881 Musical – A Review


I had enjoyed Toy Factory’s musical production of December Rain 雨季 and thought they deserve my support for bringing 881 from screen to stage. I had watched the movie. The musical version, with live re-enactment of getai 歌台, should be fun.

The fun started five minutes before the show began. Supporting cast mingled with us in the stall section. One cast member, dressed up like a gangster, went up to the couple sitting next to me and asked the man what his work was. To his credit, the man played along and replied, ‘Ah Long. (Loan Shark).’ Without betting an eyelid, the actor slapped the man on the back and said, ‘Hello Brother, where is your area?’ The man replied, much to my amusement, ‘Here, at Marina Bay.’ The actor frowned and said, ‘Cannot leh, Brother, this is my area. Go somewhere else like Geylang, ok?’

That set the theme of the musical – local, up-to-date, and lots of Hokkien vulgarities if you are fluent with the dialect. I am not, and so lost some of the jokes. Some I find rather distasteful when I am able to catch it.

The musical tells the story of a pair of girls who dream of singing in the Seventh Month Ghost Festival stage (Getai). They seek the help of an ex-getai singer, Ling Ling. They are given the stage name, Papaya (sounds like 881 in Mandarin) Sisters. When they fail to make it, they go to Ling’s sister, a getai medium for help. They are given a pair of feathers and vow to give up any thoughts of love and men. They are successful for two years until a pair of singers from Romania, The Durian Sisters, managed by Duah Gee (get the vulgar Hokkien term?) threaten to destage them. In the mean time, Big Papaya falls in love with the mute son of Ling, who in turn is in love with Small Papaya. The Papaya Sisters and Durian Sisters fight it out in a getai competition. Small Papaya collapses after as she suffers from a brain tumour.

The most fun part for me is the getai singing competition. The costumes worn by the girls are simply over the top, sometimes even hilarious. Kudos to the costume designer, Tube Gallery (Bangkok) for thinking out of the box. Fanciful head Gears, feather boas reminiscent of the Neptune Dancers are a delight to the eyes. There was some wardrobe malfunction though – a dancer dropped her skirt and bravely continued in leotards; the bra of one of the Durian Sister failed to light up during the Lady Gaga segment.

Speaking of which, the songs. There are numerous Hokkien songs, some of which were quite popular in their hay days. I was looking forward to 一人一半, which is very much utilised in many scenes. The funniest song is the remake of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face, sung by the Durian Sisters.

The stage is cleverly done. Two roll-out sets bring the audience to a HDB living room; a drop screen for a getai stage; the only extravagant prop is the ‘dragon’ – utterly wasted in this play.

The cast put up a good show with credible singing, but nothing outstanding. Although he plays a mute, Nat Ho sings out his thoughts. Much to my amusement, an uncle sitting in front of me commented loud enough in Hokkien, ‘Eh’gau (Mute) can sing?’

The audiences were on the whole supportive, some even giving the cast a standing ovation at the end. I guess it’s a good musical to share with your parents, something my friend J intends to do with her mom.

‘It’ll be her first trip to the Esplanade,’ J told me. I am sure it’s Aunty’s first trip to a musical too and I’m sure she’ll enjoy herself, because her daughters are just so thoughtful.

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About vickychong

Just an ordinary woman.
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