History of the Singapore Musical
Is There a Singapore Musical Theatre?
Singapore Musical Theatre
Prescription for Singapore Musicals
Content Development For Musicals
The Singapore Musical
Singapore Musical Theater
Creative Industries
Five Foot Broadway 2007
Musical Theatre Workshop
Musicals in the Raw
Why New Musicals?
Incubating Musicals
Impossible Dream
How to Write a Musical
Writing Musicals
Future of Musical Theatre
Musicals Dead?
Jukebox Musicals
The Story of Chess
Sondheim v Webber
Fred Ebb
Film Musicals List
Break a Leg
Musical Dissonance
Flop Musicals
Are Critics Necessary?
Writer's Block
Five Foot Broadway 2005
Report 5 Ft Broadway
The Next Wave
New Wave 3
Admiral's Odyssey, The
Atlas Unbound
Big Bang!
Bunga Mawar
But Now We See
Chang and Eng
Corporate Animals
Firefly in the Light
Forbidden City
Good History, A
I Have a Date with Spring
It's My Life
Kampong Amber
Kung Fu Tale, A
Lao Jiu
Lao Jiu (2012)
Lost in Transit
Magic Paintbrush
The Magic Paintbrush: the Musical
Makan Place
Making the Grade
Mortal Sins
Mr Beng
Nanyang the musical
Oi! Sleeping Beauty!
Pagoda Street
Phua Chu Kang
Roses & Hello
School House Rockz
Shanghai Blues
Sing to the Dawn
Singapura: the musical
Sleepless Town
Snow Queen, The
Snow Wolf Lake
So You Want to be a Nurse
24 Hours
Twist of Fate, A
Viva Lah! Singapura
Women on Canvas
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Lao Jiu (2012)


Based on a 1990 play by Kuo Pao Kun, this musical is a substantially revised version of the 2005 production by The Theatre Practice. Both musical versions were directed by Kuo Jian Hong, Pao Kun’s daughter.

The story revolves around Lao Jiu (Sugie), a teenager who is the ninth child and the only son. He is good in his studies and has been invited by the chief examination official, Senior Horse (Jeffrey Low), to sit for an examination that, if successful, will grant him a prestigious university scholarship. Unfortunately, Lao Jiu is more interested in following his uncle (Lim Kay Siu) to become a puppeteer, a dying art form. In the meantime Lao Jiu falls for Senior Horse’s pretty assistant, Junior Horse (Inch Chua). The entire family including the girlfriend are all against his decision to abandon the exam in order to pursue his puppeteer dream.

The performance is slick, with good singers. The ensemble scenes in the first half are humorous and carried out with impeccable timing. The overall story pacing is satisfactory, although there are moments which are a bit draggy. The choreography is probably the best thing in this performance.

The music is composed by Eric Ng, with lyrics by Xiao Han. The best song is the love ballad “Two of Us”, sung by Lao Jiu and Junior Horse. All the songs are in the tradition of Mando-pop (an offshoot of Canto-pop), where the accents of the music do not correspond to the accents of the words, which I object to. Let me explain. Take the English lyrics "Happy birthday to you", you should not emphasize the syllables "-py" or "to". Unfortunately Mando-pop does not care which words are accented, resulting in some distortion of the lyrics.

On the whole, the music arrangement by Bang Wenfu is good. In particular, the arrangement for the more humorous ensemble pieces in the first half are most effective, and this is supported by excellent choreography. Unfortunately, I feel that the second half is over-orchestrated, so that the mood becomes too sombre and uncalled for.

My main criticism of the musical is in the character development and the story. We do not know the background and motivation of the main characters. Why is Lao Jiu so obsessed in becoming a puppeteer? Why does his girlfriend object to his dreams, and what is her background? Why does Senior Horse want so much for Lao Jiu to take the scholarship exam? Why does Lao Jiu's puppeteer uncle, who apparently agrees with his father, not stop Lao Jiu becoming a puppeteer?

There is no character development, no character arc. None of the protagonists, including Lao Jiu, change their views and decisions. There is no self-doubt, no internal struggles. None of the family members seem willing to back Lao Jiu. When Lao Jiu's father shouts at him and asks him to leave, he does not seem to regret his overreaction, and there is no attempt by him to try to forgive his errant son. This failure to give the father a character arc wastes a golden opportunity.

Despite these criticisms, the production values are good, and overall, the musical is enjoyable.

Reviewed by Kenneth Lyen

28 July 2012