Making her directorial debut in musical theatre, Pam Oei (Dim Sum Dollies) brings the famous Brothers Grimm tale to the Drama Centre Theatre on 22 November. Joining her will be some of Singapore’s most beloved actors and actresses like Dwayne Tan (Army Daze), Denise Tan (Gold 90FM), Sebastian Tan (Broadway Beng) and Vernetta Lopez (CLASS 95FM) who will be making her first foray into musical theatre – making the 9th edition of W!LD RICE’s annual Christmas pantomime one of many firsts.
Working closely with playwright Alfian Sa’at and music composer Elaine Chan, Pam feels very comfortable directing her first musical. However, this role does come with a few challenges. “What’s been difficult probably includes all the areas that I’m not familiar with as an actor,” she admits. “For example, set design really freaks me out. Even though I used to be an architect, one would think set design wouldn’t daunt me as much, but it does. Designing a real architectural space – a functional space – is very different from designing a space on stage. It’s a whole other world. People ask me questions all the time, and there are some questions that I cannot answer. That’s been very stressful for me, but also very exciting."
On top of that, having 30 young kids on set as part of W!LD RICE’s FIRST STAGE! programme is not enough to bring this bubbly director – and mother of a 19-month old boy – down. She confesses, “Inevitably, when you have 30 children in the same room, it’s going to be very, very noisy and it becomes very hard to impart instructions. But we have minors and chaperones to help out as well, and all the kids are having a good time. And that helps – when I see that they’re having a good time, I have a good time too.”
The story is set in Queenstown, before Hansel and Gretel get abandoned in the treacherous Mandai jungles where they meet The Witch – played by Sebastian Tan who is no stranger to villainous female roles having played the Queen in the 2008 Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs production. “It does get easier actually,” says Sebastian with a chuckle. “I love playing these villain roles because a lot of times these characters are not evil by nature, but rather it is their circumstances that make them evil. I think it’s a lot of fun as an actor.”
The musical all comes together in an all-so-familiar, but fantasy-like land. “It is set in Singapore, but a Singapore that’s very hyped up on sugar and high calories – a lot of fat, deep-fried and covered in icing,” says Denise Tan who plays Gretel. “It literally and figuratively has a lot of local flavour.” This is in reference to the kueh lapis house, which upon asking if it is in fact edible, Pam replies cheekily with a rhetorical “Ahhh, wouldn’t you think that the gingerbread house in the story was edible?”