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“Cinderel-Lah!” by W!ld Rice…A Modern Day Classic!

December 5, 2010

Event: “Cinderel-Lah!” by W!ld Rice
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Run: 25th Nov – 11th Dec 2010

A musical to fall in love with

If Lerner & Loewe had their “My Fair Lady”, and Kander & Ebb their “Cabaret”, and Harnick & Bock their “Fiddler on the Roof”, then it would be fair to say that W!ld Rice can boast of “Cinderel-lah!” as being one of their finest achievements in musical theatre to date.

This being the 10th anniversary of the theatre company, W!ld Rice has decided to restage this charming musical pantomime that first made its debut in 2003 at the Jubilee Hall.

The book by Selena Tan and songs by Elaine Chan are largely untouched (save for a few current-day updates), but it is apparent that this 2010 version has been tweaked (both in scale and duration) to befit the grandeur of the Esplanade Theatre.

In the many years that I’ve been following the delightful productions of W!ld Rice, I remain adamant that “Cinderel-lah!” has always been my favourite W!ld Rice production, bar none.

You would be hard-pressed to find another W!ld Rice production that boasts of as many beautiful original Elaine Chan songs as can be found in “Cinderel-lah!”, and I personally feel that this is still her best work to date.

It’s been 7 years and counting, and songs such as “What Good Is A Man?”, “When I’m Happy”, “A Waltz To Fall In Love With”, “Everybody Needs A Little Magic”, and “Around The World” still remain as fresh as ever in the memory, as if they were just only heard yesterday for the first time.

Of course, slight tweaks have been made to the songs as well, to make things more pertinent and relevant to our current context.

For example, the “Feed the luohan! Feed the luohan!” bit in the song “You’re Nothing But A Maid”, while relevant in 2003, has been given the boot as it would obviously carry little significance in today’s context.

Whereas the lead role of Cindy (played by the lovely Emma Yong) and the role of the evil stepmother (Neo Swee Lin) remain unchanged, there is a slew of cast changes to the other roles.

Prince Char Mee is now played by Sebastian Tan, and the caricature roles of the ugly stepsisters are now helmed by Darius Tan and Chua Enlai (who has sort of brought the art of playing drag to unparalleled levels of perfection).

While Sebastian Tan’s role as Prince only required him to play it straight most of time, Darius Tan and Chua Enlai were simply a riot in their over-the-top portrayal of the crass and ugly stepsisters, in which the words “tastefulness” and “decency” were far from anyone’s mind any time the both of them took to the stage.

Gurmit Singh was brilliant in his role of providing comic relief during scene changes, and easily held his own against the high standards of comedy set by Kumar in the 2003 production.

As mentioned, there were a number of current-day references thrown in for good measure, most notable of which would be the self-deprecating dig on the “Train is coming!” jingle during the MRT train scene, because obviously, both Selena Tan and Emma Yong were complicit in the whole “fiasco” involving the Dim Sum Dollies.

I thought it was a very refreshing bit of humour there.

The musical did suffer a bit from over-staging at times, and it did feel that perhaps the total playing time of 2 hours 45 minutes (including intermission) was somewhat unwarranted.

Perhaps it was a conscious effort by director Ivan Heng to give the audience a certain sense of its money’s worth, I dunno.

For example, I felt the whole “Sri Lankan crabs” scene was perhaps unnecessary, as it hardly added to the movement of the plot, and did give the slight impression that it was merely an opportunity to let all the cute little children in the cast perform a song & dance item in their impressive-looking crab costumes (which must have cost quite a fortune to create, just for that one scene).

Apart from that, I have no other major issues with the musical and I do believe that it is as good a wholly-made-in-Singapore musical theatre experience as you can find anywhere.

As long as you go with the intention of being entertained, rather than witnessing lyric or book-writing of the standard of Broadway…then you’ll be fine.

For what “Cinderel-lah!” may lack in sophistication in terms of lyrics and book, it more than makes up for in terms of entertainment value and feel-goodness.

If you have children, I strongly recommend you bring them to go catch “Cinderel-lah!” as it promises hours of spectacular entertainment that somehow cleverly manages to give both the children as well as the adults something to laugh, marvel and be enthralled at.

This may have been one of W!ld Rice’s earliest attempts at a full-length musical, but it still remains one of their very best.

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