Wild Rice’s annual year-end pantomime is here, and this time the company explores The Emperor’s New Clothes, written by Joel Tan and directed by Pam Oei. The panto will play at the Drama Centre from 20th November to 12th December 2015.
The Emperor’s New Clothes is based on the famous children’s fairy tale of a vain and arrogant emperor who thinks a pair of tailors are making him a suit that only the most noble of people can see, but in the end it takes a child to show the emperor that he is naked instead.
In this Singaporean version, the two tailors are Nate (Benjamin Kheng) and Khai (Sezairi Sezali) who were raised in an orphanage as brothers. The Emperor (Lim Kay Siu) oversees a land where there’s an annual NDP (not the National Day Parade, but rather the New Dress Parade), an occasion the self-indulgent Emperor looks forward to every year. However the 49th year of the Parade becomes a problem when foreign media comment negatively on the Emperor’s clothes. So hoping to do better with the 50th, the Emperor imprisons his earlier critics, and scouts for the best tailors to make his next NDP outfit – eventually giving the job to Nate and Khai. But when Nate and Khai discover the Emperor’s hidden dungeon of captives, they decide to teach him a lesson in being less selfish and self-centred.
The acting and singing are good, but Sezali’s vocals sound slightly weaker next to Kheng’s richer tones. Also, whilst Elaine Chan, who has helmed previous Wild Rice pantos, came up with very catchy melodies, I was disappointed that Julian Wong’s music is just not enticing enough. Aside from ‘A Plan So Invisible’ which is the last song of Act 1, performed just before the intermission, the tunes don’t seem to have any captivating hook.
Unfortunately I also found the script to be not as funny as those of past years. Sure there are laughs for the kids, but not many for the adults, even if the political and social innuendos are there.
In addition, Singapore-based multi-millionaire American businessman Jim Roger’s daughters Happy and Bee were given the limelight in these Wild Rice pantos in the last two years because of their ability to speak Mandarin. In this production though, Bee’s character of an angel speaking Mandarin seems misplaced, and comes across as a cheesy effort to get easy applause for a Caucasian child’s ability to master a local Asian language.
Having said that, the singing and acting from the entire cast are good, especially Audrey Luo who plays the Emperor’s neglected wife, as well as Siti Khalijah Zainal, Andrew Lua, and Benjamin Wong who play the Emperor’s Ministers. Portraying the foreign press, Bejamin Chow and Andrew Marko effortlessly do a slew of convincing foreign accents that range from Australian to Thai.
Some of the performers even play instruments live, such as Kheng and Lim on the violin, and Benjamin Wong on the flute. With his crystal-clear falsetto and musicianship, the scatterbrained physical comedy he brings to the role, and his subtle but layered expressions and body movements, Wong easily stands out in this production.
I have reviewed Wild Rice’s pantomimes since 2012, and I think I can with some authority that nothing beats the awesomely wonderful pairing of Elaine Chan and Alfian Saat, as memorable music maker and humorous dialogue creator respectively, that brought about belly laughs and music you found yourself humming on the way home in pantos past.
This year’s panto definitely feels lacking in those terms, although kids are going to love the colourful sets and costumes, the child-friendly jokes, and the interactive factor. So bring the kiddies and let them enjoy The Emperor’s New Clothes – because after all, from a kid’s point of view, nothing will be lacking in this production. Not even a stitch.