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Fried Rice Paradise

August 26, 2010
by

Event: Fried Rice Paradise
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Run: 20th Aug – 12th Sept 2010

I was very much looking forward to this one, as this is a brand new Dick Lee musical after all.

(The name “Fried Rice Paradise” may be old, but story and songs are brand new.)

I had suspected that it would have been backed with a huge budget from the People’s Association.

And this was apparently the case, judging by the way the musical was staged.

The opening scenes alone had provided me with ample evidence that “Fried Rice Paradise” was sufficiently funded, as could be seen from the impressive sets to the wonderful costumes and lighting.

The creative team is certainly an impressive one, with Dick Lee writing all songs and book, the great Iskandar Ismail as musical director, and Steven Dexter as director.

You can expect great things from a creative core such as this.

Credit must go to the choreographer Jeffrey Tan for coming up with such delightful dance moves, though the great moves seemed to be more concentrated in the first act rather than the second.

Cast-wise, I have to applaud Darius Tan (playing the villain Rickson Goh) for putting in such an enjoyable performance, although the script seemed to give him no room for further depth apart from being a one-dimensional comic villain.

Denise Tan was brilliant as always.

Truly one of the great musical theatre performers we have locally.

Both a great singer and actress.

Wonderful stuff.

Just as an aside, there were moments in the first act when I thought I saw traces of Tracy Turnblad (from “Hairspray”) in Denise Tan.

Somehow both the roles seemed almost similar for some strange reason.

Sebastian Tan was, as usual, in his element as the beng-ish son of Rickson Goh.

It’s a slight pity his excellent voice was not put to greater use apart from the one love ballad at the end called “Treasure Inside”, if I’m not mistaken.

Rahimah Rahim was extremely engaging as Siti, and it’s a shame she didn’t get to play a larger role because she just seemed like such a natural on stage.

Issues

Now on to the not-so-good stuff.

Life! reviewer Boon Chan gave this musical a rather unfavourable review yesterday, and I can see why.

Truth be told, I did not enjoy this musical that much.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been reading too many books on dramatic writing lately, and hence I was being too analytical about things.

I felt the plot for “Fried Rice Paradise” was weak, and thus, it failed to get me involved in the story.

As it is, it took more than half and hour (I counted) to get to the point of the story, i.e. the “quest”.

It took that long for the musical to really establish itself and tell us that Bee Lean was out to save her father’s shop from being bought over.

Moreover, was the particular quest that important in the story?

I felt that the musical did not establish firmly enough why it was so important to save the shop instead of just accepting the large payout to pack up and leave.

There were a few other issues I had with the plot:

At which point did Taufik start falling in love with Denise Tan? How did it suddenly become a love triangle?

I felt this was not explored well enough.

Lastly, the ending seemed like a whirlwind of whimsical twist and turns.

And to be honest, I know this is a light-hearted musical, but it seemed rather unrealistic and I couldn’t help but think of the words “Phua Chu Kang” whilst watching the final scenes unfold.

Songs and Other Stuff

Part of me believes that because this musical was commissioned by the People’s Association, Dick Lee felt obliged to pander to the expectations of the PA.

I thought the musical did well to depict the picture of racial harmony.

However, I felt that many of the lines in the book were rather weak.

It felt like there were many lines which were out to milk for cheap laughs.

You can just tell when a line is trying too hard.

And it happened many times in “Fried Rice Paradise”…lines which you knew were designed for laughs but just did not manage to evoke even the merest of chuckles.

Most of the laughs were of the slapstick variety, what with heavy play on Singlish and colloquialism.

It speaks volumes when the biggest laugh of the night went to something like this:

Denise Tan: You’re a short fat cow! (or something to that effect)

Health Inspector: You called me a cow? I’ll make you cow peh cow bu!

As for the songs, I didn’t hear many songs which I thought were really strong, except for the wonderful rendition of “Rasa Sayang” which brought back many fond memories for me.

It is in the lyrics that I had particular issue with.

I feel that songs in musicals of such a stature should have lyrics that rhyme strictly, as with all Broadway and West End productions.

We know that rhymes in pop songs are allowed to be lax, but not in musicals.

Musicals tend to be extremely strict when it comes to rhyming.

For example, one glaring false rhyme that I took notice of was the way Dick Lee consistently rhymed “girl” with “world” in the song “That Girl”, which most Broadway lyricists would tell you is a cardinal sin.

Concluding Thoughts

In conclusion, I am aware that through the PA, “Fried Rice Paradise” has managed to bring many Singaporeans to the theatre whereas they would otherwise not have done so if not for the musical.

As such, I have no doubt that the casual or first-time theatre-goer would find “Fried Rice Paradise” a worthwhile experience, and that they would probably have enjoyed the visual and aural spectacle served up to them.

However, experienced theatre-goers with high expectations should not watch “Fried Rice Paradise” expecting to see writing of the caliber of Broadway or West End.

The sets and production values may be impressive, but the writing doesn’t quite live up to the mark.

It’s good ol’ fashioned, hearty, down-to-earth local fare that tickles the senses, even if it doesn’t quite warm the heart nor touch the soul.

Something like a good plate of fried rice I guess.

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