the cast and crew for putting up with it. 
  3. An American in Paris - Dominion Theatre (London), Tuesday June 27 - I heard a lot of good things about this show from friends in NYC and London. However, mentally, I thought the movie has glorious dances and camera works, but I just can't see how it can work on stage. I was so wrong. In this case, it was more like a full-length ballet with singing. The additional Gershwin songs did help. More importantly though was that once again, the cast was amazing... singing, dancing or acting!
  4. Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill - Wyndham's Theatre (London), Friday June 30 - My expectation was high. Come on, we are talking about Audra McDonald!!! Well, she didn't disappoint at all. Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday was a masterclass for sustained characterization. Absolutely captivating performance!!! As for the script and format, it was blah.
  5. Die Fledermaus - Wales Millennium Centre (Cardiff), Saturday June 24 - This is my first time to hear Die Fledermaus in English! This Welsh National Opera production was big fun! As a proof, my 12 year old nephew totally enjoyed it! The cast was very even. While this is not the first time I heard an opera translated into English, this must be the first time that I can actually understand the singers! The enunciation was excellent. Having said that, I think I will remember this operetta all the more because Charles, Prince of Wales, attended and was seated not far from me! Haha! Now that is what you call a British experience!
  6. The Girls - Phoenix Theatre (London), Thursday June 29 -  It was fine and adequately entertaining. Apart from the performers though, everything else looks and feels a bit amateurish. Yes, that includes the music and the book. The biggest let down was the chunky elaborate swinging wall that delivered nothing to the progression of the narrative. I kept expecting that it will unfold and reveal something, yet, it is just a wall!
  7. Aladdin - Prince Edward Theatre (London), Saturday July 1 - Okay, the flying carpet was absolutely magical! What else? Not much really. The cast was okay, except for Jasmine... she was pretty and that's pretty much what she was.
  8. School of Rock - New London Theatre (London), Wednesday June 28 - it was okay. Entertaining, but show no real stage wonder. Gary Trainor as Dewey Finn pretty much carried the whole show. The kids were surprisingly not as polished as one expects given the standard shown in other West End show (hint: Matilda).
  9. The Wind in the Willows - London Palladium (London), Tuesday June 27 - I never like The Wind in the Willows. I don't understand it. So why did I go and see this? Well, it is the only musical (that I haven't seen) that has a Tuesday matinee. So why not give it a try, right? It is the best "Wind" I have seen. It has lovely cute little songs... good for matinee and children...

Sunday, May 21, 2017

REVIEW: West Side Story

HK Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre, Friday May 19

2017 marks the 60th anniversary of West Side Story, which is arguably the ultimate dance musical since it first burst onto the Broadway stage in 1957. Coincidentally, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Leonard Bernstein, the composer of the musical. In fact, if you are here in Hong Kong, HKPhil’s West Side Story in Concert where the complete 1961 film wiil be shown with live music.


Now back to this production of West Side Story. This is my third time to be see this same production. The first was at the Macao Cultural Centre in Macau back in 2005 and another time at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2013. The fact that I am seeing this again in Hong Kong is a testimony of how enjoyable this production is.


Director and Choreographer Joey McKneely successfully distilled the staging for tour and it looked more akin to a ballet set than a Broadway musical. Having said that, the series of the signature New York fire escapes that evoked the Upper West Side neighborhood and the cityscape projections on the screen were effective enough to plunge the audience into the setting of this famous Shakespearean story. The one think I didn't like in both the previous time I saw this production remains the one thing I can't get over with. I still don’t understand why the director chose to have the ladies dance the America number barefooted. I can’t help but feel that it was equivalent to transposing down a song to accommodate a singer.


This production is heavily reliant on the talents on stage. Because it is a famous and familiar musical, the audience do have a very high expectation. Kevin Hack's Tony provides all the reason why Maria fell for him in less than a dance. His voice has a beautiful and even tone thoughout its range. Jenna Burns was a suitable Maria to Hack's Tony with a small but bright voice. Both were vocally and dramatically very effective. Keely Beirne delivered an outstanding portrayal of Anita with equal confidence in both singing and dancing.  The rest of the cast did very well in both dancing and singing; and they are so far the best of the three performances I have seen.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Best Reebok InstaPump Fury Colorways of All Time

In this post, I am breaking from my usual topic of performing arts to product design; and this privilege goes to Reebok InstaPump Fury. While the first Reebok Pump was launched in 1989, Reebok continued to develop it until the birth of Reebok InstaPump Fury in 1994. 


I love the InstaPump Fury because it is a product that was designed not only to marry form and function, but also injected a huge dose of FUN and FASHION into it. It is not only equipped with an out-of-the-box technology, but it also possesses a personality. Unlike the Puma Disc (which I also love, by the way), the Reebok InstaPump is more than just a replacement of the traditional shoe laces, it also comfortably custom fit the shoes to the feet. Paul Litchfield designed the original Pump, taking what was originally in an Ellesse ski boot with pumping mechanism in big brass fittings into something that is more suitable and practical for sport/casual wear. From there, Steven Smith took the big step of deconstructing the Pump and removed all the trimmings that was covering the bladder system. Suddenly, the inflated bladder becomes the exoskeleton securing the foot and providing a completely adjustable fit without any laces. But that was not enough, he also replaced the midsole with a full carbon fibre graphlite arch bridge, while the forefoot and heel sole units where equipped with Hexalite cushioning technology. But again that was not enough, the out-there colors of citron, red and black completed the whole design. The colors were there to provide the soul and personality of the shoes. As the story goes, Reebok marketing department wanted the InstaPump Fury in subdued palettes of greys and blues, but Smith went home and spray painted the prototype in grey primer, and then tossed them on the desk of the marketing department in objection/repulsion. 



Before I reveal The Best Reebok InstaPump Fury Colorways of All Time, it is important to note that these selections were not chosen for its rarity (in short, you won’t find the 1997 Chanel collab here), brand or expensiveness. The selection will not include any InstaPump Fury Road because the Road version with full sole and rubber brace across the shoe just plain damn ugly. The selection will also include the original 1994 citron, red and black version or any of the resissues. The list simply but carefully considers how designers managed to bring something new to the InstaPump Fury without sacrificing the very core value and soul of the original design which is a marriage of fun, form and function and a good balance of technology and fashion. 

10. HALLOWEEN (2016) 


Predominantly black, white or grey InstaPump Fury should not happen and they are boringly lazy. However, if you are going to design an almost all black InstaPump Fury, you better pump it up with something else. These 2016 punked-up InstaPump Fury with strategically placed studs were fierce. The language is not dissimilar to that of a studded jacket and therefore message of fun and fashion is clear. 

9. BEBOP (2016) 


From the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle “Villains Pack” in 2016 came BEBOP, a humanoid mutant warthog. The beauty of this InstaPump Fury is that for TMNT fans, one can actually see Bebop smartly distilled into a pair of shoes. The details are carefully coordinated from demin pants, red vest, purple Mohawk and a hint of hairy flesh. 

8. HAWAIIAN (2010) 


The 2010 “Hawaiian” InstaPump Fury make it to the list because it is a good study of restraint. The original collection has four colorways (yellow, green, blue and black). While maintaining a singular color base in each, the designer added iconic Hawaiian prints in the same color tone. Simple but effective, the design becomes fun and whimsical without having too many colors. 

7. OLYMPIC (2012) 


In theory, putting the colors (yes, black is not exactly a color) of the Olympic rings all in one shoe sounds like a very bad idea, but this "London" InstaPump Fury (for the London Olympics in 2012) managed to be unassuming and flamboyant all at the same time. How the colors are cleverly placed contrasted and with just the right reliance on black is the genius in this design. 

6. FLASHBACK 1994 (2008) 


If Gucci comes to mind, then you are on the right track. In 2008, Japanese sneaker specialist Mita collaborated with Reebok and created the Flash Back 90s Series - a mini-collection of InstaPump Fury which incorporates aethetics from that era. The first and also the best in this series pays homage to the year 1994, the birth of InstaPump Fury and Tom Ford becoming the Creative Director of Gucci. 

5. CHINESE NEW YEAR ROOSTER (2017) 


InstaPump Fury has been coming up with CNY edition for some time, but it is the Rooster for 2017 that is the most successful. The design was unexpected and classy but still true to the animal it represents. While there is little color in this design, the luxurious feather-like texture, iridescent blue/green heel and all sorts of Chinese-inspired graphic details brings home the fun in fashion on this one. 

4. OXYGEN MARK (2014) 


2014 marked the 20th anniversary of Instapump Fury and Reebok rolled out (way too) many collaborations. Sadly, none really stood out except one; and that is the Oxygen Mask by Washington D.C. sneaker-specialist, Major. Mask cleverly play off the Pump and the bladder by relating it to air travel. On the side of the bladder, it even printed “IN THE EVENT OF AIR LOSS, PUMP UP YOUR KICKS FIRST BEFORE ASSISTING OTHERS”. And also, not to mention this was launched a year ahead of BB-8. 

3.POPSICLE (2013) 


This Sweden’s Sneakersnstuff InstaPump Fury in 2013 is so cool in many ways. This brightly colored rendition is inspired by the Swedish summer-favorite, the X-15 ice pop from 1980s. This design makes color coordinating by just simply choosing a color for each component of the Instapump Fury seems very lazy. With Popsicle, citrus colors cut across the shoes unapologetically and immediately exudes summer while bringing back fun childhood memories. 

2. JUN WATANABE’s MR. BOTTLE HEAD (2011) 


Jun Watanabe has designed several InstaPump Fury, but this 2011 release stands to be the best. Yes, it is crazy cool with the high contrast black and white polka dots bladder tamed by a calming baby blue base and then fired up with the hot pink heel. There’s all kinds of details in homage to Watanabe’s famous character. 

1. TAKATOSHI AKUTAGAWA’s MIYABI (2007) 



How does one inject elegance in InstaPump Fury, while ensuring that it maintains the original InstaPump Fury language of fun and fashion? Japanese designer Takatoshi Akutagawa did exactly that for his Miyabi Collection in 2007. Here, the traditional Japanese print was managed beautifully by its use of green tea color broken up by blocks of black. Here, Akutagawa was able to instill a loud elegance quality to it.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

REVIEW: Chan Ka-bo Countertenor Recital

Nan Lian Garden, Saturday March 4

I wanted the Baroque repertoire in the afternoon, but it was sold out; thus I ended up going to the relatively newer music of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms and Pärt in the evening. The recital was 1 hour in length and Chan was accompanied by Kristo Käo with his Torres guitar. The concert was set in a small hall in the classical Chinese Nan Lian Garden.


I have a very mixed feeling about the recital. I went to the recital with preconceptions of what is the suitable repertoire for countertenors and how a countertenor should sound. Needless to say, my ears are attuned to the repertoire and sound of the likes of Andreas Scholl, David Daniels, Philippe Jaroussky, Michael Chance and Bejun Mehta, all of whom I have heard live and sang early music.



Countertenors have entertained "newer" music before. The ones that I really enjoyed is David Daniel's album Berlioz: Les Nuits D'ete and A Quiet Thing. And despite the transition from early music to 20th century music, most of the countertenors would retain the same lyrical tone. The one thing I noticed in Chan's rendition of the "newer" music was his voice was dramatic. In fact, so dramatic and big that I think the guitar and venue was a tad too lyrical and small for him. I truly wonder how he sounded like in the afternoon repertoire of early music.

Because of his voice quality, I enjoyed his rendition of Brahms and Pärt's works more than the Schubert and Mendelssohns. Overall, the recital was an important one for me. Wanting to go to the afternoon concert was a lazy choice; and I am glad that I went to the evening one as there shouldn't be any reason why countertenors should not sing music by Schubert, Mendelssohn or Brahms. The problem was mine.

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Schubert
Ave Maria, Ständchen, Danksagung an den Bach

Pärt
Vater Unser

Mendelssohn
Altdeutschelied, Nachtlied

Brahms
Wiegenlied

and songs and guitar music of Estonian composers including Kapp, Sink, Jõeleht and Eespere

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REVIEW: Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal

Hong Kong Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Friday March 3

The first thing I noticed when I looked at the programme was how "recent" the works will be presented are. The oldest was created in 2012 and the latest was just created last year. Now that is very exciting! I have never seen Canada's Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal before, but definitely like what the company name evokes and was looking forward to see it.

The show opened with Mona Lisa, a work choreographed by Itzik Galili for two dancers. This high-octane pas de deux performed by Celine Cassone and Alexander Hille was a test of endurance and precision. The intertwining bodies, quick lifts and sudden drops were bordering acrobatics and were all executed with unbelievable ease to the avant-garde sound of typewriter competing with drums. This masterpiece was the highlight of the evening and everything else seemed to be a tad less special.

MONA LISA
Kosmos, choreographed by Andonis Foniadakis was a portrayal of modern urban living. While the choreographic language was modern dance, elements of other forms of dance were combined seamlessly. Set to the music of Julien Tarride, the work explored various moods from frenetic pace pushed by persistent percussions to thoughtful movements exalted by the sound of strings. The work was a cocktail of counterpoints and episodic bursts of intense motions that beautifully counterbalance each other.

KOSMOS
Opening the second half of the evening was Closer, choreographed by Benjamin Millepied and another work designed for two dancers. Set to Philip Glass' Mad Rush, I find the music was turned up way too loud that it overshadowed the lyricism of the music and the dance. Dancers Celine Cassone and Alexander Hille once again demonstrated the impeccable partnership they have, and that it goes beyond just technique, but also a partnership high in confidence and comfort.

CLOSER
Before closing the evening with O Balcao de Amor, a totally unnecessary short film about the work was shown. It was really odd. Instead of enhancing my experience of the work, the film actually dampened it. This work choreographed by Itzik Galili was a fun, funny and entertaining piece; and the documentary somehow took away the surprise factor. The choreography revolved around the music of Perez Prado; and it was pelted all over with comedic confetti and sexy silliness that showcased a different side of the company.

O BALCAO DE AMOR
Overall, it was an evening of beautiful contemporary works that provided wide-ranging sentiments and elicited deep connection with the audience.

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Monday, February 27, 2017

REVIEW: The Makropulos Case by the National Theatre Brno

Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, Saturday February 25

Live performance of Janacek's operas are hard to come by. Peculiarly, I have only seen Jenufa live and saw it twice, once in Czech here in Hong Kong as part of the Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2000 by the Prague National Theatre and another time in Turkish in 2004 at the Istanbul State Opera. It is therefore that when this opportunity to see The Makropulos Case came, I made sure to go and see it.


The fluidly and meticulously designed production directed by David Radok was definitely the highlight of the evening. Rarely does one sees a production so cohesively conceptualized that the action and the set unfold so seamlessly and creatively. In particular, I love the way the office set (set design by Ondřej Nekvasil,& Zuzana Ježková) in Act 1 was visually transformed into the wings of the theatre. I also love how the main character Emilia Marty changed costumes and wigs (costume design by Zuzana Ježková) in full view and almost implying the multiple characters she embodied in her 337 years life.


Among the performers, Swedish soprano Annalena Persson as Emilia Marty was a cut above the rest. The sustained intensity in her acting and singing was charismatic and captivating. The rest of the cast, however, was very uneven. I do love Svatopluk Sem's Baron Prus however, who managed to sustain and develop his role into a complex character that effectively bridged the narrative into its final act.


While Jenufa may be the more popular Janacek opera, I actually think that The Makropulos Case is the better one. I do love the idea of a seductress who has broken hearts for over 300 years and suddenly has to come to terms with the fading magical elixir that granted her youthfulness.Musically, this was represented in a series of different motifs and ideas to shows the troublesome and disturbing nature of the main character Emilia Marty/Elina Makropulos. It was only at the end, when Makropulos' secret is revealed, does the music develop the rich lyrical sound.


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Production Team:
Conductor - Marko Ivanović
Director - David Radok
Set Design - Ondřej Nekvasil, Zuzana Ježková
Costume Design - Zuzana Ježková
Lighting Design - Petr Kozumplík
Chorus Master - Josef Pancik

Cast:
Emilia Marty - Annalena Persson
Albert Gregor - Aleš Briscein
Vítek - Petr Levíček
Kristina - Eva Štěrbová
Jaroslav Prus - Svatopluk Sem
Dr Kolenatý - František Ďuriač
Janek - Peter Račko

With Orchestra and Chorus of the Janáček Opera of the National Theatre Brno

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Thursday, February 23, 2017

REVIEW: Mixed Bill by Bayerisches Staatsballett II

HKAPA Lyric Theatre, Wednesday February 22

I have mixed feeling for last night's mixed bill from Bayerisches Staatsballett II (Bavarian State Ballet II). The Bayerisches Staatsballett II is a training ground for young dancers; and the first three pieces were designed to showcase their skills.

Allegro Brillante by choreographer George Balanchine and music by Tchaikovsky was well executed with skilled dancing, precise timing, and breadth of movements. Francesco Leone excelled in this piece with elegance in every gesture, even down to his fingers.

ALLEGRO BRILLANTE

Jardi Tancat by choreographer Nacho Duato was for me the highlight of the evening. The skills of the dancers were befitting of the style and complexity of this modern ballet. It was a beautiful raw and haunting piece that defies the youthful energy of the company.

JARDI TANCAT

3 Preludes by choreographer Richard Siegal and music by George Gershwin could have been my favorite, but the timing was not precise to bring off this rhythmically complex dance. The dancers looked under-rehearsed.

3 PRELUDES

The Triadic Ballet by choreographer Oskar Schlemmer / Gerhard Bohner (1977) based on Oskar Schlemmer’s choreography, music Hans-Joachim Hespos and costume design by Oskar Schlemmer was for me the worst. This "ballet" should not be part of the repertoire of the company, especially for a company that trains dancers. I can't imagine any aspiring dancer who dream to be able to dance in this ballet... if there's one, he/she should not be a dancer at all. This work is about costume design PERIOD. Anything else was just "production" to showcase the costumes

THE TRIADIC BALLET
THE TRIADIC BALLET

THE TRIADIC BALLET

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Saturday, December 10, 2016

REVIEW: Wicked

HKAPA Lyric Theatre, Friday December 9

Last night, Wicked premiered in Hong Kong 13 years after it opened in Broadway. For me, it joins an elite group of musicals that I have seen repeatedly onstage - The Phantom of the Opera (New York, London, Cardiff, Melbourne and Hong Kong); Miss Saigon (New York, London, Melbourne and Hong Kong); Les Miserables (New York, Melbourne, Manila, Hong Kong); and now, Wicked (New York, Manila and Hong Kong). While initial response to Phantom and Saigon was good, Les Miz and Wicked share the rare notoriety of having opened to mixed reviews but still managed to become massive successes! It just shows that not even the most experienced and respected critics can always get them right; and that the general audience and their words-of-mouth are what really count!


Last night's performance was spectacular. While Eugene Lee's set may not be as massive as the Broadway version, it still managed to impress. Susan Hilferty's costume was definitely a highlight, they never stop to amaze me in their creativity, sophistication and cohesiveness.


As to the performers, they made me realize how ingrained is the image of a tall Elphaba (Idina Menzel in New York and Jemma Rix in Manila) and a short Glinda (Kristin Chenoweth in New York and Suzie Mathers in Manila) in my mind that seeing Jacqueline Hughes (Elphaba) and Carly Anderson (Glinda) about the same height bothered me irrationally! Hughes definitely has the vocal chop to meet her demanding role. Her big anthem Defying Gravity finished the first act to great effect. Anderson was very effective but I did wish that her enunciation was a bit clearer. Whether it was the sounds or her diction, I was not sure.


Perhaps the one single biggest disappointment I had was from the more experienced actor Kim Ismay who played Madame Morrible. She definitely gave me the feeling that she was bored and was just doing her performance as part of a routine. An example would be when Elphaba confronted the Wizard and announced that she wanted nothing to do with his plan, Ismay procedurally acted shocked and looked offstage as if Elphaba has already ran off when in fact Elphaba was just about to!

In totality, Wicked is a great story told in the most beautiful way. Stephen Schwartz's music and lyrics provided just the right dramatic language and color to communicate this unusual narrative in charting how Elphaba came to be “wicked"; and the parallel journey of Glinda the "good". I heard that the production will be in Manila in 2017. Will I go and see it again? I just might.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016

REVIEW: Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense

HKAPA Drama Theatre, Wednesday September 14

My introduction to the works of P.G. Wodehouse came in the form of the musical By Jeeves by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Alan Ayckbourn. Later on, I had the chance to see the comedy series Jeeves and Wooster that starred Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in YouTube. A genial but ditzy gentleman with an improbably intelligent and efficient valet seems to resonate well as an antidote to my Disneyesque childhood.


Last December in London, I had the dilemma of having to choose between this play, Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense or Jessica Swale’s Nell Gwyn. Nell Gwyn won but I am so glad that Jeeves & Wooster have come to Hong Kong. Winner of Best New Comedy at London’s 2014 Olivier Awards, Jeeves & Wooster was pure silliness that managed to keep what Robert McCrum identified as Wodehouse’s combination of "high farce with the inverted poetry of his mature comic style". Indeed do not expect the play to have any depth of meaning; but instead, it is filled with Wodehouse’s dry metaphors such as to be reminded that one of the characters had "the sort of eye that could open an oyster at 60 paces".

Matthew Carter (Wooster) and Joseph Chance (Jeeves)
The premise of the play was that Wooster, played by Matthew Carter with winning toothiness, is recounting what happened in Totleigh Towers, when he was tasked to steal a cow-shaped silver jug. The problem was that Wooster has only two actors to play all the other characters! This led to a continuous parody of theatrical mishaps and madcaps, with sound effect gags, and quick set and costume changes. Robert Goodale, the other half of Goodale Brothers who adapted and wrote this comedy, played fellow valet Seppings. With physical bravura, Seppings switched from the daunting Aunt Dahlia to the imposing Roderick Spode, who came fortified with a Hitlerian moustache. In the style of Patrick Barlow’s The 39 Steps and Ben-Hur, the play got to a point when the number of actors required onstage exceeded the number of actual actors available. The boil-over came when the imperturbable Jeeves, played by Joseph Chance, was obligated to simultaneously play an overbearing old bully, Sir Watkyn Bassett, and the unmistakably womanly Stiffy Byng. Having said that, I feel that the pace of the play was a tad slow; and I can’t help but feel that there can be a bit more chemistry between the actors.

While the play was utter nonsense, it was nonsense at its hilarious best. The audience chuckled constantly. It was the perfect mid-week cure to my busy week.

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