Just got back from using our "Pagoda Street" comps which came down to me via the P who had another engagement on tonight.
Apparently, this musical -- set in a row of 3 shophouses in Singapore -- won quite some acclaim when it debuted in London, according to the press releases reprinted in the programme sheets. Guess the Singapore crowd is a little harder to please, particularly when the many stock characters are so familiar to us already having been done to death by other local theatrical professionals.
The Ah Beng and his "teh" (for want of a better word) girlfriend; the Indian barber and his Bollywood wife; the wise old Malay "jaga" and the high-maintenance conniving, scheming b**ch play out and milk their stereotypes to the hilt. There were times when it was possible to predict what a character would say next simply because we've heard similar cliches many times before. The only non-stereotype was the non-Chinese boy playing the role of a Chinese restaurant towkay. That felt a bit strange. In any case, it must have been very entertaining to a London crowd for whom such a cast was a novelty, but we've seen it all before.
The first act had quite a bit of narrative exposition, perhaps more than necessary. It wouldn't have hurt to let the audience figure things out for themselves through watching the characters interact with each other, though spilling all the beans by the opening number might make for more expedient storytelling.
The stage set begins as 3 distinct shop-fronts on a street. But at the opening of the second act, the Chinese restaurant frontage splits apart to reveal 2 tables, presumably representing the interior of the eatery. The problem was, the other 2 shophouse frontages remained as they were and so the audience could never be sure from that point on which location the action was taking place -- were we on the street? In the restaurant? Towkay's office? Somebody's house? We only had context to go on so we just had to ignore away bits of set that seemed incongruous to the scene. Problematic.
For a Law student, the writer-composer-lyricist-director did a reasonably credible job with his unsubtle in-your-face narrative. It's clear that the cast members were having a great time working together for a worthy cause (proceeds go to a local equestrian-based, not kidney-based charity), and, hey, more power to them for that. But still, although it had pretty good production values, 'Pagoda Street' is still essentially a school play.