Saturday, June 17, 2006

Rock Opera The Musical, Esplanade Theatre, Singapore

Rating: 11100

A preachy, cheesy, roll-your-eyes, oh-my-gosh give-me-a-break script waters down the rock from the fun music and rocking orchestra of this show.
Last night, i caught the last performance of IMG Promotions' Rock Opera the Musical - A Rock Anthology which played to a house that was at best just a quarter full.

At first I was surprised at the sparse audience-- hey, the whimsical Vegetable Orchestra was sold out so why not this one? It was pretty unforunate since the Esplanade theatre is definitely world class! After the first few lines of dialogue were spoken, it finally dawned on me-- this words and all the songs were not in English but in Melayu!

It's a good thing that they provided subtitles using the large LED signboards on either side of the stage or else my $50 would have gone to waste. It's no wonder they couldn't pack a crowd as this was definitely a niche market-- how many theatre goers are there in Singapore? Of those theatre goers, how many appreciate rock music? And finally, how many of them can speak Malay? Uhhh... apparently not a lot. The plus side is that they bumped all of us nosebleed seats to the $80 section so I had an excellent view. That was a class act from the Esplanade staff!

The plot (what plot?)

The story is pretty bizarre (spoiler alert!)-- it's basically a flashback about Romli (Sulaiman Ekbah) who was a struggling rocker who had a homegrown Malay band* called RIM . They finally made it big by sticking to his roots and not selling out. Then the love of his life (played by Azyza) dies in a fire that starts in a kitchen because the dish she was cooking for Romli was left unattended. (I didn't see that one coming. Delicious irony.)

(**on a side note, I emphasize "Malay band" because one of the themes was that Malay music wasn't making any headway in the club scene because most preferred Filipino bands. They repeated this a couple of times and it made me proud that Pinoys were recognized as good musicians!)

Written for kids?
The characters are poorly developed and the story just felt too goody-goody for my tastes. It lacked the cheekiness, the bite, the "raw-ness" of rock. Mini lessons were incorporated such as "don't steal", "don't smoke marijuana", "don't get pregnant" that did nothing to their main 'be true to your roots' theme. The dialogue read like a never ending litany of cliches with such gems as: "I am a sparrow with small wings-- how can I fly with the falcons?" Ugh. It was too in-your-face and lacked the subtlety that would just let the audience read between the lines. Or then again maybe the meaning was simply lost in translation!

The real stars of this musical
It was apparent even from the moment the lights went out that the star and showpiece of this play would definitely be the music. All throughout the show and without fail, the orchestra flexed their musical muscles masterfully-- combining a solid catchy beat, electric guitar lead, subtle ethnic percussions, strings, the barely-there ooohs and aahhhs of a choir and playful keyboards into a refined and surgically precise rock and roll. You know that music director Amri Amin did well because his music was talking. I understood the music even if I could not speak a word of Malay. Ever heard the saying that music transcends borders? His work is proof.

The verdict
Three pawikan points for Rock Opera The Musical- A rock anthology. Minus points for the too-long title and that distracting drum set in the middle of the stage-- the actor playing the drummer wasn't doing a good job of "lip-synching" the drumming and I found it very distracting.

Bonus points for the backup dancers from the ERA Dance Theater even if I thought that their ballet-inspired choreography was a tad inappropriate for rock and roll. They looked like they were having fun and were dancing with a lot of spirit-- which I think is what rock is really all about.

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