Tuesday, June 12, 2007

ST Life!, Tuesday 12 June 2007

This Georgette is witty

This musical about the life of art pioneer Georgette Chen says much with little
Stephanie Yap

There's just something about a woman looking enigmatically out of a painting that seems to fire the imaginations of storytellers from print to screen.

Georgette, about the life of art pioneer Georgette Chen before she came to Singapore in her late 40s, is an exquisite work of theatrical art that mixes whimsy with wit and a sizeable dose of pathos.

Opening with the ensemble contemplating the "woman on the wall" – a slide projection of Chen's iconic self-portrait – we are soon brought to the gay Paris of the late 1920s, where a young Chen (Seong Hui Xuan) has arrived to become an artist, though her fat-cat parents are on hand to cramp her style.

There, the rebellious young woman falls in love with the Chinese foreign minister Eugene Chen, beginning a partnership that was ended by the ravages of World War II.

This no-frills staging had a cast of 11 accompanied by music director Chris Nolan on piano, in a manner charmingly reminiscent of café theatre.

Local composer Clement Yang's melodies are lush, haunting and emotionally varied, from the Caribbean-flavoured Islands In The Sun to the sweet and simple love song Always Together and the gorgeous anthem to art, Bowl of Fruit.

Meanwhile, playwright Ng Yi-Sheng must be lauded for his economy. His scenes never go on for too long, and he supplies the sharpest lines that establish his characters' personalities quickly while entertaining the audience.

"I'm not beautiful," sings Eugene self-effacingly during their courtship. "But that's modern art," retorts Georgette.

The omniscient narrator (Lina Lim) is useful at the start as she helps with the introductions, but peters into insignificance as the show runs its course.

As for Chen, she is portrayed as both plucky and lucky, a sympathetic yet initially self-centred character whose motivations, both artistic and personal, warrant more examination than was given.

To the creative team's credit, they dared to poke fun at their heroine, such as in a hilarious moment when she flounces out of her parents' house denouncing them as outmoded aristocrats – even as she ignores the rows of servants who obligingly back out of her way.

Seong, with her almond-shaped eyes and delicate features, looks astounding like Chen's self-portrait. The actress also has a compelling, self-possessed presence and a lovely contralto voice, and it is a great pity that she gets anything close to a show-stopping solo only in the second half of the show.

Eu Jin Hwang as Eugene Chen impressed with a chocolately tenor and effortless gravitas, while as Chen's parents, C.C. Leong's woundrously large head and Joyce Liang's tai-tai look were perfect physical manifestations of their character's personalities, though one feels that the duo could have hammed it up even more. Indeed, it seemed at times as if the entire cast, directed by Lee Yew Moon, was only singing and acting at half-power.

Still, this elegant musical, saying much with little, is a breath of fresh air in Singapore's musical theatre scene.


dio said...

What it should have been: I was impressed by Eu Jin's chocolatey baritone, not tenor! Don't know what got into me, I just automatically label all male leads as tenors. Thanks ;)
-- Steph

Ng Yi-Sheng said...

Heh, they say that all operas are about a soprano and a tenor who fall in love and an alto and a baritone who want to stop them...

Seriously, it doesn't matter. Esp not compared to the idiot who gives us such stupid headlines...