"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Friday, October 31, 2008

"The future, according to some scientists, will be exactly like the past, only far more expensive." - John Sladek

***

Avenue Q
30th October
Singapore Repertory Theatre (SRT)

I wasn't originally intending to watch Avenue Q, having seen it almost 2.5 years ago, but My Toy asked if I wanted to see it, the early bird rates were good and I was curious how the Filipino cast would perform. Having seen it in London when it was on preview as well as a recording of the Original Broadway Cast, I have some basis for comparison.

I wasn't originally expecting very much, since Trenchcoat Chris had had a very bad experience in 2005 with Aspects of Love, which was a "lousy cheapskate production by phillipine cast", performed to a piano reduction and with only some good singers (and which still cost $100), but I am pleased to report that it was indeed a good production.

Set and props
The set was certainly more elaborate than what I recall seeing in London. Part of this might be due to my seats (Stalls at the side vs Circle) but it was more likely due to their jazzing up the set (e.g. a street light, a NY subway entrance, graffiti ('Call Lucy') and an additional screen in the form of a TV on the trash heap [probably because there was a lot more use of it - like to show that people were in their apartments]).

Many of the props were also modified. For some reason, most of the puppets got shorts and/or skirts - presumably for modesty so they didn't offend our Asian Values. Also, Nicky's hair was black and not brown, Rod had blonde hair with a tuft sticking out at the front (like those disgusting female dolls depicting pre-pubescent girls with only panties on and a weird tuft of hair [no, I can't find a name of a picture]), Christmas Eve didn't have her disgusting-yet-oddly-fascinating Christmas Lights Wedding Dress and worst of all, Gary Coleman had really awful blue overalls (making him look like some technician, which he isn't, really). One good modification was that nude Kate Monster had breasts!

Content
These changes notwithstanding, the meat of the musical was the same, with only a few changes, chiefly the lengthening of some dramatic pauses. Another noticeable one was Christmas Eve scolding Nicky "bakero".

There were a few cuts though, like Christmas Eve not selling their wedding gifts for cash (and the cutting of her donation scene), Lucy the Slut not getting a lobotomy and Princeton not refusing to leave his apartment (maybe this is what we pay for longer dramatic pauses).

One change I didn't like was in Purpose, when the talking boxes dancing around Princeton were replaced with a black cat and 2 blue birds singing on the roof of the apartment block (the lack of interaction really detracted from the experience).

However, what really really pissed me off was the removal of at least 2 (I'm not sure how many exist) drug references from the show: I don't remember the line "or smoking grass" in "Purpose" (I think they cut the whole stanza), and they definitely didn't have "'We could sit in the park smoking pot' 'or not'" in "There's Life Outside Your Apartment".

A probable explanation for the removal of lines about drugs:

"The Singaporean government has a reputation for being conservative and in fact, all plays that will be staged in the country have to receive approval from the National Arts Council. "In Singapore, you have to submit the script to a government agency that reads the script.""

So much for "uncensored adult humour" and "Audiences here will get the completely uncut and uncensored version" (as you can tell, I'm more pissed off at censorship than cuts). They might as well have cut out "Everyone's A Little Bit Racist", since that might fan racial tensions, but that would be too noticeable and cause too much outrage (i.e. the same reason "The Da Vinci Code" was not banned - authoritarianism here is not mindless but rather calibrated).

One part that was notable *because* it was not changed was the Bad Idea Bears taking up Scientology. The moral of the story, of course, is that in Singapore some religions can be insulted, but not others.

Localisation
While the London production had quite a few modifications made for local audiences, there weren't any in this one (censorship doesn't count).

For example, the part on "Pollock jokes" was not changed. At first I was thinking audiences here would appreciate the concept of Malaysian jokes, but then I realised they were not racial and anyhow, in this instance, localisation would not wise as it might cause the audience to start slaughtering each other with parangs (what, you thought the bag check at the Esplanade was for weapons? It's for recording equipment, duh!)

I'm not sure how many Singaporeans know who Gary Coleman is, or what he's famous for, but here's an interesting tidbit: the actress Aiza Seguerra was a child star too (though presumably she wasn't screwed by her parents).

Another potential localisation that was not done was in "For Now":

"George Bush!"
"Is only for now!"

I thought this might've been localised to:

"PAP!"
"Is only for now!"

Unfortunately, they chose not to do this, so we won't be seeing another Flor Contemplacion scandal (on a side note, what will they sing next year when George Bush leaves office? Jorg Haider is dead.)

The lack of localisation didn't seem to affect the audience's enjoyment, but this is probably because the hardcore people go on the opening first night [Ed: This was the "preview" night - I was misled by the "From 30th October" advertisements. I'm curious what, if anything, they'll change]. I'd be curious at the reception of some of the more obscure bits later on in the run.

The cast
The cast was, in a word, good. I found the performance to be more emotionally involving than London (or the operas I've seen live, hurr hurr), though whether that was because:

i) I'm more familiar with it now
ii) I had a better view
iii) They were good

is not entirely clear (possibly, it's some combination of the above).

Nicky was a very expressive actor (with the notable exception of the "Fantasies Come True" sequence when he didn't sound like he was sleep-talking at all, but just reciting his lines), but Lucy the Slut was not done too well, being too husky and having too much vibrato (lucky it's a minor role).

There was a little lacking from the Muppets' voices, but probably no one can beat John Tartaglia, Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Rick Lyon, since they used to puppet for Sesame Street.

Though it was a Filipino cast, their accents weren't noticeable except for Princeton, who had a touch of it. Gary Coleman had a commendable imitation of a black accent, but Christmas Eve's wasn't very consistent [Addendum: Furthermore, it was very unclear, which made it very hard to make out what she was saying/singing, especially if you weren't already familiar with the Musical. Ann Sanders does it better in Broadway In Bryant Park].

Sneakily, they had some locals doing subsidiary puppetry, but there was no one listed in the credits as "Swing" (no, I don't know why they're called that, but they are). They only hired a couple, though, so they couldn't send them out into the audience to collect money during The Money Song (just Brian and Gary).

Orchestration
The main thing I didn't like about this production was the orchestration. It sounded simplified (and also seemed to have left out touches like Gary Coleman's Diff'rent Strokes twang). This might have been because there were only 6 musicians (Drums, Winds, Bass, Guitar, MD/Keyboard 1 and Keyboard 2), which meant there wasn't even an orchestra pit (they were hidden offstage), but I don't know and couldn't find out how many instrumentalists the London and/or Broadway productions use.

Miscellaneous thoughts
The audio mixing was a little bit unbalanced, with harmony parts drowning out the melody at times. This will probably be corrected on future days.

I really respected them for only having one curtain call, despite this being the opening night, and the first few days being sold out. The most shameless performances having up to 4 curtain calls, even if they suck (Singapore Lyric Opera's Turandot - I'm looking at you), this was remarkable self-discipline.

I was intending to buy the Avenue Q Broadway Cast CD, since in September it had been advertised as costing $20, but during the intermission someone came around selling it for $25 so I refused to buy it on principle (they probably jacked it up because the show was so popular). Then again, they lied about it being uncensored, so this wasn't so surprising.

The price "adjustment" aside, I really liked this production. I *might* just go and watch it again.


Bonus tidbit: Joel Trinidad (Nicky/Trekkie Monster) did a Filipino TV Show in Hungary. I can't find anything on Google.
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