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Review: Semula! the Musical

Production photos by KCLSS Production Team

Staff writer Jim Lin reviews the Singapore Society’s production of “Semula! The Musical”.

Presented by King’s College London Singapore Society, “Semula! The Musical” successfully showcased the Asian norm of kinship conflicts to the audience wrapped around by laughter and joy. 

The impression of the production begins before the curtain opens. Upon arrival, vouchers of their sponsors kept flying into your hands, perfectly distracting the attention of attendees from waiting in the queue for the kind offering of boba tea. The credit goes to the generosity of its sponsors and the real-time management of the welcoming team.

The production team has done well in identifying and pleasing their target audience. On the one hand, given the special background of the production, it is not surprising to get a relatively close-knit vibe among the audience in the Singaporean community. The ‘family-reunion-like’ feeling of the audience is also evident in the wave of excitement, as people immediately recognise familiar faces, upon entering the hall. The lively atmosphere created by the audience unmistakably signals that their response will be outstanding, irrespective of the performance. On the other hand, the design of the programme shows the caring of the team towards non-Singaporean viewers with a glossary listing out all the Singaporean/Malay Slang used in the script.

Production photos by KCLSS Production Team

Directed by Jade Kong and Charlieze Tan, the plot is surrounded by the interactions of the Huang family – a Singaporean family that consists of the typical Asian parent (Mama Huang and Papa Huang, played by Rebecca Lai and Lee Yan Yi), an extraordinary twin sister (Erin Huang, played by Erin Lee) and an ordinary twin brother (Eugene Huang, played by Eugene Gan). Throughout their childhood, despite their parent’s best attempts to treat the twins equally, Eugene still got constantly frustrated by various favouritism in their daily interactions. Reaching his breaking point on their 20th birthday, the twins then went on an otherworldly adventure to battle against the Yishun Cat Killer (YCK, played by Ethan Lim). With Eugene having taken on the ‘extraordinary status’, they started to experience the feeling of being in each other’s shoes and struggle to restore the kinship that had been lost since their 12th birthday.

The slang ‘Semula’ in Malay means to give something a second try after something has been done wrong, especially in the context of the military. The phrase highlights the adventure of the Huang twins to go back in time and their efforts to achieve a better outcome. From that perspective, the name ‘Semula’ covers the story fairly well. Meanwhile, the use of cultural slang and cues throughout the show also brings the audience into this Singapore-like society in the story. The topic of sibling conflicts is no stranger to the theatre world; however, blended with the use of slang and sarcasm towards the institutional norm in modern Singapore, the show managed to give the rather cliched topic a modern twist to allow those who share a similar cultural background to relate. For example, there were a few moments that brought back some childhood memories of mine back in Taiwan.

As mentioned, given the special background of the show and its audience, the details of the musical did not affect the entire experience as much compared to other musicals. Throughout the musical, one can easily feel the effort of the orchestra to fill the theatre hall with their limited instruments in the pit. Meanwhile, the vocals of the show were struggling to colour up the plot, as most actors and actresses do not possess the trained vocal techniques that are required in a musical theatre setting. Apart from the two general challenges, there were also minor mistakes by the tech team regarding the volume of the microphone. However, as the cast members are strictly to be cast from the society or a similar cultural background to the one in the storyline, it is a superb opportunity for those who are interested in musical theatre to try it out within a comfortable environment, hence the reasonable shortcomings on the more professional aspects. There are also some remarkable scenes that I would like to go over For instance, the confidence expressed via the vocal of Erin Huang in Act 1 and the robust ‘grown-up’ solo of Eugene Gan in ‘When I Grow Up’ stunned the audience, while enhancing the plot from a different dynamic.

Production photos by KCLSS Production Team

What amazed me the most, apart from the unending obsession of the characters towards Collin the cake (the cake that reflects the competition between the twins), was the production’s choreography. Led by Gerel Tay Xin Tian and Ayoni Sarkar, the ensemble successfully turned some of the otherwise lacklustre scene changes or monologues into silly performances that entertain the crowd. It is fair to say throughout the musical, laughter was guaranteed whenever the ensemble presented a short dancing piece or even just some moves to receive cackles from the audience.

Apart from the choreography, the smooth gymnastic-like moves of Ethan Lim as the YCK, the exaggerated acting from Dillon Liew as ‘Ken Seet’, and the hilarious arrangement of the props (especially the baby dolls of the Huangs) from the stage managers Caitlin Susanto and Ron Chan Ken Yan have also excelled the comedic aspect of the production.

Production photos by KCLSS Production Team

All in all, KCLSS did an extraordinary job in putting together a night of celebration for their culture, bringing laughter to its members alongside those who are interested in learning more about Singaporean culture. Just as one of the final lines of the plot goes, ‘It’s always not enough’ – implying that there are always spaces for improvement. From a professional theatre production perspective, there are undoubtedly things that could ‘Semula’ for improvements. However, the production is already more than enough to please its target audience and make the night joyful, as well as memorable.

MA Public Policy Student from Taipei, Taiwan.

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