I am George Chan’s fan and I was one of the early birds to buy tickets for this musical. I figure any musicals with him in it should be good. I was not disappointed with his performance, or that of other cast members, for that matter. They all acted and sung well.
The story of young widow Meng Jiang Nu, upon finding out the news that her husband had been buried alive in the great wall of China, cried so hard that the Great Wall toppled in the process. She was arrested and made to marry First Emperor Qin Si Huang, but committed suicide after she tricked the emperor to proclaim her husband a hero. This is a famous Chinese folktale, found in Liu Xiang‘s （刘向）Biographies of Exemplary Women (烈女传) and I am most surprised my companions are not familiar with it.
George Chan plays the Emperor with gusto, with kohled eyes that are so expressive they convey fear, anger, and apprehension more eloquently than the songs. His singing is powerful except the songs are unimpressive, but more about that later.
Korean actress Na Young Jeon, whose flawless skin impresses us as much as her sweet soprano voice. Really, her complexion is the only one among the female cast which literally glowed in the stage light – which says a lot about Korean skin care. With so many sponsors for all kinds of official stuff – hotel, airlines etc, I was most disappointed to not see an official Korean cosmetic brand. She would have been the best spokesperson.
I have watched Nathan Hartono‘s other stage performance and his earnest singing did not disappoint. We just find it peculiar that even with his hair and costume dressed up, he still looks too modern and funky for the role of scholar Fan Qi Liang, Meng Jiang Nu‘s husband. One scene particularly jarring is when he is handcuffed to face the Emperor, and while he crouches there on the floor, I only notice the glaring white soles of his Keds (or Converse or similar brands). Shouldn’t prisoners be bare-footed? That’s when I started to observe the rest of the casts for their shoes – the rest were more appropriately shoe-ed.
Speaking of costumes, I am all praised for them. The most well -dressed is the Emperor whose costume and headgear look authentic for that period. Ditto for the soldiers. The females wear plain cotton smocks and long ponytails. The men, either acting as soldiers or prisoners, other than Fan Qi Liang, are also dressed in plain cotton similar to the female cast.
The stage is simple – there is the wall, the throne, and a large table which I thought is an eye-sore, especially since I am seated in the front close to the stage. Props are spare. There is one scene where Na-Young has to climb over moving logs held by the cast to symbolize crossing the flooded river. The scene feels agonizingly awkward and long to us.
I must say I am quite disappointed with the music and songs. Most are rather forgettable and do not leave any impression, which is rather unfortunate, for I feel the songs play the most important part of a musical, more so than the script. (Eg: I enjoyed the music of local musical Chang and Eng so much I bought the CD.) The lyrics are luckily simple and articulated well by the singers, as the Chinese subtitles, written poetically, were even harder to understand when I tried to read it.
This musical took six years from conception to stage. For that, we should just go and support it. Who knows, you may enjoy it.