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Theatre Review (Singapore): ‘Mama White Snake’ from Wild Rice

W!ld Rice’s annual Christmas pantomime is here once again. This time the panto is Mama White Snake, loosely based on the Chinese mythology of “Madame White Snake”. The production is being staged at the Drama Centre from November 24 to December 16 2017.

Mama White Snake is about a pair of snakes disguised as humans, Madam White (Glen Goei) and her sister Auntie Green (Ivan Heng), who take care of White’s half-human son Meng (Andrew Mark) whilst living on top of Emei Mountain. Wanting off the mountain top, and with an eager desire to meet new people and travel to unknown places, Meng takes off one day and on his journey meets Mimi (Cheryl Tan). Meng ends up learning martial arts in a school run by Mimi’s parents, Master Fahai (Siti Khalijah Zainal) and Madam Ngiao (Zelda Tatiana Ng). However, Mimi soon finds out that Fahai and White have a past filled with animosity and Fahai has in mind to use his daughter to take down White again. Problem is, Mimi has fallen for the clueless but charming Meng.

Written by Alfian Sa’at with music by Elaine Chan. The two form a potent partnership, once again showcasing their lethal skills as the dialogue is very clever and humourous, whilst the music is catchy with lively and strong melodies.

The sound could have been balanced or adjusted better, as it was a little problematic the night I was there as the lyrics were at times hard to hear especially from Marko and Zainal.

Nonetheless, the performers sing well enough and the acting is good. Special mention has to be made of Zainal who plays the male monk Fahai so convincingly that this critic keeps forgetting it is a woman underneath all that makeup and that religious robe.

Having said that, the only one who possesses a true musical theatre singing voice is Tan. This critic has reviewed Tan’s crystal-clear vocals many times, and in this show she’s no different. Tan doesn’t employ the multitude of emotions she did in the recent Forbidden City because this role calls for simpler emotions, but still uses her powerful pipes to great effect to show the pathos of her character as Mimi finds herself falling for Meng despite not wanting to be in this predicament.

The costuming by Thailand’s Tube Gallery is simply stellar. The spectacular costumes are period pieces, but with a lot of bling and glitz thrown into the fabric and design. The detailed and masterful set by Wong Chee Wai is also stunning, with Brian Gothong Tan’s multimedia backdrops helping immensely in the telling of this ancient folk tale.

Director Pam Oei includes zany props and costumes with the kiddos from Wild Rice’s First Stage! as well as the youngsters from Martial House, adding tremendous amounts of flavour and fun to the show. Also, with Chinese opera moves and impressive martial arts components thrown in, Oei makes this localised and Singlish musical energetic and exciting from start to finish.

Mama White Snake is very funny, with catchy tunes, good acting and singing, amazing costumes, lovely sets and backdrops – and superb vocals from the ever reliable Cheryl Tan. W!ld Rice certainly has an easy winner and another hit on its hands!

mama white snake wild riceHaving said that, as I close with my last review for 2017, I’d like to add a caveat that I would really love to see more new talent on stage, especially in musical theatre.

I do understand that recognizable names bring in audiences, whether they have a strong musical theatre voice or not, and theatre is a business after all.

However, as a theatre critic and a lover of musical theatre, it would be nice to discover some new blood who actually have the voice for musicals. Tan is Malaysian, for the record, and whilst she has a flawless voice, I think there are many undiscovered faces in our local Singaporean pool of musical theatre artists and I do wish that in 2018, we see more of these unknown but talented performers in musicals instead of the usual fail-proof practice of simply casting who’s popular.

About Sharmila Melissa Yogalingam

Ex-professor, Ex-phd student, current freelance critic, writer and filmmaker.

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