17 candidates. One artistic director position. One new Broadway company.
Performed in a style reminiscent of the Broadway classic A Chorus Line, the National Broadway Company (NBC) is an Esplanade-commissioned musical, created to celebrate the affectionately-known twin durians' 10th anniversary.
Like A Chorus Line, the show is based on real interviews with established names in Singapore's theatre scene like Dim Sum Dolly Pamela Ooi, Beauty World writer Michael Chiang, theatre Thespian Ivan Heng and even hairdresser-turned-opera singer Ashley Lim. Here, 18 talented performers take on these striking and incredibly challenging personalities, bringing their memories, experiences and passion to the stage.
Each of the performers also takes on one or two songs from Singapore's most celebrated musicals over the years -- from Dick Lee's compositions in Beauty World to Mark Chan's work in Chang and Eng, and Forbidden City.
What this show has that A Chorus Line didn't, though, is quality dancing aplenty. NBC's collaboration with established Asian-Contemporary choreographer Zaini Mohd Tahir has yielded a series of complex and thrilling dance routines that are at the same time not too distracting from the main act as they are a treat to watch.
One dance sequence, in particular, features moving fly bars, and the entire dance is performed on a completely backlit stage -- stripped down to silhouettes, allowing the audience to appreciate the choreography and the technique that goes into a production of this (pretty hefty) scale.
Among the most convincing portrayals of the theatre stars included radio deejay Denise Tan's showing of Pam Oei and Benjamin Kheng's commendable singing, piano-playing performance of celebrated composer Dick Lee, who himself appeared in the musical as host and Esplanade CEO Benson Puah.
Ashley Lim was played very commendably by Aw Yeong Peng Mun, who floated on-stage completely made-up in wayang regalia, complete with head-dress, and who performed an entire opera song. Most deserving of mention was also undoubtedly Gani Abdul Kalim, who commanded the entire stage playing Lulu.
Some of the other more prominent characters seemed in their own ways too strikingly unique to imitate that one could almost feel a palpable relief that the actor or actress in question failed to pull the person's character off as successfully as one might have hoped.John Lee plays established writer Michael Chiang in "NBC". (Screengrab)
But after raucous laughter at the excellent portrayals of the likes of Michael Chiang and show director Ong Keng Sen, one significantly poignant moment came at the end with Julia Abueva's tribute performance to the bright-eyed, beautiful late actress Emma Yong. Denise Tan as Pam Oei later joined her in a duet song -- there was not a dry eye in the house at that point.
A walk down memory lane for Singapore theatre enthusiasts and old faithfuls alike, NBC proves at the same time a celebration of passion, laughter and poignancy, commemorating the joys and tribulations of choosing the less-travelled road of a theatre career.
NBC runs at The Esplanade -- Theatres on the Bay from 12 to 14 October, in celebration of its 10th Anniversary. Tickets are on sale for its last performance at Sistic.