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Big Bang!


Big Bang!

Reviewed by Stephen Chen Shengfang

Music: Kenneth Lyen and Desmond Moey
Lyrics: Desmond Moey
Book: Stephen Yan
Director: Robert Turoff
Choreographer: Mark Knowles
Date: July 1995
Venue: Kallang Theatre, Singapore

Big Bang! is Pacific Theatricals second venture into the musical theater. If this musical was any indication of their progress, then Bugis Street, their virgin foray must have been a misguided affair.

The first thing that slams you on the bollocks is the terrible amateurish look of the production. I feel as if I am watching a glorified school production minus the enthusiasm. The set consisted of a rectangular block with steps around it and from which drop sets will land on to change locale. It made a horrendous noise like a snorting ventilation vent when rolled on and off stage. This crude set was lit with less than complimentary lighting which varied across scenes but never within scenes. The lighting just lit the stage with scant regard to providing atmospheric tone. I don't recognize the lighting designer, set designer and the sound designer. They are unknowns to me and with any luck they will remain unknowns. Sound was also terrible. Giving allowances for equipment failure and incompetence not to mention feedback, the sound was as erratic as what was going on stage (more on that later). The orchestra sounded as if they were playing in Mandai Zoo and one can actually discern the volume being adjusted.

If anyone was to look at me during the performance, they will see an impressive expressive pair of eyebrows which arch up and down in disbelief coupled with a subtle shrug of the shoulders with sometimes a suggestive upward throw of the hands and also keeping track of the shortcomings of the production using my fingers (I gave up after my tenth round). The show featured a projection of what is supposed to be the Milky Way with crude handmade globos with holes that look suspiciously ballpoint pen-induced. The result was a really ugly cluster of warts which made me physically ill just looking at it. Ending of scenes was achieved by a total blackout while they set the stage for the next scene. You will not believe the really low standards of the production until after you have tripped over it by watching it.

Big Bang! is basically a premise supposedly inspired by Stephen Hawking's life. Peter Morris, a scientist (the Stephen Hawking guy) has the degenerative muscle (motor neuron) disease and relates to the audience the theory of the Big Bang! and also his life before the onslaught of disease. He goes through some of the key events leading to the theory and relives his past. He sacrifices Anne, his love, for the pursuit for the answer and finally comes to realize that it was all a mistake.

The glaring flaw in Big Bang! is its book. It has a weird combination of great theater and B-grade material and does in two hours what could be done in half an hour using only five scenes from its libretto. It also cannot decide what it actually wants to say. Is it a love story gone wrong in the quest for knowledge? Is it a musical montage of the events leading to the Big Bang theory with a love story? Apparently, the authors couldn't make up their minds and decide to give both equal weightage for the audience to decide. This resulted in less than satisfactory sequences and an entirely unbelievable love story. It is only in the second Act where they throw away almost all attempts at the edification of the low IQ public on the Big Bang theory was the love angle more believable and touching but then the really stinko First Act had already done severe damage. Big Bang! must be the only musical I've watched so far that the Second Act is much stronger than the First Act. The first Act had scenes consistently alternating between the events and Morris' past and made me wanting to go home at the intermission. To cap it all, the flawed libretto was also badly staged and choreographed which certainly did not help it much.

An overture sounding like a John Williamish theme song of a television series opened the show. This was the beginning of an ultra-conventional musical which actually had an entr'acte for the second Act. It then opens in the present, a lecture hall where Peter Morris introduces himself in a monologue and a video clip on the four forces which scientists sought to unify. Regrettably, no one told us that the video clip was the best part of the show. Though the playwright had Tennessee Williams pretensions, the monologue for most part was easy to stomach without gagging. In fact, the best bits of the musical occur when they stop singing and some really impressive dialogue appears. I think the librettist is more of a playwright than a librettist and very often, you find scenes which should work in plays but lose their effectiveness in musical theater.

We are taken back to China 8 BC where some supposedly comic goings-on are afoot concerning the astronomers, the eclipse, the emperor and the princess. For most part, I cannot hear what they were singing and this problem will continue to plague the show due to poor sound design. This scene was a real embarrassment and it makes me cringe when I watch performers trying their darned best to be cliched and funny but failing of course. Some counterpoint near the end provided the only excitement and you'll soon realize that the composer adores counterpoint. In every scene, there is always a counterpoint with the exception of the conclusion of both Acts and very often was the only source of interest.

Back into the time where we meet Peter and Anne falling in love with two likeable duets before reverting to ancient Greece for a rap number on Aristotle. The trouble is, this has been done before in Joseph and Superstar some twenty years ago and is not the revelation it should have been. Andrew Lloyd Webber's had more glitz and razzle dazzle and had an enormous professional cast at his beck and call. The relatively small cast in togas doing pseudo-Egyptian movements are for most part laughable and the chorus were definitely the VIPs of the show. If the principals couldn't be heard, the chorus being Very Inarticulate People and Very Inaudible People were even more so. Skip a filler scene in the present where Peter Morris argues with his Teacher on the Steady State to the Vatican Court where you have this terribly dumb thing with what looked like Benedictine monks from the EMI CD persecuting Galileo. This tried to be serious and I guess dark and Brechtian but like other misguided ideas it failed to make much impression. It was at this point when I seriously thought of leaving and some less polite souls in the audience made their way out of the theater ostensibly to go to the loo but never came back.

Another filler scene in the present where Anne reveals her love for Peter with her best friend in counterpoint in another nice duet and its back to England where Newton is disrupting a dinner party with his rudeness. A very silly affair where they attempt to do what looks like court dancing while trying to be hip and it's back to the present where Peter and Anne, now married learns about the grim diagnosis. The first Act only picks up in this final scene and you get an impressive exchange between Peter and Anne where they try to guide each other into the unknown future. The touching exchange shows that the authors are capable of producing the goods and it becomes apparent they would have been able to come up with a wonderful show where the characters are given sufficient time to flesh out if they made Big Bang! a heartfelt love story sans the Big Bang events. The intermission is where I drowned my distaste in free mineral water and emptied my barf bag.

The second Act opened (as if you didn't know by now) with an entr'acte and it's off to a terribly redundant production number on the "Relativity Express". No one could make out what they were singing but the choo-choo sounds and the simulated chugging of wheels in the amateurish choreography plus the train prop were enough to tell you they were singing about trains. Unfortunately, Andrew Lloyd Webber had already done it in Starlight Express and he had rollerskates at his disposal so sorry, no dice. We are then brought to Peter, now wheelchair bound, induction into the Royal Society. Not terribly interesting but at least the show showed signs of improvement. After all the B-grade material, how much worse can it get?

The best part of the show comes in the following scene where Anne realizes that although she loves Peter, she cannot stay for him any longer as she simply doesn't care any more after spending the days alone while Peter searches for the Grand unifying theory. An extremely well-performed scene with the staging actually feeling natural and self-propelling for the first time. This heartfelt moment is followed by a similar scene where Peter in a soliloquy realizes that he needs Anne and reflects on his achievements. He then propels us back to Einstein's time where Einstein meets a priest at a railway station and in the ensuing exchange realizes that science is not everything that it cannot provide all the answers to Life.Then the stage is suddenly peopled with what looks like the remnants of the chorus of The Pajama Game singing something along the lines of building a better day before moving into a reprise of the title song where Peter Morris reveals his regrets at losing Anne and that indeed science is not everything and bids the audience farewell. Polite applause and everyone streams out to catch Bus 16 before it gets too crowded.

I have to commend the cast for doing their best in this unrewarding material. They perform it as if it was the best role they ever had but they were let down not by their talent but by a show which was wrong to begin with (although one can't be too sure). Big Bang! is an extremely uneven patchwork and the songs actually give the impression of being dug out from some old trunk and slapped onto the score. It lacks any excitement musically, plotwise, choreography, lighting, stage, you name it and it comes across as like a dead beetle squashed on the side of a kitchen sink and more than once did the performers finish the song to roars of silence and the occasional tentative, polite applause.

Pacific Theatricals has a long way to go by the looks of Big Bang! Comparing Big Bang! and Little Shop of Horrors. Shop was definitely the ticket of the month. Big Bang! served to confirm T.S. Eliot's suspicion that "This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang but with a whimper." Obviously a whimper.

Verdict : Terrible! Absolute waste of time and money.

If I write a book about lousy shows I have seen, it will be entitled "Not since Big Bang!"