“Houston, we have a problem.”
Reviewer: Christian W. Huber
Performance: 18 July 2017
Glowtape Productions took a great leap forward in mounting The Great Wall: One Woman’s Journey. The story is centred on the legend of Meng Jiang Nü, a woman who sets out to find her husband after he is taken away to labour at the Great Wall. When she finds out that he has died and is buried under the Wall, her cries of grief causes the Wall to collapse. This is an ambitious original musical, and no mean feat in today’s art climate.
However, while expectations abound, this bold production ultimately comes across as an aesthetically polished but musically flawed work in progress.
Most musicals have at least one spectacular moment that audiences look out for, be it a stirring helicopter sequence or a chandelier falling on stage. But this musical’s spectacle lies not in an event (the collapse of the Wall was cleverly done, but could have been stronger). Instead, it lies in a person – West End Performer Na-Young Jeon, who plays Meng Jiang Nü. Her incredible vocals and her versatility as a musical actress makes the show watchable. Her co-star Nathan Hartono pales in comparison to her in both singing and stage presence.
Having accomplished local artistes such as Neo Swee Lin, Lim Kay Siu, and other growing talents – such as Thomas Pang, Erwin Shah Ismail, Benjamin Wong, and Joshua Lim just to name a few – being sidelined to ensemble roles means that one does not get to see them shine as they do in other productions. However, their commitment for their roles is admirable.
It takes a village for a musical to work. With the female protagonist driving the action in this piece, she overshadows the other characters, who come across as mostly clichéd and caricatured. For instance, George Chan’s portrayal of the first Emperor to have united China, but who did so at a price, could have been more nuanced. This makes the piece less engaging and harder for the audience to really feel for the characters.
With the high production value and strong direction of this piece (kudos to Darren Yap for bringing his experience in directing musicals), the key letdown for this reviewer has to be the music. Most of the songs are relatively ‘tuneless’ and unmemorable, but the one saving grace – “Pass It On” – should be used as the basis to tweak the music and libretto in the future.
After six years of arduous work, Glowtape Productions must have the tenacity to continue the journey forward – which means more rewrites, investment, and possible re-castings – to see its due applause.
It can only get better.
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ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
THE GREAT WALL by Glowtape Productions
14 – 30 July 2017
Drama Centre Theatre
ABOUT THE REVIEWER
Christian is a C42 Boiler Room 2016 playwright, and enjoys being an audience member to different mediums of the arts. He finds arts invigorating to the soul, and truly believes that the vibrant arts scene has come a long way from its humble beginnings.