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Sing to the Dawn by I Theatre

March 22, 2012
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Event: “Sing to the Dawn” by I Theatre
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 5th – 19th Mar 2012
Adapted & directed by Brian Seward
Music by: Bang Wenfu

The book “Sing to the Dawn” was one of the first books that made me cry when I read it years ago. It was my brother’s literature text and I don’t know how I came to begin reading it, but it moved me back then, even though I can’t really remember the details of the story now. Maybe because I have a brother so I could relate to it. I think it might still move me today, but the animated movie which I watched a few years ago was a big disappointment. I felt it hadn’t stayed true to the essence of the book. So how did this new musical interpretation fare? I would say that the portrayal of the brother-sister relationship stayed pretty close to the book, which to me was one of the main cruxes of the book (besides the prejudices of society), and I believe that it was this aspect that moved me during the show.

I liked the interlude to the first scene, which seemed to promise something lyrical, though most of the songs seemed to differ a little from that style. In my vague recollection, I think one of the more memorable songs was the one that Grandma sang to Dawan when Dawan first told her family about her topping the exams (something about following her heart). It’s a bit difficult to do a recap as the programme didn’t include the song list or scenes.

I must give credit to Jonathan Lum (as Kwai) whom I felt had the best voice for the performance, especially catching my attention in the opening scene, although I felt he didn’t have that much of a chance to fully exploit this talent later on, except maybe nearing the end at the bridge scene. However, I had the impression that the cast seemed a bit uptight or awkward in their roles in the first act, which could be one reason why I couldn’t get fully engaged in the story early on. There was somehow a kind of disjointed vibe to me as well. I can’t place why.

But the second act got better, I think from the point when Kwai was at the bridge pondering whether to support Dawan. The ensuing scenes built on the tension and closeness of the siblings and I found myself tearing halfway through, as did some of the others in the audience from the sniffs I heard. You could tell that Isabelle Chiam (as Dawan) was really into her role by then as she was also close to tears, so it seemed. I think it brought back memories of what moved me in the book and how  Kwai’s “anger” from the initial “competition” later stemmed from the prospect of being separated from his sister. One of the most touching scenes (to me) in the book was the ending when Kwai waited at the bridge for Dawan to pass by, singing their “dawn song”. It was at this point that Dawan knew she finally had the blessing of her brother. I understand that it was difficult to portray this scene, but it was a good attempt, although the group finale seemed to dilute that a little. But I guess it’s just my personal preference.

I do agree with Jeremy that the city nightclub scene was a tad out of place in this show. As for the landlord’s role in the show, I understood that it reiterated the reason for wanting to further studies and also the fight for fairness but I guess you can’t develop everything, or it might turn the focus away from the main thrust of the storyline.

On the whole, I appreciate I Theatre‘s efforts to stay as close to the book as possible, and it’s not easy putting up a new musical with original songs. I liked their inclusion of puppetry in their shows, which brings me back to my first I Theatre show “Little Violet and the Angel” quite a few years back. I’ve not been to many shows by them in between, my last being The Elves and the Shoemaker last year, but I think it’s great that they focus on bringing theatre to children. Hope to catch more of their productions in future.

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