It was only after a raving review in the local press that I decided on a spur to watch the musical last night despite a heavy day at work.
Liao Zhai is one of the most famous Chinese classic in the league of Journey to the West and Water Margin. Based on ghosts, demons and the underworld, it was not something my friend and I would enjoy but I decided to keep an open mind. I was not disappointed.
Coincidentally or intentionally shown over the Ching Ming Festivals where many Chinese all over the world pray to their deceased ancestors, the story is set in the human/spiritual realm, where spirits await reincarnation if lucky, and animal demons roam, taking a human form in order to absorb their yang energy to be immortalized into human.
Although dressed in ancient Chinese costumes, the music is pop and modern, not the opera singing commonly associated with such plays. Choreographed by George Chan, the actors break into a mix of K-pop and modern dance. Even the king of hell, King Yama, raps.Thus was the fun in presenting an old classic in a new way hopefully to capture a young audience. Despite the energy, the scant applause betrayed the thin crowd last night.
The story tells of a handsome scholar who meets with Ying Ning, a fox demon, and they fall in love. He gets tricked into drinking a poison by San Niang, a lost spirit, so that she can take over his life and be reincarnated, with the hope of reuniting with her lover, who had reincarnated before her twenty years ago. A Tao priest, halfway though his practise to immortality, is set to rid the human world of these demons and spirits. All four land in the underworld, and miss the opportunity to be reincarnated. However, touched by their love, for the priest happens to be San Niang’s lost love who had forgotten her, a force reverses time and grants them their loves.
Sitting in the front row, we had the benefits of seeing how the actors put in their best for their role, especially Joanna Dong, who oozes foxy appeal in her role as the Fox demon.(almost a reprise of her role as a cat in the musical If There Are Seasons). I thought the lead male Inred Liang who played scholar San Xiao was a tad weak in his singing. Ethey Yap as Sang Niang has a nice soprano voice.
The stage is simple with the change quick. I like the costumes, especially how with a shake of the head, a pair of fox ears appear on the head of old father fox. The turn back of time is also well played as the men’s head of white hair is literally transformed to black right before our eyes. Another magical moment is when the blind immortal burns the scripts with just a flick of his wrist. Awesome.
Do watch this musical. Highly recommended.