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Jack & the Bean-Sprout!

November 25, 2013
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JackAndTheBeanSprout3(picture courtesy of W!ld Rice)

Event: “Jack & the Bean-Sprout!” by W!ld Rice
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 21st Nov – 14th Dec 2013

Stairway to Heaven

W!ld Rice heralds the arrival of the year-end yuletide season once again with this year’s Christmas pantomime “Jack & the Bean-Sprout!”, an almost annual tradition which stretches back to when they staged their first panto “Cinderel-Lah!” in 2003.

Along with “Cinderel-Lah!”, staged in both 2003 and 2010, “Jack & the Bean-Sprout!” shares the honour of being just the second W!ld Rice panto to be restaged, although this show features a new script by young playwright Joel Tan (who writes based on the original concept and characters by the original playwright Desmond Sim and director Jonathan Lim), and a whole new set of original songs by Joel (lyrics) and maestro Elaine Chan (music).

Caleb Goh stars as the protagonist Jack this time round and ably holds his own as compared to the original role played by Sebastian Tan in 2006, channeling a more straight-laced and charming vibe in contrast to Sebastian’s more cutesy and naive portrayal.

The opening scene establishes the play’s setting to be in the Hougang heartland (the opening number itself is entitled “Hougang”), and we are immediately reminded of the fact that we are watching a uniquely W!ld Rice pantomime.

All the familiar hallmarks are there – the unabashed localisation, the sustained emphasis on audience participation, the wonderful First Stage! Kids, the not-so-subtle political jibes (“lightning” and “hammer”), and the familiar strains of Elaine’s music.

In fact, this is vintage W!ld Rice panto theatre.

It’s as W!ld Rice as it gets, really.

After 10 panto stagings, you’d expect that they’ve more or less got their formula down pat…and they most certainly have.

Joel Tan, being handed the task of writing this year’s libretto and lyrics, produces a fairly serviceable script although, to be fair, one must suspect that he – together with all other librettists for past pantos – must certainly have had their hands loosely tied in order to conform to the panto style and the (in Joel’s own words) “kok” quality of humour that is so inherent in most of W!ld Rice’s pantos.

And as with all their pantos, there are two levels to the humour – one which is aimed directly at the kids, and another (the “wink wink” kind) which just flies above their grasp but is easily understood by the adults, and Joel demonstrates a fine ability in crafting these multi-layered jokes.

There were many elements embedded in the storyline which alluded to local issues, and although some were pertinent, such as the inevitable poke at gambling at MBS and the condo craze, there were others which merely brushed at the surface, e.g. xenophobia, giving to religious causes, and there were yet others which seemed to be rather outdated, e.g. lift upgrading, opposition MP’s lack of office.

In the lyrics department, Joel demonstrates great skill especially in the song “What is This Feeling?” (no, not the song from “Wicked”), with excellent use of wordplay and double entendre.

There was also the delightful little homage to Dick Lee in the song “Casino Rhapsody”, where the songwriters embed the musical lines (“Throw Dice Paradise, gambling is very nice, here you can find bankruptcy in ninety-nine varieties…”).

I thought it was a nice touch.

In the music department, the score to “Jack & the Bean-Sprout!” is vintage Elaine Chan, but that also means that the tunes, while pleasant, sounded a little too much like many of the songs from her past pantos.

The one standout song for me – and there usually is at least one in every Elaine Chan score – was definitely “Blue”, the reflective song sung by Xeno towards the end of the show, which carried both a highly lyrical quality to it, as well as a sense of inventiveness.

The pantomime features wildly likeable actresses Karen Tan and Siti Khalijah Zainal in the comedic roles of the Golden Hits Harp and the Goose Mangat respectively, and the ladies bring their A game to the stage once again – Karen in her deadpan comic delivery in contrast to Siti’s earnest, adorable humour.

Kudos also to Darius Tan who plays the dramatic Widow Neo in a type of role which he seems to excel at, and also to Ethel Yap, who carries herself with great poise and with a fine singing voice to boot.

“Jack & the Bean-Sprout!” is all that you’d expect from a W!ld Rice pantomime and more.

It is apparent that hardly any expense was spared in the staging of this panto – what with glitzy sets and costumes – and as Artistic Director Ivan Heng himself explained, even though some might view this as merely a “kids’ show”, it nonetheless means a great deal especially to the many First Stage! Kids who may be participating in a theatre production for the first time, and thus, it is important that the show be done beautifully and done well.

Hats off to W!ld Rice for persevering with their brand of Christmas pantomime all these years, and the fact that we’ve come to the 10th edition is a testament to the company’s vision, talent, and fortitude.

There have been many exhilarating panto journeys over the years, and there is no doubt that this year’s “Jack & the Bean-Sprout!” fully deserves its place in the annals of wonderful W!ld Rice pantos.

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