“Prepare to be detained.”
Reviewer: Jocelyn Chng
Performance: 18 February 2017
2017 has somehow been designated a year of musicals – the local theatre calendar this year is marked with a slew of nine musicals, and Detention Katong is first off the block.
Let’s start with the positives – the biggest strength of this musical is its cast. While previous musicals staged by local companies have tended to suffer from uneven casting, the cast of Detention Katong is rather consistent in terms of technical ability. Most of the cast is adept at pulling off the oft-mentioned triple threat skills required of a musical theatre performer: singing, dancing and acting. It is heartening that the scene is slowly stepping up to the demands of musical theatre with an increasing numbers of young performers trained in this genre.
The other nice thing is the set by Denise Low and Melissa Ho. Simple and functional, it quite niftily demonstrates that it is possible to put up a good show without the elaborate, expensive sets so often associated with big budget musicals.
As with every school report card, there is always room for improvement. Firstly, the material has potential – the gist of the story is that people are not always what they seem, which can conceivably provide good fodder for the twists and turns of a musical plot. Unfortunately the book takes too many twists down unrelated side alleys, making for a rather confusing ride.
Secondly, not all the musical numbers are well incorporated. Some feel like tokenistic inclusions, such as “Discipline Mistress’ Lament,” which awkwardly references S&M, and Mr Saw, the school counsellor’s “Early Daze,” which does little to further the plot and unexplainably incorporates psychedelic multimedia projections. There is also a ballet-parody number lampooning the system of balloting for entry to Primary school, which at best vaguely relates to the Secondary school context of the musical.
Some of the scenes with singing, dancing schoolgirls and teachers is reminiscent of Spring Awakening, especially when Amanda, our deceptively goody two-shoes leading lady, belts out the word “Mama” close to the beginning of the musical. But there are memorable numbers, like “Eyes Closed,” also sung by Amanda.
However, by the end of the performance, I cannot help but feel more like I have attended a work-in-progress showing than a finished musical.
There is a reason why most of the big famous Broadway musicals take years and years of workshopping off-Broadway, with trials in different cities, before making it to Broadway. Now that we have made some headway in developing musical theatre talent in Singapore, perhaps it is also time to re-look and reflect on the creative process in order to develop stronger musicals that we can call our own.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
DETENTION KATONG by Dram Academy
17 February – 5 March 2017
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Jocelyn Chng holds a double Masters in Theatre Studies/Research. She is a founding member of the Song and Dance (SoDa) Players – a registered musical theatre society in Singapore. She is currently building her portfolio career as an educator and practitioner in dance and theatre, while pursuing an MA in Education (Dance Teaching).