Life! - Life People
Smart, with plenty of heart
1 December 2008
(c) 2008 Singapore Press Holdings Limited
SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVEN DWARFS
Wild Rice Drama Centre, Last Saturday
You know it is Christmas all right, when Wild Rice rolls out its annual pantomime. Turning the Snow White fairy tale on its head is playwright Alfian Sa'at, known for his R-18 plays, in his virgin foray into musical-theatre.
His script is smart, sassy and satirical, but comes with enough good, clean fun for the whole family. The result is an enjoyable show with plenty of heart and some inspired musical touches.
The play is set in the Eternal Kingdom, a squeaky-clean country covered with a dome and pumped with air-conditioning. It is ruled by a control- freak Queen who wins the beauty pageant every year despite grumblings from the ground.
Sounds familiar? The parallels between this fairy-tale land and Singapore are obvious and the panto piles it on thick. The adults, clearly, are the ones picking up on the jibes and there are some funny lines. Cinderella packs a picnic to feed wild animals and where has she chosen? 'The most secluded area in the kingdom' - The Speaker's Corner.
In a way, this is a watered-down version of Alfian's political plays, with enough political edge for the grown- ups to feel naughty, but not enough to cause discomfort.
But Alfian also has his eye on the children. In terms of sexual innuendo, it is very kid-friendly. Other than a terrible pun on the word 'petting' and a transsexual dwarf called Jesse/Jessie, the play is surprisingly chaste.
But what I liked about the play was its surprising heart beyond the swipes and how it probes the fatal obsession with beauty and perfection.
In the Eternal Kingdom, all citizens have to undergo an operation called Enhancement to get rid of flaws and Snow White opts out of it. Later in the Outer Limits, where she finds a Barbie Doll, she holds it and says, 'You stop playing with dolls, but they don't stop playing with you'.
Sebastian Tan stole the show in drag as the wicked witch, whose crisp English and penchant for elaborate headpieces brought the house down.
His cool autocratic air and manic cackle was classic pantomime villain material, but his performance allowed for nuance and even a sense of tragedy, especially in the Queen's apparent disregard for love and affection.
The statuesque Tan worked in fine contrast to the petite Snow White, played by a bright-eyed, clear-voiced Elena Wong, who was a likeable and spunky heroine.
The musical component, composed by Elaine Chan, was a mixed affair, ranging from forgettable pop songs and power ballads to rap songs and flamenco-inspired tunes.
In general, the Queen had the best songs, such as the power-ballad Queen Of Diamonds, where Tan sings: 'I don't need your garlands, or crowns when I depart/I'd rather be the queen of diamonds, than the queen of people's hearts.'
Other tunes, such as the Magic Mirror's I Cannot Tell A Lie, could have been cut to shorten the pantomime's running time of 2 1/2 hours.
But director Hossan Leong keeps things moving by steering the panto through its comedic and tender moments, so that the production's rhythm never sags for a long time. Just take the whole family.
Hi-ho, not ho-hum
2 December 2008
(c) 2008. MediaCorp Press Ltd.
WITH a wave of his wand (his pen), playwright Alfian Sa’at has successfully transformed a harmless fairy tale into a tongue-in-cheek modern day Singaporean allegory — while giving adults the perfect excuse to wave hand clappers and toot horns along with the children in the audience.
W!ld Rice’s year-end musical pantomime was a hoot. Helmed by director Hossan Leong, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs proved to be engrossing enough for kids even as it dished out naughty allusions on the country’s political climate left and right.
In this version, the clean, orderly kingdom is ruled by a evil queen with an obsession for cosmetic surgery. Instead of a wicked witch, an old karung guni woman bears the poisoned apple.
As for the seven dwarfs, they aren’t exactly your cuddly Disney types but citizens who’ve been exiled to the kingdom’s outskirts, which turns out to be a landfill instead of a forest.
Backed by an able supporting cast, the main actors out delivered fine acting and vocal performances.
Dwayne Tan was more loveable geek-dressed-as-a-hobbit than your run of the mill Prince Charming, and the lovely Elena Wang — with her stunning voice and a surprising aptitude for comic timing as Snow White — is proving to be local theatre’s best new discovery for 2008.
But our hats go off to Broadway Beng Sebastian Tan, whose cross-dressing portrayal of the Queen proved that yes, evil can be glamorous, snazzy and sassy.
And that was more than enough to make us hum “Hi-ho, hi-ho ... ”
1) This pantomime had to be one of the most painful things I'd ever written. I know people are tired of hearing it already, but I had sleepless nights trying to write song lyrics. I would camp overnight in the W!ld Rice office, (my productivity severely compromised by endless hours reading The New Yorker online and Salon.com), and in the morning I would scare the first person to come into the office.
2) Another problem I had to deal with was form. The pantomime requires an audience-conscious presentational style, but NOT something Brechtian. It was difficult for me, because I had to try to break the fourth wall, without somehow being arch and meta and putting the whole play in quotation marks. I didn't want, for example, to do a Shrek-style iconoclastic take on the very premise of fairy tales. I still wanted pretty dresses, magic to be accompanied by chimes, True Love and Happily Ever After (with no question mark). I wanted innocence. The illusion of the universe created on stage had to be maintained, even if the actors occasionally popped their heads through this tissue of fantasy.
3) Elaine Chan, the music composer, is such a wonder to work with. Only she could have smiled tolerantly when I gave her rhymes like 'nutritiously' and 'judiciously' and 'exaggerate' and 'carbohydrate' and smoothened them out with music. I think lesser composers would have thrown said verses back at me and yelled 'this is a song you CB so many syllables for what?'
4) The reviews don't mention it, but I thought I'd put it on record that Hossan was instrumental in parsing down the musical to its current length. It was about hitting plot points, ushering the action along, and he did an amazing job of underscoring key moments with music. For once I didn't feel as if removing lines had diminished the play.
5) The kinds of ad-libbing liberties the actors have taken with the play are so gratifying. And the children in the audience throw up all kinds of new things each night. I do think they're the unacknowledged stars of the show. Or I'm probably just saying this because I made a few of them cry ('No! Snow White, don't go!'...'Don't eat the apple!' etc) and I feel quite bad.
6) I can't peel my eyes away when: the littlest bunny dances; when the Prince does his solo; when the Queen does her Shirley Bassey number in those magma-red gloves.
7) There is a wishing tree in the lobby. People are invited to 'send their wishes to Snow White'. Some write 'Happy Marriage Snow White!'. I've seen one that said 'I love Santa'. But there's one particular which read 'Please ask God to heal Sarah completely this Thursday.' I don't know if there's going to be a major operation on that day. I would like to believe that Sarah is down with cold and that her family wants her to recover in time to catch the play on Thursday. I don't know Sarah. But please get well soon. You need to find your Prince Charming and have your happily ever after. It is the very least that you deserve.
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