Cast of 'National Broadway Company' Photo: Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay
Part of the Esplanade’s tenth anniversary weekend on 11 to 14 October is ‘National Broadway Company’ (NBC), a musical created and directed by critically-acclaimed director Ong Keng Sen.
We managed to catch up with the legendary thespian, who is very excited about this production.
When originally commissioned by the Esplanade as part of its anniversary, Ong’s intention was to create a musical that was different from the commercial musicals coming from Broadway and London. He wanted to explore the emotional core of Singaporean identity as a global city in a form that is typically Singaporean.
He explains that this allowed him to re-discover his roots as a director, since his first musical production in 1988 and after having directed many successful productions in Asia, Europe and Australia.
NBC is a unique concept as it blends fact with fiction. It tells the story of a new theatre company named the National Broadway Company that's searching for an artistic director. The company interviews various fictitious characters who are based on famous theatre figures of the 1980s.
The musical weaves its stage dialogues with filmed interviews of Jacintha, Dick Lee, Michael Chiang and other theatre personalities, and uses songs from the 1980s musicals penned by Lee.
The characters, impersonated by the young cast, are well-known faces from the theatre industry as well as TV personalities: Ong Keng Sen himself, Singaporean Idol judge Dick Lee, comedienne Pamela Oei, actor Robin Goh, show-biz veteran Najip Ali, just to mention a few.
The audiences will see them competing for the position, each using their skills, talents and ideas.
Ong Keng Sen, inspired by legendary 1975 Broadway hit ‘A Chorus Line’ which was about dancers auditioning for a musical, wanted to show not only what happens on stage but also what happens behind the curtains.
When asked about the message and the drive behind this idea, Ong reveals that there is a deeper meaning behind the mere competitive and fun element of the show: he wanted to reflect on what makes good theatre, what makes the best song, the best interpretation, and the best musical score. Is about talent and skills? Os it about the emotional core? Besides commercial viability, what are the main values that make a good show?
NBC is, in fact, not merely a musical but in Ong’s words is “a holistic experience, a total theatre experience where dance, acting, singing, music are all used to create something special and unforgettable” .
Indeed, from the outset, this production promises to be exceptional; also because the audience will be involved in the show itself.
Audience members will be asked to vote, ‘Singapore Idol-style’, on who is going to become the winner, by sending a text-message after each performance (voting will end by 6.30pm on 14 Oct, and the results will be announced during the 8pm performance on 14 Oct).
So besides its original concept, what else makes this show so special?
Ong points out that this show is above all about Singapore for Singapore. The audience will see familiar faces -- Chua Enlai playing Ong Keng Sen's character, John Lee as playwright Michael Chiang, Erwin Ismail Shah as actor-choreographer Najip Ali, Tabitha Nauser as Jacintha and Benjamin Kheng as Dick Lee -- and they will listen to celebrated songs from Singapore’s favourite musicals, such as ‘Beauty World’, ‘Fried Rice Paradise’, ‘Chang and Eng’, ‘Haunted’, ‘Mortal Sins’, and ‘Forbidden City’.
This is not only a look into the past but it is also a look into the future, projecting Singapore, such a vibrant, ever-changing and progressive global city into new horizons and towards new artistic achievements.
There is a sense that the Esplanadecould have not chosen a better show and a better director to mark its tenth anniversary.
Audiences, also, should be on the look-out also for all the other fringe events during the festivities.
At the Concourse and Outdoor Theatre, there will be a premier of ‘The Durian Awards’, a hilarious parody of an awards show, directed by Jeremiah Choy and featuring big stars from the music, arts and theatre scene. Hosted by Najip Ali, this seems to be quite a ‘curious’ treat. It will take place on Friday 12t October at 8.45pm and 10pm.
Another must-watch is ‘Ten Candles’ by Starlight Alchemy, which is a clever combination of art and sonic soundscapes. This runs on 11 October at 7.30pm and 8.45pmas well as 12October at7.30pm.
Kids and families can look forward to the “Dedicated to Kids’ segments with ‘The Legend of Radin Mas Ayu’ and ‘The Story of Buaya Puteh!’, all told through drama and music, on 13-14 October, 4.30pm and 5.30pm.
Writer, theatre and fiction critic, researcher and academic, Mary Mazzilli started writing plays in 2001, training first at Soho Theatre and then at the Royal Court. Her most recent play 'Magical Chairs' has been staged at the Southwark Playhouse and at People's Theatre as part of the Beijing International Fringe Festival (2011). She shares her writing career with an academic interest in literature, she holds a PhD in Chinese and Comparative Literature at SOAS, London on Gao Xingjian and Martin Crimp’s plays and has lectured in Chinese Theatre and Films at SOAS. She is currently a Research Associate at NTU as well as a contributor to The Times Literary Supplement, Theatre Voice, What's on Stage and OneStopArts.