>reviewed by adi soon

>date: 26 jul 2000
>time: 8pm
>venue: kallang theatre
>rating: **1/2

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


This was clearly going to be a different experience. Walking through the entrance of the Kallang Theatre on a breezy Wednesday evening, saffron robed monks would be the last thing one would expect to see on the way to a performance. But there they were, interspersed throughout the predominantly mature and seemingly religious crowd. The whole atmosphere surrounding the Front of House presentation reminded me of a crowded Buddhist temple. It was a thought that stuck and later as I began to think about it, I realised that knowing who the audience was would be a critical factor in my evaluation of the performance.

After all these were not typical theatregoers.

The show started promisingly. Curtains unveiled to impress by the sheer visual impact of the set design and lighting; the innovative use of projection to present the dream sequence of Siddhartha's mother was particularly brilliant. Top marks also for the vocal quality that the show was never short of. All the principals were truly competent singers. These two aspects of the musical were consistent from start to finish and I never had a problem with them.

The spirit of the performance was largely intent on glorifying Siddhartha, Buddhism's central figure. The story is transplanted and told linearly, highlighting the major events of Siddhartha's path towards enlightenment. There was no radical reconceptualisation of the original story.

>>'the show as a whole could have been improved if it was shorter'

Perhaps it was unfair to expect this, but given the high production values of the project, and the quality of the ingredients that were chosen to pull if off, the result should have left me breathless. The musical however felt burdened by it's own richness, as if a concerted attempt to make it big and beautiful gave it a richness that was difficult to swallow.

First the music. It was largely even but dragged out the length of a 3-hour performance, it had the tendency of becoming predictable. The plot plodded along to the beat of this music, and soon a pattern emerged: scene opens, visual splendour, character proclaims and scene changes to repeat the pattern. All that separated and marked progress in plot was visual. The quality of the music could not keep up with the top-notch vocal talent available and this was a pity. Furthermore, if only there had been a recognisable signature theme that could have been brought to the forefront, the music would have been more enjoyable. As it was it seemed to only stay in the background supporting the mood of the scene but never really becoming something more than itself.

Technically, the volume of the music should also have been adjusted down, as it often drowned out the voices of the singers. This had the annoying effect of making the lyrics incomprehensibe. The loudness of the music also made listening very uncomfortable. The ear was not treated well.

Acting had its problems as well. Although great vocal talents, achieving credibility in characterisation was somewhat lacking. Lead Yang Wei Hung failed to convince in his portrayal as a Prince but improved after his character becomes the Buddha. The rest of the principals were generally competent but this was inconsistent with the high quality of the other aspects of the production. The dancers fared better as they were the most enjoyable to watch on stage. Not only was the dancing of a high calibre, they exuded supreme confidence.

Indeed, the show as a whole could have been improved if it was shorter. It seemed that there was no restraint in the editing of the story. Scene after scene progressed, advancing one minor point of the story at a time. Where several small scenes could have been done away altogether or collapsed with others, this was not the case. The production therefore ended up with an incredible number of small scenes and coupled with a monotonous pace of the story that did not seem to have a climax, it became a severe exercise in patience. There was always a feeling of anticipation for the end that would only come many scenes later.

I wondered whether I was the only one that felt this, but on the bus back from Kallang Theatre, I overhead an old lady jokingly saying that she almost fainted from the length of the show.

As a celebration of Buddhism, the musical serves its function. However what I would have liked to have seen emphasised was the drama behind the more human aspects of the story rather than an all-out attempt to just celebrate it in its totality. That would have given it a tighter focus and sharpness that would not have gone unappreciated.