Cast & Crew. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

On the weekend just before Recess Week, the year 4s put up their long-awaited musical production, Built to Order, with three shows over as many days (spanning the 19th, 20th, and 21st of February 2016). The shows were sold clean out for all three days, so if you didn’t manage to catch it, fret not – I did! I wrote this for you, dear reader. I wrote this for you. Specifically. You. In particular.

This article comprises of 3 parts – Review, Reflection (from a Cast Member), and a… Recording from the Director and Assistant Director. It is a very long article. Feel free to skip ahead to the parts you’re more interested in – I highly recommend watching the video.

Review

On the opening night, the Honourable Justice Andrew Phang graced us as the Guest of Honour, and delivered a heart-warming speech to the graduating batch of 2016. “This is your night,” he said. Phang JA spoke warmly of Law IV’s donations to the Autism Resource Centre, and expressed his wish that the students graduate in more ways than one by taking their caring attitude and spreading it to others outside of law school. He reminded us that a meaningful life is not about making a lot of money or having high status in society, but about touching lives. He then shared a quote he heard which struck him so deeply that he has kept it on a purchased card since:

I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again.

Stephen Grellet

The show opens right off with a musical number. We see Kate (played by Allison Tan) about to move into her new apartment – she’s a little nervous about the landlord possibly being a creep, and really has to pee – but her hopes of quietly taking a leak and surveying her new (tiny, by all accounts) house are dashed when a full-out party breaks out, complete with a whole troupe of salsa dancers. A meta joke is made about the presence of a live band, who – hats off to them! – never skipped a beat, playing perfectly throughout the play.

Ah, the joy of someone who has no idea what perils lurk ahead! Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

We can feel her displeasure mounting, but that doesn’t stop her long-time boyfriend Dan (played by Basil Lee) from eagerly seeking her approval, because as his best friend Wei (played by Joseph Tay) eagerly declares, “Everyone loves surprise parties!”. The thing is, and Amanda (played by Cheryl Chui) would know – Kate hates surprise parties. The four leads introduced, the stage is set for the story that unravels.

Once Kate’s friends, and Dan’s friends, and Dan’s friends from kindergarten, and that one guy both Kate and Dan thought was dead have finally evacuated the premises, our four main characters  indulge in reminiscence about their days in law school. From the reference to changing acronyms for legal skills modules to the depiction of law students as creatures emerging at long last from their caves to breathe in the sun, this was a part that struck many of us, I’m sure, as both poignant and hilarious.

I pause here to note that the transitions were extraordinary – smooth and fast, some were even done by the characters in the course of their acting. Fab stuff, m8.

L-R: Amanda (Cheryl Chui), Kate (Allison Tan), Dan (Basil Lee), Wei (Joseph Tay). Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

The focus then shifts towards Wei (and Amanda, whom he befriended for the first time at Kate’s surprise party). An honest look into metropolitan human nature follows with the next musical number, and the recurring motif – “I like you when we’re kept apart” – is something many of us likely struggle with on a daily basis.

Isolation is such bliss. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

We are in the midst of getting an insight into Wei’s daily struggles (i.e. taking a nap on the couch after making sure Xiao Pang, his cat, isn’t pissing off Uncle Lim (Zansher Husref) or the Auntie Next Door (Aditi Ravi)) when three loan sharks (Iris Pek, Louis Lim, Wu Guowei) appear in a gust of song, dance, and intimidation tactics. Somehow, Wei gets swept away by how cool they are, and manages to get himself embroiled in what is essentially their extortionist scheme. It is a thing of beauty to watch all four of them break out into their theme song (Pay Up!).

There’s no Wei I’d feel comfortable with my neighbours creeping on me like that. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

If you wanna shake leg,

Then you have to break leg;

If you want to act tough,

Don’t be scared of handcuff;

But you need to keep bees if you want honey –

You better pay up if you owe us money.

 

“I give you something, I learn from SMU….” (reaches into pocket, digs around) “Nah! NameCARD!

Dua Tao (Iris Pek)

Work it. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

The comic relief stands in sharp contrast to the scene that comes next – motivated by the pernicious and all-encompassing influence of his Mother (Liew Wei Lin), Dan proposes to Kate, despite the fact that this is, we are told, a topic they have long been avoiding. In true romantic fashion, he’s filed for and had approved a Built-to-Order Flat, which is how he’s proposing – c’mon, who said chivalry is dead? Wei and Amanda function as our running commentary from behind while Dan’s Mother, who appears out of a box garbed like your typical tai-tai (velvet gloves included), “reads” out her letter to Dan.

We feel a little sorry for the guy – his life seems pretty hard, missing father and perhaps-slightly-crazy Mother and all. As expected, though, everything goes to shit. Kate rejects his proposal altogether because, like many things Dan has done, he’s couching it as being for her even though it’s not what either of them wants. The number that follows is soft and slow, apt for the complete breakdown of their relationship that has just occurred.

Riveting choreography and performance. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

The next scene opens, fittingly, with Dan and Kate (plus 8! Ha ha) sitting in their respective bathrooms, being consoled by dancing squads of identically-outfitted groupies. While Dan (with Wei by his side) bemoans women and weeps that his leather-jacketed clique of men are the best, Kate and Amanda feel a little overwhelmed by the randos who are asking too many personal questions too quickly. It’s a light-hearted take on what is often the most difficult part of a break-up, and the choreography plays well into establishing the mood.

Gather round, grils and bois. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

Later, Dan is lying on Wei’s couch and trying to be the next Campus Superstar while Wei reports on his poor condition to Amanda, who tells him Kate isn’t doing so hot, either. When Wei disappears downstairs, ostensibly to buy food, Dan wanders out of his apartment, only to meet the Loanshark Trio, who have come looking for their friend Hu (or, as everyone else knows him, Wei). In typical lawyer fashion, Dan’s uppity attitude pisses them off, and Wei has to save him by pretending to beat him up. As if Dan and Kate’s problem wasn’t enough to contend with, Wei wisely digs himself further into a hole of lowkey identity fraud by chillin’ with the loansharks.

And speaking of identity fraud, here it comes to light that both Kate and Dan have, at the same time, come to the conclusion that the best way to deal with the problem of the Flat is to rope in your best friend (who is the same gender as you) to dress up as your ex-significant other (who is not the same gender as you) to commit fraud upon the HDB. Don’t try this at home, kids.

Lady Gaga makes a guest appearance. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

A fantastically choreographed scene follows where Kate is chasing Amanda (“Put it on!” “I’d need a really good reason before I let that horrible floral print touch me!”) and Dan is chasing Wei (“I know that Kate… wears dresses like this… and if you’re doing what I think you’re doing, then I’m supernotintothisdudethisissoweiiiiiiird”) and there is a flurry of doors shifting and slamming and various body parts emerging at different junctures, the characters scurrying about with the urgency of somebody realising last minute that class part is actually 30%.* I’d like to describe it properly, but I can’t, so here is a photo in lieu of writing. You had to be there, man. No lie. It was a work of art.

*Credit to Joseph Tay

I don’t have a caption for this. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

The show broke for an intermission here, and so should this article. Get up, stretch a little, eat some chips, and all.

When the show resumes, a truly impressive Raffles Place set has been rolled in. I am attaching a photo for your perusal, because it was really impressive.

Look at that. Beautiful. Photo Credits: Leung Liwen.

At this juncture we are allowed to look into the life of the heretofore rather tight-lipped Amanda; she is an employee at the HDB with her Scary Sassy Boss (SSB) (Azilah Azini), a lady she describes (later) as needing “maximum power with minimum responsibility” to be happy.

The problem with Amanda is that she does not, SSB says, understand what it is they do here. She illustrates this point with a fantastic performance of Minor Gods, a swanky jazz piece. Accompanied by dancers looking snazzy in black and white, this was one of my personal favourites of the show – flawless execution aside, the piece was perfectly suited as a character exposition, right down to the genre. Turns out Amanda’s job isn’t the peachiest, and she, too, is dealing with issues of her own.

Our very own Minor Goddess. Photo Credits: SPARK Asia

Jezz sweg ayyyyy. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

As if this wasn’t enough, Kate turns up and they have a disagreement about whether or not this hare-brained scheme really will work, and Kate smashes an ultimatum down, yo – “Show up, or don’t.” Left to her own devices, and really thinking about it, Amanda’s character arc is subsequently resolved with a solo piece expressing her desire to seek her own change.

Character Arc! Photo Credit: Leung Liwen

The next scene sees our two crime-time duos prepping for their great scheme. Amanda makes a pretty unconvincing Dan, but Wei just cannot be Kate, for all his mental preparation to get into Kate’s mind-space. Striking in this scene to me was, however, the unexpected nuggets of wisdom the characters dropped – “They see what they want to see,” intones Kate to calm a fretting Amanda; “A dress and a wig? You really didn’t understand Kate,” Wei chides Dan. The balance between humour and deep territory is struck well, and before we veer off the deep end we’re pulled out with an absurd, off-kilter comical song accompanied by completely inexplicable dancing by Dan and Wei.

Walk, walk, fashion, baby. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

By some incredible coincidence (because really, plays would be no fun if people and time functioned the same way they do in real life) Dan+Wei and Kate+Amanda arrive to collect their BTO at the same time. All their planning and individual coercive processes have built up to this point – there’s absolutely no way they’re going to let their ex get the better of them, right? The brief scuffle that ensues is abruptly ended when SSB takes matters into her own hands by ripping up the application and leaving, Clerk Varian (Varian Koh) bringing her chair after her.

Just like the characters, you’re left a little confused. Where does this play go next, if not to the “winning” duo gaining control of the house? Before we can really contemplate this, however, Kate and Amanda pounce on Wei to reclaim Kate’s dress in a chorus of strip, strip, strip! that takes place in a context much different from what Wei is likely to have ever imagined. And as if things couldn’t get messier, valiant knights on brilliant white mules (ergo, Dua Tao & Co) appear to save this damsel in distress; Wei, who just can’t be seen hanging out with the guy he “beat up” previously, cleverly hides his face with his luscious polyester locks, succeeding in escaping recognition by the barest width of a shiny artificial hair.

Photo 17 - Not a Gril

#ootd #nuslawthemedthursdays #justmenbae. Photo Credit: SPARK Asia.

Loansharks: EH EH EH! Why you bully girl?

Kate & Amanda: That’s not a girl!

Loansharks: (reproachfully) Just because she’s not pretty, doesn’t mean she’s not a girl!

The men discover another letter from Dan’s Mother, who has written to inform him that their ancestral home has burned down, and congratulates him on his (completely non-existent) engagement to Kate. The loss (coupled with all the other Bad Stuff he’s had to endure recently) strikes Dan hard, and it might be this that causes him to lash out at Wei when he says that you still have me, precipitating a confrontation about Dan’s faults and his problem with never taking the blame for anything. It’s a fight that could easily tear them apart, but at the end of this Wei is the friend many of us wish we had (and should aspire to be) – he forgives Dan anyway, tossing keys to his flat at him even while proclaiming that he should never come around.

Mother. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

The scene flips to the women, who are overcome with nostalgia for times that “weren’t better…just…different.” When We Were Children is a deeply moving piece, stunningly sung as well as danced. It captures that distinct feeling of loss that is not uncommon in young adults looking back on childhood, the dancers playing out the female leads’ memories, while the harmonies and timbres intertwined the way we are allowed to feel their lives must have.

I named this wew.jpg when uploading bc wew. Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

Rather rudely, Dan bursts into Kate’s house unannounced at the end of it, and Kate fairly forces Amanda to stay and mediate. It works, though, and both Dan and Kate manage to explain themselves at last. Amanda exits at this point for them to really talk, and s/o to the blocking here – where their chairs had been spaced apart, Kate shifts hers over in a marked reduction of social distance, and they communicate the way their conflict hadn’t let them for the large majority of the play. They confess to be glad that there isn’t any BTO to worry over (thanks, SSB!), and resolve, in a lovely twist on a breakup stereotype, that they can still be friends.

 

We could still be friends. I know people are always saying that; the difference is I’m saying it.

Kate

:-). Photo Credit: Leung Liwen.

It seems we’re almost at the end, but wait! There’s more! The story doesn’t end once you dump your ex. We see this in the final scene, where Kate and Amanda have set up a new HDB division for Couple’s Counselling. There’s even a catchy jingle to go along with it!

 

Couple’s counselling, couple’s counselling,

Making sure you aren’t… house hustling

Couple’s counselling, couple’s counselling

Mandatory from Changi to Marsiling!

Kate & Amanda

 

Our favourite ah beng trio appears and the girls are rudely shocked by their appearance, but all is made clear when we find out that Dua Tao and “This One” (Wu Guowei) are getting a BTO. A succinct but heart-rending summary of their love triangle follows in what I shall term Pay Up! Reprise; it transpires that Dua Tao was originally the girlfriend of the Other One (Louis Lim), but her love for This One blossomed over splashing paint and being fed atapchee.

In one of the moments of the performance that had me smacking my friend and angrily whispering “thAT’S SO SMART”, the chorus of Pay Up! brilliantly takes on a whole new meaning when repurposed in the context of marriage. To describe it rather economically: Dua Tao kneels and proposes at “then you have to break leg”, both point to their ring fingers at “don’t be scared of hand cuff”, and “if you want honey” is taken to pertain to each of them as lovers. You feel me when I say it was v smart???

Amanda & Kate: “This loan isn’t from the bank…”

Dua Tao & This One: “Where in your rules does it say the loan must be from a bank? Huh? A loan is a loan!

Other One: (turning away, crying) “Alone is alone….”

Wei rushes in at this point, fearing the worst because his house has been completely bleached and Xiao Pang is missing. Thankfully, though, we’re told that Xiao Pang was taken to the vet by Dan, who was also coerced into cleaning Wei’s house to prove to the Ah Beng Trio that his heart is where his mouth is. It figures that a character like Dan would think cleaning somebody’s apartment involves bleaching everything.

This is like the twenty somethingth photo in this post, I’m running out of things to say. Photo Credits: Leung Liwen.

Dan and Wei make up, and with this our leads are brought together again, stronger for the hurricane that has torn them apart for the duration of the musical’s events. It feels like we’ve been on a journey with them, and one feels almost proud of their character development.

The musical finally wraps up with Same People Again, which is seriously just such a good ending song I’ve exhausted all of my writing energy but trust me on this – it was lyrical, moving, and fit the events of the musical perfectly.

Closing thoughts:

I did my best to do justice to everything in the musical, but I couldn’t fit in everything and this word document is nearly 3k words. Suffice to say, though, that a musical production as large as this is a labour of love is clear; as far as I could tell there were no hitches during performance in the lights, scene changes, or music. The dancers were fluid and transitions into numbers were seamless; the publicity materials were great (the ticket is an adorable replica of a Monopoly card, featuring tiny avatars representing each main character), and the sets and costumes fit perfectly.

In addition, I honestly felt amazed by the variety of genres in the musical compositions involved (by Music Director Emily Wong) and by the lyric-writing (by Director Gideon Yap and Scriptwriter Ruth Tang).  A splendid job was also done by the choreographers (Amelia Cheng, Goh Hui Hua, Allison Tan, and Zhang Liting), as well as Producer Tricia Teo, who was, behind the scenes, doing “a bit of all (the functions involved, including fundraising, managing the stage, and securing facilities)”*. I can’t name everyone involved, but RLY GOOD JOB EVERYONE!!!!!

*Joseph Tay, 2016.

Reflection:

A Reflection From Joseph Tay, Assistant Director:

“I love acting, I will always be particularly fond of curtain calls, it is incredible to think about how much work has gone into these three short nights – there is so much that goes unseen from so many quarters with so many people selflessly giving…

Something that might interest all of you is that Iris (Dua Tou, Queen Ah Beng)’s ultra-swag tee was actually just a shirt that Aditi wore to rehearsals one day, and we were hunting for an outfit that exuded maximum unfettered power and swagrisma, and Aditi offered her shirt and Iris shrugged it on and voila.

So we really do owe a lot to the generous acts of people whose names will never roll in credits or be printed in program booklets. Without them, we wouldn’t have this production.

I love the nerves and fear that accompany every person that steps on stage, they remind me that there are so many parts of me that still struggle to be accepted, to be valued, to want people to LOOK AT ME and think good thoughts and say nice things and find me capable and talented and competent but that is a one-way road and at the end of that road is First Half Wei, who takes his self-worth and hangs it on what others think and say about him, on Dan’s approval and friendship.

For instance, i know that i do not have a big voice or a particularly sweet or strong one, and this musical has made that apparent in many painful ways. But in the process of gearing myself up to stand on stage and belt out notes, knowing that a judging, watching audience sits below, i think i learned to be okay with that, and to enjoy pouring myself into acting and into learning the role (to embrace the day where I turn into Wei, as he prepares his mental state for becoming Kate).

Performing is truly a privilege and i am so glad that so many got to enjoy it tonight. Though sometimes a production, being a pressure cooker, can bring out the worst in people, it very often brings out some of the best bits of people too, and I think we got to see that and to share it with all of you :-)”

 

A Selection of Photos from Gideon Yap, Director:

00 crawshaw

Crawshaw practicing how to be awkward

01 literoom

Humans who work damn hard in lightbox

 

 

02 band Mad talented band

 

03 ironOne man laundromat who irons everyone’s costumes

04 makeup

Long Suffering Make Up

05 audiens

Impt people

Recording

Last of all, I’m closing this sea-monster of a post with a heartwarming behind-the-scenes interview with none other than Gideon and Joseph themselves.

K I’m out!

Special thanks to Gideon Yap and Joseph Tay for helping out with this article, as well as to Leung Liwen for photos!

About SPARK Asia:

The message booth and some of the event photography were sponsored by Spark Asia. Spark Asia is a mobile app that allows users to print their photos and have them delivered to their doorstep for free. The photos, which feature exclusive brand promotions on the reverse side, may also be picked up at Reedz Cafe @Bukit Timah Campus or @Mochtar Riady Building. Users who select this option enjoy an additional 5 free prints every month on top of the usual 10 free prints. Spark Asia was co-founded by a final-year NUS Law student, Luke Wu.