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Chestnuts 50: The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition

September 21, 2015

Chestnuts50-1(Picture from Chestnuts Facebook Page)

Event: Chestnuts 50: The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition
Venue: Drama Centre Theatre
Run: 17th – 27th Sept 2015

Salty Nuts

Before we even start on anything, it is imperative to point out that today’s Life! reports that a good 40 minutes of this edition of “Chestnuts” was cut from the script by the Media Development Authority (MDA) because of “problematic segments” in the show which could not be processed in time.

Playwright-Director Jonathan Lim and his team were told just hours before the opening show last week to remove the vital 40-minute segment inspired by Amos Yee – of which a significant portion of the show is built on – or risk having their arts entertainment licence revoked.

In fact, a lot of the pre-show publicity seems to suggest that the topic of Amos Yee would feature prominently in the show (the title itself carries his surname), and it is to the team’s credit that they have bravely trudged on in spite of such a massive bombshell being thrown at them just before opening night.

It is easily the worst nightmare of any theatre company, but then again, such occurrences aren’t exactly unfamiliar in the local theatre scene, especially when you consider the Dim Sum Dollies only received their performance licence just three days before their show was due to open in December last year, and similarly, W!ld Rice’s “Hotel” only received its license three days before the show opened at the Singapore International Festival of Arts just last month.

Therefore, one has to view this edition of “Chestnuts” in light of the considerable constraints they have had to work around.

It’s a bit like watching the New England Patriots play without Tom Brady, or the Cleveland Cavaliers play without Lebron.

Yes, the show still goes on, and it might even make for a very good game, but at the back of your mind you know that you aren’t exactly witnessing full potential, and that it could have been that much better.

The “Chestnuts” franchise has been somewhat of an institution by now, building for itself a sizeable following from its humble beginnings way back in 1996 till today.

In the past it used to be staged more frequently (usually once a year), but in the past few years it seems like the show gets staged biennially, with the last show staged in 2013, and the previous one staged in 2011.

Nonetheless, what the show lacks in frequency, it certainly makes up for in scale, with the show being staged nowadays in the Drama Centre Theatre, with larger and more elaborate sets.

The usual stalwarts Jonathan Lim, Judee Tan and Dwayne Lau are still there, while newcomers Joshua Lim and Faizal Abdullah make themselves completely at home in this 2.5 hour madcap comedy sketch show.

The main theme is, of course, SG50 and almost every skit pokes fun at all things Singapore in the irreverent, caustic and wacky way in which only “Chestnuts” can.

There is no surprise to the “Chestnuts” formula really, and it delivers all that we’ve come to expect from it – biting social commentary, copious amounts of double entendres, jabs at local newsmakers, quick takes on the past year in local theatre, spoofs of recently-staged musicals, and clever song mash-ups.

I’ve said this numerous times and I’ll say it again – there is no doubting Jonathan Lim’s ability as one of the premier lyricists in local theatre.

His ability to rewrite lyrics of well-known songs and give them whole new meanings while both making them utterly hilarious and yet still rhyme perfectly is the stuff of legends.

A particularly good example is the mash-up of the two Dick Lee NDP songs “Home” and “Our Singapore”, which poked fun at the songwriter’s writing process, and the particularly poignant a cappella rendition of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups (When I’m Gone)” toward the end of the show, in memory of our late Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The show skewered two recent major musicals – “The LKY Musical” in particular, and also “Singapura: The Musical”, which played at the Capitol Theatre a few months ago.

The “LKY Musical” spoof was particularly spot on, and the team was particularly relentless in its teasing of Sharon Au, who played Kwa Geok Choo, due to her stiff acting and limited singing ability.

Another large segment was the reimagined scene where a certain megachurch magician pastor by the surname of Khong meets and fraternises with fellow megachurch leaders Kong and his wife Ho.

While this was probably the most visually dazzling segment of the show, with snazzy effects and Jonathan Lim performing some actual sleight of hand on stage, it seemed to dwell on too long and outstay its welcome, although I thoroughly enjoyed the way the actors all mimicked the three pastors’ accents so perfectly.

Similarly, the segment which revisited this year’s “Esplanade The Studios: Fifty” season by reenacting all fifty of the various playwrights’ favourite lines from their plays one after another was truly an eye-opener, although inevitably a bit unwieldy.

I enjoyed catching a brief glimpse of each of the plays, many of which I had not seen before, but as the cast played them all straight I suspect the entire segment might have been a bit too lengthy and inaccessible for some in the audience.

Performance wise, the cast can hardly be faulted for their infectious energy and uncanny comedic timing.

Joshua Lim fits wonderfully right into the show, being both a versatile comedian and a strong singer in his own right.

Ultimately, “Chestnuts 50: The UnbelYeevable Jubilee Edition” delivers its fair share of laughs and giggles, with jokes both of the laugh-out-loud as well as the nudge-nudge-wink-wink variety which may or may not fly over the heads of some, although you can’t help but sense that there is that something missing about this particular edition.

It’s hard to put a finger on it – and it is anyone’s guess if it’s due to the Amos Yee segment being taken out – but this edition didn’t seem to hit the absolute comedic highs which other editions seemed to have done before.

The jokes, spoofs and lyric rewrites are entertaining and perfectly serviceable, and while you’d walk out of the theatre with a smile on your face, it’s hard to exactly pin down a particular moment which truly drove you over the edge.

But then again, as already mentioned right at the start of this piece, the team was playing with a short stack and was unable to roll out its trump card, and thus we are unfortunately unable to assess the show in all its originally-intended glory.

And if we were to revisit the team sports analogy, we can probably say that despite not being able to field its star player, the show still manages to eke out a win, but only just.

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