By the time I read the review in the Straits’ Times on Monday, most of the tickets on the two weekends were sold out. Although I had intended to bring Aaron along, the weekdays were impossible for his schedule. Who then could accompany me? I decided to ask my old buddy and hope she would be available on Tuesday, her birthday. She immediately whatsapp-ed a ‘Yes’.
Yesterday was a hectic day and my afternoon nap was interrupted by a phone call. A friend had called, exasperated by her son’s attitude towards school. ‘But what to do, as Singapore’s education is so exam focussed?’
That is the theme of Lao Jiu, the musical. Set in the early 1980s, Zhuang You Wei is the ninth and youngest child of a ex-gangster, hence Lao Jiu- number nine. Coming after eight girls, he brought hope to the family with his intelligence and good school results. He was thus offered a chance for a scholarship by the Race Horse Foundation. Out of thousands of students worldwide, he was one of the 35 selected to sit for an examination for the scholarship. His family, including five brothers-in-law and three prospective brothers-in-law were at hand to ensure that he is well prepared, by providing nourishing food, room renovation (sound proof and airconed), taxi service etc. But Lao Jiu really wanted was to learn the dying art of finger puppetry from his Shi Fu (teacher), not to go to university. He missed the exams and when given a second chance for it, decided not to go, sending the whole family into an upheaval.
Based on the theme, most songs were slow ballads and while easy listening, may not be a hit outside the musical. (A pity.) The cast were strong and enthusiastic, with the younger actors/actresses taking on multiple roles. Marcus Chin (陈建彬) was his comfortable self on stage playing the father, and he was supported by an amazing Lim Kay Siu as Shifu, the first time I heard him speak and sing in Chinese.
I had no problem with the pace, which was just right for a melodrama. The stage was simple with few scene changes which did not distract the story. The clever use of hair pieces and wigs set the sisters apart from each other and from the multiple roles they played. George Chan was the choreographer but there was minimum dancing. (I miss seeing and hearing him on stage.)
My friend, a mother of three, was disappointed with the story line though. ‘You mean he couldn’t have taken the exams first and then decide? Must he give up the opportunity?’ She obviously felt sorry for the parents, although she had looked surprised when I asked if she empathized with Lao Jiu or the parents.
The musical hit a raw nerve with this mother as well. What would I do if my son rejects a bright opportunity and decides to pursue his interest that has a dim future?
My aunt recently called, dismayed that her son wants to pursue sports instead of business in the University. I counselled her to respect her son’s choice. Andreas had wanted to pursue music and I had told him, he can choose to do whatever he wants, just so long that he is able to support himself and his family in future and not depend on his parents. Luckily, he is also unsure of the music career and is now set to do Engineering.
After the show, my friend shared that she already knew of two students who had quit school. One fourteen-year-old girl took a hiatus because of stress but still would not attend school even after one year. Another was due to complete his IP next year in a top school when he decided to stop school to pursue ‘other interests.’
In the show, there was no counsellors to guide Lao Jiu, unlike now in the real life. While the mother was understanding and supportive to Lao Jiu’s decision (‘You have always spoiled him’, said the father to the mother), the father’s anger was reflected with scolding and beating, typical of Chinese patriarch. Still, the son stubbornly refused to barge, perhaps showing us parents that there is no success without the right motivation.
Parents who watched this musical with their children should take the learning opportunity to discuss the topics brought up – the conflict between obligations, responsibility, freedom, choices, and interest.
While we enjoyed the show, it was with heavy hearts when my friend and I departed Drama Centre.