Thursday, September 26, 2013

REVIEW: Michael Jackson, The Immortal World Tour by Cirque du Soleil

AsiaWorld Expo, Saturday August 24

This show was so plain that I have totally forgotten to write a review about it. It was not until today when I scrolled through my Facebook posts that I saw what I said after seeing the show, "Cirque du Soleil's Michael Jackson Immortal is neither circus nor pop/rock performance... A bit disappointed... Oh well, my ticket was free..."


Cirque du Soleil is a unique organization and was a huge hit when it bursted into the entertainment arena. I first heard of them when I saw a feature of the company in the DANCE magazine decades ago when it was just starting. I believe the focus in the write-up was the costume and make-up design. Eventually, I had the fortune of seeing its ALEGRIA in Hong Kong. I was blown away! After that, I saw O in Las Vegas, and that was just unbelievaly fantastic. Since then, however, I saw QUIDAM and SALTIMBANCO in Hong Kong and ZAIA in Macau; and each, the magic just became weaker. Unfortunately, this show with unnecessarily long title had to be the worst of the lot.

Perhaps I just had an unreasonable expectation on the show. After all, it has the name Michael Jackson in it, followed with the exaltation IMMORTAL in the title. What I didn't expect was that it will be a show of the same old acrobatic acts with new costumes performed to the music of MJ! The music was predominantly canned, with key live intrumentation and back-up vocals; and the impact was really mediocre. There was a very odd imbalance visually and acoustically.

The acts were stale, while the signature dance pieces were executed blantly with performers who were not very good dancers actually. AND there was a pretend chimpanzee (which I assume was pretending to be Bubbles)... REALLY?

Simply said, it was a BAD SHOW!

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

REVIEW: My Queer Valentine by Rick Lau

Fringe Club Underground Theatre, Saturday September 14

I had the chance to see this show before (must be 2009)… and when my friend Michael offered me some tickets for this 3-day run, I quickly grabbed it!


Overall, the impression is that the show has improved remarkably…the way the stage was set up and especially, the performance of Rick Lau. I have always thought that Lau is a singing actor (think Angela Lansbury or Rex Harrison); but then this latest experience has made me re-evaluate that notion. Lau turned in a vocally outstanding performance for what he called “a niche within a niche” world of a cabaret show about being gay.

The show was more polished than before and it was amazing at how little and simple improvements brought lucidity in message and fluidity in programme flow. According to Lau, all the songs of the evening were written by gay people. By that, I assume what he meant was that either the lyrics and/or the song are written and/or composed by a gay person… unless he knows something about Richard Rodgers or Antonio Carlos Jobim that I don’t.

The choice of songs for the show was impeccable in combining the familiar with less familiar. Having said that, Lau was more effective in the funny songs, be it bitching in “The Boy From Fire Island”, or being a homophobic in “Lookin’ at Me”, or just be an animated story-teller in “And the Ship Sails On”. On the serious side, I found his interpretation of “Yard Sale” disturbingly creepy, this time or even before, it lacked the somberness of the situation highlighting a period when being HIV+ was a death sentence.

The show has started to show its age though with songs like “Dear Dad” where Lau scribbles franticly on a small piece of paper informing his dad that he is gay… and I can’t help wonder whether an iPad or a WhatsApp may seem more in tune with the time. I still think that performing the gay anthem “I Am What I Am” was a bit too much and obvious, while I am glad that the show finished with the more universal theme of “My Funny Valentine”.

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My Queer Valentine
Underground Theatre, Hong Kong Fringe Club
12-14 September 2013

Programme
It's A Fine Life (Lionel Bart)
The Boy From Fire Island (Antonio Carlos Jobim, Fred Ebb)
The Art Teacher (Rufus Wainwright)
Lookin' at Me (Ben Schaechter)
盼望的緣份 (陳百強, 鄭國江)
It's Alright With Me (Cole Porter)
What More Can I Say (William Finn)
Fat As I Am (Marc Shaiman, Bette Midler, Jerry Blatt)
Quiet Love (Charles Aznavour, Fred Ebb)
Yard Sale (Tom Andersen)
And The Ship Sails On (Kirby Tepper)
Dear Dad (Eric Lane Barnes)
I Am What I Am (Jerry Herman)
My Funny Valentine (Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart)

Rick Lau (performer)
Rick Lau & Tony Taylor (concept)
Tony Taylor & Yuri Ng (direction)
Alan Chan (musical direction & accompaniment)
Leo Siu (lighting design)


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REVIEW: Hong Kong Philharmonic and Jean-Yves Thibaudet

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Saturday September 7

I was hoping that my three-month exile from classical music will relieve me from the ennui I had for classical music. It was with great excitement that the 40th anniversary season opening gala has arrived. My “concert” friends and I met up for dinner to celebrate the season opening before going to the gala... very exciting.


The evening opened with Bright Sheng’s Shanghai Overture, an exercise adopting Stravinsky’s neo-Classical styles and techniques; and applying them to two well-known traditional Chinese compositions, General’s Degree and Purple Bamboo. The initial impulse and reaction was to dissect and analyze; but once I tired of it, the music was actually more satisfying. The development of the language swept with fluidity and energy; and the orchestra gave a very informed performance.

Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto that followed is a bit trickier as it is one of those over-exposed pieces that for a performance to truly stand-out, it has to create that perfect balance of remaining within the style yet deliver an interpretation that is confidently idiosyncratic. With that, Thibaudet and the HKPhil, led by Jaap van Zweden, managed to be plain. The 1st movement was peculiarly lacking in tightness, while the second and third movement fared better with a bit more personality and lucidity.

The highlight of the evening was Dvorak’s New World Symphony. While, the piece itself was a boring choice, the performance was actually outstanding. The contrasting and flowing transitions were wonderfully and sensitively handled by van Zweden. In particular, the solo (cor anglais) by Kwan Sheung-fung was achingly heart-felt.

Overall, it was not THAT exciting at all, BUT I still look forward to next HKPhil concert.
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Season Opening Gala: Emperor and New World
6&7-9-2013 Fri & Sat 8PM
Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall

PROGRAMME

BRIGHT SHENG Shanghai Overture
BEETHOVEN Piano Concerto no. 5 Emperor
DVOŘÁK Symphony no. 9 From the New World

Jaap van Zweden, conductor
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, piano

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Tuesday, September 3, 2013

REVIEW: The Addams Family (Macau)

Macao Cultural Centre, Saturday August 31`

In my 2011 review of the Broadway production, I wrote, “The Addams Family should be the perfect material for a fun musical comedy. At best after seeing it, it is an agreeable casual Broadway entertainment with an unfocused book, interesting set design, talented cast and second-rate music.”


I first thought of not going all the way to Macau to see this version, but a couple of my friends went and said that it was very good... so being a fanatic that I am, I went. In this tour version in Macau, directed by Jerry Zaks (he was the "creative consultant" in the Broadway production) some songs where deleted; and new songs were added. The set and lighting design was also trimmed. The result was definitely a better and tighter show; although the scale made it really looks like a good regional theatre production, rather than a Broadway show. In short, if I see this in Broadway at Broadway prices, I will be disappointed. Overall, I believe I came out of this theatre feeling happier than when I was in Broadway.

The cast was good and fairly balanced with Jennifer Fogarty’s Wednesday providing some of the best moments. I also like Jeremy Todd Shinder’s Pugsley and Dan Olson’s Lurch.

Click here to see my review of the the Broadway production.

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THE ADDAMS FAMILY

Creative Team:
MARSHALL BRICKMAN (Book)
RICK ELICE (Book)
ANDREW LIPPA (Music and Lyrics)
JERRY ZAKS (Director)
PHELIM McDERMOTT (Original Direction; Set and Costume Design)
JULIAN CROUCH (Original Direction; Set and Costume Design)
CAMERON HOLSINGER (Direction Recreation)
SERGIO TRUJILLO (Choreographer)
JONATHAN RITTER (Choreography Recreation)
NATASHA KATZ (Lighting Designer)
CRAIG CASSIDY (Sound Design)
BASIL TWIST (Puppetry)
TOM WATSON (Hair and Wig Design)
ANGELINA AVALLONE (Make-up Designer)
GREGORY MEEH (Special Effects Designer)
JASPER GRANT (Musical Direction)

Cast:
JESSE SHARP (Gomez Addams)
KELEEN SNOWGREN (Morticia Addams)
JENNIFER FOGARTY (Wednesday Addams)
SHAUN RICE (Uncle Fester)
JEREMY TODD SHINDER (Pugsley Addams)
AMANDA BRUTON (Grandma)
DAN OLSON (Lurch)
BLAIR ANDERSON (Alice Beineke)
MARK POPPLETON (Mal Beineke)
BRYAN WELNICKI (Lucas Beineke)

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Monday, September 2, 2013

REVIEW: Avenue Q (Q畸大道) by Windmill Grass Theatre (風車草劇團)

Kwai Tsing Theatre, Friday August 23

I had a life-changing (ok, that’s a bit of exaggeration… theatre life-changing then) experience last Friday the 23rd. I went to see the Windmill Grass Theatre (風車草劇團) production of AVENUE Q (Q畸大道) and it totally changed my perception of Cantonese versions of Broadway musicals! I went to this performance purely on the ground that I love this musical and will be totally okay even though it is in Cantonese! My Cantonese is not too bad, but I am also most aware that my Cantonese is not THAT good. I was expecting to be in the theatre watching the musical while simultaneously playing the original Broadway cast recording in my mind… I need not.



This is my third Avenue Q. I saw the Broadway production back in 2004; and saw the Manila (Atlantis) production in 2008. This Hong Kong production directed by方俊杰 , I have to say, equals the Broadway one, if not better!

Overall, I think I only got about 50% of the jokes and yet, I still totally enjoyed it mainly because the production was visually compelling from stage and costume designs down to the acting of the performers. The magic of this production came from its wonderful adaptation from English to Cantonese, be it how the characters behave, and also how the words are translated. Most of the characters took on a distinct Cantonese sense of comedy acting (think Stephen Chow) and a puffed up personality (Kate Monster in this production was more “monster” than other productions).

This production works because it was adapted (by黃詠詩 and 王祖藍) to local sense of wickedness. For songs like “It Sucks to be Me”, it was translated into 最仆街就係我 “I am most deserving to die (drop dead)”. This is so colloquial that it is very difficult to back-translate; but even so, it doesn’t really equate to the English words yet, it captures the emotional core of the condition. Even situations were also adapted, e.g. when one of the characters (Christmas Eve) sang “Tried to work in Korean deli, but I am Japanese” in Broadway, the Cantonese version becomes “I am a Japanese, but I’ve pushed dimsum carts”.

All the actors were in tip-top form. While some has better singing voice than others, all were very fine actors. I particularly like 邵美君’s Kate Monster & Lucy. She brought so much to the characters yet delineated each with clarity and distinction through voice and action.
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風車草劇團 
Q畸大道 (粵語演出)
Avenue Q
MUSIC AND LYRICS By ROBERT LOPEZ and JEFF MARX
BOOK By JEFF WHITTY
BASED ON AN ORIGINAL CONCEPT By ROBERT LOPEZ and JEFF MARX
導演:方俊杰
主要演員:梁祖堯、湯駿業、邵美君、楊詩敏(蝦頭)、劉守正*
其他演員:文瑞興、黃靖程
(*承蒙香港話劇團批准參與是次演出)
翻譯:黃詠詩

填詞:王祖藍
燈光設計:楊子欣
佈景設計:邵偉敏
音響設計:陳詠杰
製作經理:Cat Cheng
執行舞台監督:李藍施
票務:黃詩穎
市場推廣:陸昕
監製:湯駿業、鄧耀銘

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