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Hope for the Hopeless – The Musical

July 18, 2011

Event: Hope for the Hopeless – The Musical (link)
Period: 9 – 14th June 2011
Venue: NAFA Lee Foundation Theatre
Production team: Produced by Christopher Chuah; Directed by Lin Meilian & Cristina Atiga; with original music arranged by Jonathan Koh

Thanks to a friend, I managed to get complimentary tickets for the two of us to this musical produced by Oops! Asia Singapore.

Based on the true story of Angeline Yeo, it tells of a Singaporean working mother finding hope in the midst of dire circumstances. Angeline is happily married to her 2nd husband, Steven, and has 5 children, one from a previous marriage. Things were going fine and well until her husband acquired a gambling addiction. He started borrowing from loansharks and was soon in great debt. The family starts to break apart. Eventually, in a bid to clear his debts, he agrees to smuggle drugs for the loansharks, but is caught. Faced with the possible loss of a husband, a rebellious daughter who runs away, hounding by the loansharks, Angeline falls into depression and attempts suicide. Her children discovers her just in time. She seeks legal and spiritual help from a Christian counselling centre and finds hope through faith in God. Her husband finds solace in God too. Thankfully, her husband is sentenced to jail time instead of the death sentence, and she is now living a life of hope with her family, awaiting her husband’s release.

Ah, what an emotional plot this would have made for a musical. However, probably because it was a first time for Oops! Asia, the show which purported to be a musical turned out, unfortunately, to be more like a play with songs. I’ve always felt that in a musical, the songs should feature strongly and be integral to the development or character expression of the show. As the show proceeded, I had on a few occasions, forgot that I was watching a musical, until a song was brought up, like clockwork. I felt that the story was a bit “gappy”, if you know what I mean, and maybe some tightening up would have helped to weave the story together a little better. In addition, though the name of the show was “Hope for the Hopeless”, the story was told in a way that the “hope” part wasn’t emphasized as much (only the last one or two scenes began talking about hope). I’m not sure if that was the intent, but I was hoping for something more uplifting an inspiring in the 2nd act, including the songs. Maybe I had the wrong expectations. It could be they wanted to end with something like “a light at the end of the tunnel” message.

As a note, I felt there were 2 points of confusion during the show. Firstly, among ourselves and overhearing some of the audience, there was some confusion over whether Steven died or not at the end of Act I. We were shown how he was caught and brought to be hanged, but when we returned from the break, it seemed like it was just a dream that Angeline had. But then we were confused again by her husband’s dream of hell (we didn’t know it was a dream until there was a wake-up scene). So we finally came to the conclusion that he was alive. In any case, I believe the most memorable line came from here when Steven woke from his dream of hell, shouting. A police officer came in to pass him a Bible and asked him if he was afraid/worried. He tells Steven not to worry or be afraid…because it wouldn’t be of any use! It was one of the funniest moments in the play and a number of us broke out laughing. We weren’t being insensitive, but the matter-of-fact way he said it was really funny, and so contradictory to what he came to do.
Another point that wasn’t clear was identifying who the main protagonist was. We expected it to be Angeline since it’s her testimony, but the 1st act seemed to point to Steven instead. This could be due to a less than focused development of characters. I would say placing the right songs at the right places for the characters would have helped this a lot.

Despite all these, I must say they had some really good singers, especially the one who played Angeline (Cristina Atiga). One or two songs (sung by her) sounded not too bad and was quite moving (sorry, it’s been a while, so I can’t remember which ones. But if I hear them again, I would remember). And the props were done rather well too, especially the hanging platform (even though I think it was modelling after the older type). It was quite convincing with noose and all and when Steven stood there waiting to be executed, I was half-expecting the trap to open under him (which of course didn’t happen for obvious reasons). Maybe that contributed to our belief that he died!

I think with a little bit of organisation and updates, the musical could be improved to bring the message of hope out more strongly. Nonetheless, with them being new to the musical scene, I guess it was a good effort by Oops! Asia to go beyond their usual domain of just producing music.

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