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‘Just So’ Musical

January 23, 2010

I just caught this musical put up as one of the SMU Arts Festival 2010 items, of which I would never have known about if my friend hadn’t told me about it.

Incidentally, I think I managed to enjoy it a little tad better than him (who didn’t like the show…mainly because he found that the plot was weak) due to the fact that I didn’t have high expectations of it to start with, because:

  1. It was a school production. (I have never had high expectations of school musicals)
  2. I didn’t think it was going to be a serious musical, i.e. I thought it was a “just for fun” kind of performance.
  3. I have totally forgotten what the story was about or the origins of the musical (I only recalled it was an adaptation from a supposedly well-known musical of the same name). But after tonight, I found out that it was an award-winning musical originally produced by Cameron Mackintosh, and based on Rudyard Kipling’s stories, although I never knew the writers for the show (ok, maybe George Stiles sounded slightly familiar). Also, this particular SMU rendition was directed by Sebastian Tan, with Jimmy Ye as vocal director.
  4. I have never heard of “Just So” before, so I expected it to be “just so” (pun).

Anyway, a post-mortem of the show over gelato gave us an overview of each of our impressions of the show (btw, “discovered” that Sappore Italiano was not just a coffee place, so must eat there some day. It’s run by Italians!).

Here’s my honest opinion. I wouldn’t say it was a fantastic musical, but I wouldn’t say it’s all that bad.
First and foremost, I was actually very surprised that the cast was very good, even though they were SMU undergrads. They could sing and act quite well. So that kind of raised my opinion of the performance…by a lot.
Secondly I felt the setting interesting, which was fictional (fulfills 1 criteria), especially with all the animals. Although it felt a like a show for kids (which I think it was partly meant to be), with some educational element, but in a more adult manner. I think it related to the story of how the animals got their skins and patterns, which we might have heard before as a child. Another interesting part was it took on the style of a storytelling session even though the storyteller (the magician) also played a role throughout the story.
Thirdly, the words/lyrics were actually quite witty.
Fourthly, there were minimal props, but I liked the way they used umbrellas and ladders in different ways.

“So, what (do you think) the story was about” was a question my friend posed to me, to see if the plot was really “there”. Well, briefly, I would say it’s the story of the coming of age of the lead character through a quest that he sets out to complete, with a slight touch about friendship. I think the story was mainly focused on some moral, like how with perseverance and a fearless spirit (and innocence) will one be able to achieve one’s goal despite what other people say. Also, each of us are unique and we need to develop this characteristic through self-discovery and finding one’s place in the whole system of things.

Ok, after the post-mortem, I did give it some thought again, and I realised that besides the point that the music was kind of hazy to me, you can actually eliminate or change the scenes in between (which as my friend described as quite meaningless) as they did not serve as a catalyst or push in some way to the ending. So maybe that’s why the links within the plot were lost…i.e. no buildup, and no identification with the lead character as a result.

And this was what gatecrash wrote of the synopsis:
“Based on the immortal short stories of Rudyard Kipling, the musical Just So is set at the beginning of time when animals were first created. This fantastic journey takes audiences along the banks of Africa’s great Limpopo River, together with an amazing collection of weird, but wonderful creatures.
Resonating with themes of individuality, discontentment, and eventual self-acceptance, the musical celebrates the uniqueness of life and the power of questions as the animals find out who they really are, both inside and out. Coupled with humorous character personalities and catchy numbers, Just So is a treat for the young and the young at heart.”

And here‘s on the original production.

So that explains the ‘weak’ storyline since it’s based on short stories.

Oh, but one useful information I gleaned from the programme booklet (which curiously didn’t include any synopsis) was that there will be a re-staging of 《雨季》 (December Rain) in August, Singapore’s 1st large-scale Chinese musical (1996) co-written by Jimmy Ye and Liang Wenfu. Will be looking forward to that.

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