Tag Archives: musical

Priscilla Queen of the Desert @ Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts review

The second that three divas descended from the ceiling belting out It’s Raining Men, I knew that Priscilla Queen of the Desert was going to be my kind of show.

Adapted from the 90s Aussie film starring Guy Pearce, Hugo Weaving and Terrence Stamp into a jukebox stage musical, Priscilla tells the story of two drag queens and a transgender woman’s journey across the Australian outback, and all the adventures (i.e. excuses for massive song-and-dance numbers) they encounter along the way.

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Wicked @ Hong Kong Academy Of Performing Arts review

wicked-hong-kong

It’s been a while since I got goosebumps in the theatre… So enter Jacqueline Hughes as Elphaba in Wicked to deliver a whole year’s worth of them in one night.

It’s over a decade since Wicked, the smash hit musical based on a novel reimagining the events of The Wizard of Oz, first debuted on Broadway – which of course, means it’s only now arriving in Hong Kong for the first time. It tells the story of how Elphaba the Wicked Witch of the West became well, wicked and it’s probably not much of a spoiler to say she wasn’t really that wicked at all… just you know, misunderstood, except with green skin (actually created using MAC eyeshadow, fact fans).

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The Sound Of Music @ Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts review

the sound of music hong kong

The hills are alive…!

When it comes to the opening lyrics of musical numbers, I’m not sure there are any quite as stirring as those of The Sound Of Music. Come on, you’re singing it already aren’t you?

Landing in Hong Kong for a month-long run, Lunchbox Productions’ version of The Sound Of Music is a pretty faithful retelling of the Rodgers-Hammerstein stage musical turned Julie Andrews-starring movie classic. However, it’s worth remembering that this is a staging of the original theatre script (specifically Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Ian’s 2006 revival where the role of Maria was cast on a BBC TV reality show) and not the movie – although it has been rejigged to include two numbers written especially for the film, I Have Confidence and Something Good. In comparison to the nearly three-hour long film, the script’s pacing does feel a little uneven – dragging when it comes to the songs by Max and The Countess that were excised from the movie, rushed when it comes to the speedy second act where love, marriage, Nazis and the Von Trapps’ escape are all dealt with in swift and rather abrupt fashion.

the sound of music hong kong Carmen Pretorius

Nevertheless, Carmen Pretorius makes for a fantastic Maria; in the wrong hands, this character can easily become a saccharine-sweet goody-two-shoes but Pretorius brings a warmth, fun and sense of mischief to the part – and all with the most beautiful voice that rings through the Lyric Theatre as clear and perfect as the bells at Maria’s abbey. I was less convinced by Mark Rayment’s Captain Von Trapp – he felt a little bland and unyieldingly stiff to me and I didn’t detect much chemistry between the two leads either.

But the children, a rotating cast selected from local schools, more than make up for it. They’re uniformly excellent, executing the musical’s sharp choreography and layered harmonies flawlessly, and making complicated numbers like So Long Farewell, The Lonely Goatherd and show highlight Do-Re-Mi an absolute joy. I also enjoyed Hugh Osbourne as wily music impresario Max Detweiler; providing the show’s more humorous moments, he manages to convey the character’s spineless scheming nature whilst remaining likeable too.

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Showstopper! The Improvised Musical @ Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts review

showstopper the improvised musical hong kong

If you like laughing and you like musicals (in which case, hey, we should be friends!), then you need to go see Showstopper! The Improvised Musical stat.

Much like a round of Catchphrase, it’s pretty much say what you see regarding the show’s premise – a whole new musical improvised every night based on suggestions from the audience, encompassing everything from the setting, title and plot to musical theatre genres and song styles. Think Whose Line Is It Anyway meets one of those Andrew Lloyd Webber reality TV competitions and you’re almost there… except even funnier.

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Starlight Express @ Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts review

starlight express hong kong

Sick of pedestrian productions ruling the roost in Hong Kong? Well, how about a musical where the entire 30-strong cast spends the whole duration of the show on roller skates?

Yes, Starlight Express has sped its way into the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts – and if you’ve never seen Andrew Lloyd Webber’s most innovative musical before, you’re in for one hell of a ride.

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Dirty Dancing @ Hong Kong Cultural Centre review

dirty dancing hong kong

Despite being dragged along to see Chicago, Grease and even High School Musical Live with me, my boyfriend point blank refused to come watch Dirty Dancing. ‘I just don’t think it will be very good,’ he said… and it pains me to say that he might just be right.

Does Dirty Dancing really require any introduction? The film, telling the coming-of-age romance between Frances ‘Baby’ Houseman and dance teacher Johnny Castle, is nothing short of a cult – and now, with its stage adaptation flying high after a successful run in the West End, the cult has come to the Hong Kong’s Cultural Centre.

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Grease @ HKAPA review

Hong Kong might not be the most rock n’ roll of cities but that hasn’t stopped a good old-fashioned slice of the stuff – complete with liberal helpings of hip swivels, slick quiffs and guitar riffs – going down a storm at the Academy of Performing Arts. Yes, Grease (otherwise known as the best musical of all-time by ummm… me) is in town and has its meter firmly set to ‘party’. In other words, it’s a complete joy.

Admittedly, I am biased. I probably knew the entire script and lyrics of Grease before I’d learned proper sentences, nurtured a life-long crush on John Travolta before I realised that he didn’t actually look like Danny Zuko anymore and this marks the fourth time I’ve seen the stage show (which, fact fans, came before the film and debuted in the West End with some unknown actor called Richard Gere as the lead). Each time, the law of declining averages has reared its ugly head with less fresh casts, crews and a sense of ennui creeping in as the show wound its weary way round the country for the nth time. So it’s with delight that I can declare that Lunchbox Productions have reinvigorated Grease with boundless enthusiasm, buckets of energy and enough hair gel to keep the cosmetics market buoyant for a good few years.

Jonathan Roxmouth’s Travolta pastiche is all-out hilarious. Never mind half of Rydell High having the hots for him, he practically has the APA audience eating out of his hand at the first trademark Travolta chuckle. The stage lights up every time he’s on it. Over the years, I’ve seen various Sandys ply their trade but Bethany Dickson is the best yet. She has beautiful vocals, strong but vulnerable, and doesn’t go in for the Celine Dion showboating that has come to mar many versions of Hopelessly Devoted To You. What’s more, she more than holds her own against Roxmouth, an achievement in itself. She’s the sweet to Roxmouth’s swagger and they’re the perfect pairing, palpably the shining stars of the show.

With such strong central casting, the rest of the 20-strong South African ensemble barely get a look-in, other than providing sterling support throughout. I enjoyed Kirsten Murphy’s brassy Marty and David Schlachter’s blatant scene-stealing nerd Eugene, but felt Genna Galloway’s Rizzo was a little one-dimensional in her hardness, there was not enough physical differentiation between the T-Birds and the cast sometimes swiftly skimmed over the funniest lines. But these are minor quibbles in a musical that relishes and revels in being spectacular – whether that means a light-up guitar, a blinged-up car or immaculately-executed jaw-droppingly lengthy musical numbers.

Arlene Phillips’ routines (yes, her who got fired off Strictly) were and still are my absolute favourite thing about the show. I never fail to get goosebumps every time I hear those stirringly electrifying chords of Grease that open the show, together with her brilliantly intense choreography that allows each and every member of the cast to shine. The big set numbers – the leaping dizzying spins of the male ensemble in Greased Lightning, the goofy gratuitous nudity of Those Magic Changes and the snappy innovative hand-play of We Go Together – are as irresistible as ever.

However, one element I really disagreed with was the doubling-up of Thembeka Mnguni as Principal Ms Lynch and Teen Angel. The Busby Berkley parodying Beauty School Dropout is one of my standout numbers and usually performed with such high campery by an actor doubling as DJ Vince Fontaine that it acts as catnip to a rapturous audience, who only allow him to leave after about three encores. Although the set design and costumes here are as gloriously glitteringly flamboyant as ever, this production instead makes Teen Angel a hefty soul diva who descends into an ocean of arm-waggling and voice-warbling which renders most of the (very witty) lyrics incomprehensible. Mnguni is also instantly physically recognisable as the school’s principal, which just seems rather weird, and it’s an interpretation of the role that is out of time with the 50s setting. She did, however, still get the biggest cheers of the night, so what do I know.

Elsewhere, the sets are slick, the costumes colourful and the orchestra a riot. Decked out in pink shirts and quiffs visible even from the back row, they seem to be having almost as much fun as the audience! Perhaps a little too much fun as they occasionally veer towards too loud and fast (since when did drive-in torchsong Sandy become midtempo?!) but they make rocking out seem a joy rather a job.

By the time the exhilarating final Megamix has high-kicked its way onto stage, resistance is futile. When Danny Zucko actually starts speaking Cantonese and gets the whole audience on their feet, it’s obvious that this cast have such passion and joy for their profession that it can’t fail to be infectious. I was thrilled that the Hong Kong audience lapped it up with such obvious humour and enjoyment, which bodes well for future world-class musicals doing the rounds in our fair city.

It’s a rollicking ride of a show that you can’t help but be swept up – how many other musicals boast a light-up car to their name?! So come armed with your dancing shoes, get practising your hand jive and long may Grease continue to be the word.

Lunchbox Productions’ Grease runs at Hong Kong Academy of Performing Art’s Lyric Theatre, 7 October-7 November 2010. Tickets cost $350-$895, available from HK Ticketing, 3128 8288 or online. No shows on Monday, evening performances 8pm (Sunday 7pm), weekend matinees at 2pm.

Note: Some of the photos show how HKAPA has been decked out in Grease regalia. I love the effort that has gone into it, emblematic of the scale of the show itself.