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“The Little Mermaid” – An SMU Law Musical

September 22, 2010
by

Event: “The Little Mermaid” by SMU School of Law
Venue: Faith Centre for Performing Arts (ACJC)
Run: 17th & 18th Sept 2010

I once mentioned that it is always a significant challenge to write a musical based on the well-known tale of a) “Aladdin”, b) “Beauty and the Beast”, or c) “The Little Mermaid”, simply because the Disney gold standard just seems to tower over all other valiant efforts at retelling the tale.

Especially so for “Beauty and the Beast” and “The Little Mermaid”, in my opinion.

For those of us who were weaned on these Disney classics, it would be near impossible to shake off the enchanting imagery of Belle and Gaston and Ariel and Sebastian, not to mention the magical tunes of Alan Menken which have almost become synonymous with the tales itself.

Hence, a new take on “The Little Mermaid” with a lead known as “Marina” takes a bit of getting used to.

But this is by no means the fault of SMU Law School’s, and to their credit they’ve managed to put together a full-length musical based on this very tale, with original songs to boot.

Y’know, I will always make it a point to go catch brand new original musicals created locally, whatever the scale or subject matter, and this one was no exception.

Anyone who’s ever tried their hand at putting together original musicals (I haven’t) would know that it is no mean feat, and it was with great anticipation that I paid my first visit to the CPA at ACJC to witness this brand new creation.

Tickets to this musical were going real fast, and I only managed to get a $20 balcony seat even though I had enquired about tickets a few weeks prior.

Based on my observations that night, I gathered that almost 95% of the crowd was indigenous to SMU.

School Musicals

Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me like a tradition, especially in law schools in Singapore, to put up faculty theatrical productions on an annual basis.

I think this is a fantastic practice, and a wonderful experience for all who choose to be involved in such a production, because there is no better place to gain exposure than in a school environment, where mistakes are much more likely to be tolerated.

Anyhow, if there is a faculty that is able to put up musicals, it would be the linguistically-gifted people at law.

There always seems to be a strong link between members of the law fraternity and the theatre fraternity.

Disclaimer: Before going on further, I must declare that I only took in the first act of the musical as it was a Saturday evening and I had somewhere else to go after the first act. So everything that I’m writing about is based solely on the first act.

CPA

Sorry ACJC friends (of whom I have quite a few), but I just wasn’t too thrilled at my first visit to the CPA.

Perhaps it’s because I was comparing it with other more “public” performance arts venues in Singapore.

Or perhaps it’s because I was made to sit at the top floor balcony, which felt so high up from the stage that it might have made vertigo sufferers squirm in their seats.

But let’s just say that the hairline-view of the performers isn’t necessarily the best angle when watching a show.

Lastly, I’m not sure if I’m right, but the lighting facility at the CPA didn’t seem very sophisticated either.

Perhaps it could be due to the fact that the CPA was not specifically made for theatrical purposes, I dunno.

Ok, enough griping.

On to brighter stuff.

The Musical

Things I liked about the musical:

1) Publicity

I liked the fact that they had a dedicated Facebook page set up just for this musical, complete with vital information, posters, publicity shots, teasers and stuff.

Great marketing campaign that other future productions would do well to learn from.

2) Programme Booklets + Full Lyrics

I am a stickler for programme booklets, and the quality of information provided on a programme booklet would always indicate to me how much a team cares for the production it is putting up.

What impressed me most was the useful accompanying booklet containing the full lyrics (by Samuel Ng) to every song that was performed in the musical.

I thought this was a masterstroke, and this is something you don’t see very often at any musical.

Most musicals wouldn’t bother to do it.

Kudos to the SMU law school production team for having thought of that!

(At least the lyric booklet allowed me to pore over all the rhymes to check if they were perfect rhymes, as is my favourite activity at musicals, ha! But I jest…)

3) Performers

Well, most of the time I usually only like to dwell on the good stuff, so I would have to single out the female lead Zara Fung, who played the little mermaid “Marina”, as being far and away the best performer of the evening.

I thought her singing voice was remarkable, and her acting was great too.

I couldn’t see much from where I was sitting, but I really liked what I heard.

(Yes, I just had to rub it in one more time.)

4) Story

The story was largely true to the original tale, though the bookwriters cleverly peppered the book with the occasional jibe at current affairs in Singapore, some more political than others.

The first act ended at around 940pm, which indicated to me that this was going to be a full-length musical.

And while I applaud the production team for going the distance, I felt that a number of parts in the musical could have been trimmed, as it did seem a little bit superfluous at times and could have benefitted from strategic reduction both in book and music.

I definitely felt that the first half could have been wrapped up conclusively in less than 70 mins.

Truth be told, there were a number of areas in the musical that I felt could have been improved on.

First things first, the musical started at least 20 mins late, and while tardiness seems to be a way of life in varsity culture, I don’t think a production of such a nature should ever start later than 5 or 10 mins past the stipulated start time.

Secondly, a great number of lines and action sequences in the musical just seemed rather childish, and taking into account the fact that the audience was mainly law students and young adults, I didn’t think the childish humour went down well at all.

To be honest I couldn’t help but cringe at certain moments in the musical (and I suspect I wasn’t the only one), though there were definitely some shining moments.

I thought the song “Someone Out There” was easily the strongest song of the first act.

A beautifully-written song.

I can still remember much of the song as I’m writing this, and this is a testament to the quality of the song.

(These days, I struggle to remember even a single song to most of the new musicals I catch.)

Lastly, the poor lighting facilities gave the whole production a very amateurish feel, as if one were watching an elementary school play in a typical school hall.

It just didn’t do justice to the otherwise passable props and costumes.

Nonetheless, SMU School of Law deserves a huge pat on the back for what they’ve achieved, and I was glad to be a witness to it, if only for just the first act.

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