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Roses & Hello


Roses & Hello
Reviewed by Ken Lyen

Music, book and lyrics by Esther Yang, Luke Kwek
Directors: Esther Yang, Luke Kwek
Producers: Evangeline Lee, Renita Sophia Crasta
Main cast: Yeo Kok Siew, Erlene Tan, Kenneth Lim, Karin Fu, Winodan Vinesh, Qiu Yingxiang
Date: 10 September 2005
Venue: University Cultural Centre
Rating: ***½ (out of five stars)

Over the years, I have watched many National University of Singapore Law IV productions, and they have always been entertaining and thought-provoking. This year is no exception. In fact, I can state that this year is one of the best Law IV productions that I've seen. Correction. It ranks as one of the best tertiary institution productions I've ever seen.

First and foremost is the brilliant coruscating script that effervesces with wit, and simultaneously educing pathos. The writers possess that rare talent of being able to express something profound and sad in such a way that makes you laugh until you cry. The story centers on Chris, a young lawyer working in his father's law-firm, who falls in love with Penny, a flower shop owner. Chris' father wants to acquire the flower shop as it occupies land between two buildings that he owns. Unfortunately Penny refuses to sell, for sentimental reasons. Add to this some office intrigue, and the stage is set for tempestuous conflict.

It is appropriate that a musical about lawyers is written by lawyers-to-be. If nothing else, the jargon sounds authentic. The best thing about the script is the outstanding humor. For example, there is clever word play. The word "discovery" is first employed in its legal sense, namely the compulsory disclosure of relevant documents to the opposing lawyers. Later it is used by the same person in its quotidian sense, that is, a finding or revelation. In this case, Chris realizes he might be falling in love.

Even the protagonist's name Penny is milked dry, like when the villain asks "A Penny for your thoughts". She says that her mother, the original flower shop owner, calls her "Frangipenny", to which Chris, her boyfriend, quips that no doubt she would call him "Chrisanthenum". There are memorable quotes like "You never really lose someone you love, they stay with you forever." When Chris is asked if he had any regrets in his life, he quickly replies that he regretted not buying a BM (BMW) when the COE (Certificate of Entitlement) was low, and this drew raucous laughter from the audience. (A Singaporean joke that baffles foreigners.)

As an aside, it is interesting to note that the bookwriters reflect the Asian's reserved behavior. Only a light peck on the girlfriend's forehead is permitted, and even this drew loud "oooohhs" from the audience.

The music is beautiful and some of the tunes are quite memorable. I particularly liked the theme song, Castles. The band was situated on stage, which gave the accompaniment tremendous verve. Indeed the presence of live musicians, with a razzle-dazzle drummer made a world of difference. The patter songs were extremely good.

The singing was of a reasonably high standard. Kudos must go to Yeo Kok Siew, who acted in the lead role, Chris. Performing opposite him was the rather spunky Erlene Tan who played the role of Penny. There was good chemistry between them and the love story worked well.

Kenneth Lim played Chris' father, Mr. Wee, with great aplomb. His fine acting persuaded me that he was indeed a 60+ year-old senior lawyer. The other outstanding actor is Winodan Vinesh who played the villainous law partner, Mr. Soo. One of the more hilarious moments happens when Mr. Soo leads the junior lawyers in a Bollywood-style song and dance. Karin Fu played the role of Stella, a workaholic executive type who chooses work in preference to love. Qiu Yingxiang plays the role of Mr Wee's long-serving loyal confidential secretary. In fact all the roles, including the ensemble, were well-acted, well-sung, and well-danced.

The set design was simple but effective, and the lighting was good. Apart from a technical glitch at the outset, the performance was near flawless.

What could be improved? I thought that the plot and character development could both be tightened more. It seemed out of character for Mr. Soo to come to Mr. Wee's aid on the rooftop. Too many of the leads have conveniently lost one or both parents. I would have preferred a slightly happier, or at least a more ambiguous ending. I felt there were not enough duets, trios, and quartets where singers weave their melodies in and out.

In the final analysis, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and laughed really loud (which is unusual for me) throughout the show. With a bit of tweaking, Roses & Hello has the potential to make it to the commercial stage.