Wednesday, November 6, 2013

REVIEW: Starlight Express

Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre, Saturday October 5

I am old enough to have seen the original production at the Apollo Victoria Theatre in London; and that production was famous for its extensive racetracks that went all the way around the theatre. Just like any company, scaling down mega productions for touring purpose is always a challenge. I saw both the “new” Miss Saigon (2007 in Melbourne) and The Phantom of the Opera (2012 in Cardiff); and needless to say, the iconic elements of the original productions such as landing helicopter or crashing chandelier were all gone to lesser effect. The companies can claim “new” production but definitely not “better” or “improved”.

To read my review for HKELD, please click here.

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REVIEW: Schubert Song Cycles with Christoph and Stephan Genz

City Hall Concert Hall, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday October 2 to 5

  • October 2: Die Schöne Müllerin, D.795 - Christoph Genz (ten), Cornelia Herrmann (pf)
  • October 3: Winterreise, D.911 - Stephan Genz (bar), Cornelia Herrmann (pf)
  • October 4: Schwanengesang, D.957 & Drei Klavierstücke, D.946 - Christoph Genz (ten), Stephan Genz (bar), Cornelia Herrmann (pf)
Three nights of Schubert songs sound like a gift from heaven; but in reality, it was a pain in the ass.

I rejoiced at the news of hearing these beautiful songs live for three consecutive nights, but now that I have gone through it, I am not sure I would ever do it again. All the angst, anxiety, anger, anguish, apprehension, agony and antagonism in these very well-crafted songs wore me down. Needless to say, I have never ever tried listening to the recording of these cycles for three consecutive days. In fact, I can only counts a few times that I actually actively listen to a whole cycle in one go.

With very little promotion, all three nights were poorly attended; and I am not surprised. I only knew these recitals because of a friend in Thailand happened to chance upon it. My best estimation will be that the concert hall was only 25% full.

In Die Schöne Müllerin, it took a while for Christoph Genz to warm up but it did get much better after a while. However, Christoph’s tenor voice sounded a bit pinched in that evening and in some passages, I am afraid that there were some doubtful notes. In general, Christoph croon and slither his way through this cycle that’s started with cheerful optimism and slowly degenerated to despair and tragedy.

Winterreise is one of my favorite song cycles. Compared to Die Schöne Müllerin, it is the more mature and influential work. The wealth of intellect and interpretive power required to deliver the songs effectively individually and as a whole continues to amaze me. Stephan Genz delivered a beautiful performance. While there is a touch of stifled sound to his voice, like somebody who is coming down with a cold, he explored and maneuvered this allegorical journey of heart with great care and skill, making this my favorite night of the three.

The third night has a more relaxed intensity compared to the previous nights due to the program. It also had better attendance given that it was the final night and also it was on a Friday. Christoph improved a bit, but still tend to croon his way through his songs and Stephan didn’t deviate from his standard of the previous night. A nice addition is to hear Cornelia Herrmann in her full strength with the Drei Klavierstücke.

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REVIEW: Carrie – The Musical (Manila)

Carlos P. Romulo Auditorium (Manila), Sunday September 29

Wouldn’t a show known for being one of the most expensive disasters in Broadway history becoming a worldwide hit after 25 years since it opened be just fantastic? Unfortunately, there just no such story. This revival of Carrie by Atlantis Productions in Manila was a nice attempt, but it just made me understand why Carrie was a failure. Actually, I think that the production itself was worse than the material. I can’t help but feel that it was a self-indulgent project on the part of the director Bobby Garcia.

Based on Stephen King’s bestselling novel, the show’s original authors (according to the ad) have “fully reworked and re-imagined” this version of Carrie. Featuring a book by Lawrence D. Cohen, music by Academy Award winner Michael Gore and lyrics by Academy Award winner Dean Pitchford, the material was actually not bad… but not exactly very good either. I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, but I knew the reputation of the show; thus I went to see it with an ample amount of understanding that I will not be blown away… and yet, it still fell below expectation.

The biggest head-scratching element of the production is this barn-like looking set that interchangeably became the school gym and Carrie’s home… neither of which was convincingly gym nor home. It is funny how some elements in a production are actually so important that when not executed properly, it just makes the suspension of disbelief an impossible task. Imagine a Peter Pan that doesn’t fly or a Cat with no tail. In the case of Carrie, dousing Carrie with pig’s blood was the big moment… the moment that humiliated her and from that humiliation came fury and madness! Well, in this production, we saw the pig’s blood came falling down but it barely touched Carrie; and yet, she was furious enough to lash out and kill everybody. Funny was that Carrie came in totally drenched in pig’s blood in the next scene! One can just hear a bit of a chuckle in the audience.

The performers did their best to make the story come alive. Unfortunately, faced with such a production and material, it was an uphill battle… that ended in an avalanche.

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REVIEW: The Taming of the Shrew by Shakespeare’s Globe

Academy of Performing Arts Lyric Theatre, Wednesday September 25

This “lesbian version” (as one of my friend whispered to me when I entered the theatre) of the Taming was a surprising delight.

To be perfectly honest, I actually prefer my Shakespeare in the form of opera, musical or ballet. I tend to think that the faithful plays always seem too dated; and with English as my fourth language, I always feel that I am missing something. When I learnt that it will be all-female, I was a bit disappointed as I feel that it will be less fun to see ladies in trousers than blokes in skirts. That postulation, however, quickly dissipated as I watch the performance and in fact, I find the whole new proposition quite ingenious!

I do sincerely like this performance. In fact, this has to be the best performance of a Shakespearean play I have ever seen so far! Stage activities center around a simple tent and the enthusiastic actors took up several roles with tremendous skills. It "looked" simple, yet it was most effective. The production was spiced up with musical interludes that worked really well. I have seen performances in Shakespeare’s Globe in London, but none worked as well as this in a nicely air-conditioned theatre with cushy seats.

The Taming of the Shrew By William Shakespeare

Directed by Joe Murphy
Designed by Hannah Clark
Composed by Corin Buckeridge

Remy Beasley: Tranio
Becci Gemmell: Lucentio
Kathryn Hunt: Baptista Minola/Grumio
Kate Lamb: Katherina
Olivia Morgan: Bianca/Biondello
Joy Richardson: Gremio/Vincentio/Widow
Nicola Sangster: Hortensio
Leah Whitaker: Petruchio

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