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December Rains 《雨季》

September 8, 2015

DecemberRains1(Picture courtesy of Toy Factory Productions)

Event: “December Rains” 《雨季》 by Toy Factory Productions
Venue: Esplanade Theatre
Run: 28th Aug – 6th Sept ’15

Nothing Lasts Forever, Even Cold December Rain

It is Toy Factory’s 25th anniversary, and what better way to commemorate this momentous occasion than to restage the ever-popular Mandarin musical “December Rains”.

“December Rains”, Singapore’s first original Mandarin book musical, was written in 1996 by esteemed songwriters Liang Wern Fook and Jimmy Ye, with theatre director Alec Tok and producer James Toh playing a part in its creation as well.

It is quite easily the crown jewel in the Toy Factory oeuvre, and might be considered one of the most significant works in local Mandarin musical theatre.

The 2010 revival was particularly notable as it starred superstar Kit Chan in the leading role along with George Chan and Jeffrey Low, which in some ways serves as baggage for this year’s production as it valiantly attempts to fend off the inevitable comparisons with that particularly stellar cast.

It’s a bit like having to live up to the lofty standards set by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth as original Broadway cast members of the musical “Wicked”, and thus great expectations have been placed on the shoulders of Chriz Tong (Li Qing), Andie Chen (Ying Xiong) and Sugie Phua (Ming Li) to carry the show.

The plot of “December Rains” is as predictable and melodramatic as it gets, which somehow works perfectly well for a Mandarin musical of such an epic scale.

There is the tale of star-crossed lovers (Ying Xiong and Li Qing) who are estranged for decades due to a misunderstanding orchestrated by a common friend (Ming Li), who happens to carry a torch for Li Qing all his life.

To make things worse, Li Qing gets pregnant with Ying Xiong’s baby at the same time Ying Xiong leaves her to go back to China, and Ying Xiong is never aware of that fact because Ming Li conceals the letter which he was supposed to pass to Ying Xiong, which would have given him the full picture and prevented him from leaving for China.

Ming Li keeps this extremely burdensome secret for years, and it is only decades later when Ying Xiong returns to Singapore and serendipitously bumps into Li Qing again that he finally realises the precious years they both had lost out on.

It is Sugie Phua who stands out for me, portraying the heartbroken Li Qing who is content to stand on the sidelines all his life watching Li Qing get over the one true love of her life, and selflessly being a surrogate father to her daughter Meng Yu in the absence of the biological father Ying Xiong.

Sugie has always been a strong singer with great vocal range, and this performance was no exception.

His sensitive portrayal of the tormented Li Qing was the emotional glue which held the entire show together.

While Chriz Tong sings her songs competently, she lacked the requisite charm and allure especially in the first act as a sweet, innocent schoolgirl who falls in love with the dashing Ying Xiong, while Andie Chen did pretty well in the first act but seemed to lose some considerable sense of charisma in the second.

And as such, the couple’s onstage chemistry could be deemed as passable at best, whereas one would have hoped for more sizzle.

Timothy Wan, who plays Meng Yu’s love interest Yang Guang, was another notable performer with his easy-going charm and pleasant singing voice.

It is in the musical’s magnificent score where “December Rains” truly stamps its class as one of the great musical scores of Singapore theatre.

The delicate, effortless melodies of Liang Wern Fook just always seem to flow like water – which incidentally is the predominant metaphor for the show, from the ambient sounds to the pastel watercolour imprints on the cast’s clothes – while his lyrics always have a way of saying so much with so little, and often inducing a tear or two from your eyes at the same time.

It’s hard to sit through the entire musical and not be somewhat moved by the subtle beauty in the maestro’s sublime lyrics.

There is no denying the cultural and artistic significance of “December Rains”, which continues to enthrall fans of Mandarin theatre with each new staging.

It’s right up there with “Beauty World” in terms of theatrical importance, and promises to take you on an epic journey like few other musicals can.

Something tells me this won’t be the last time Toy Factory stages “December Rains”.

We shall see.

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