>magic of love by touch entertainment

>reviewed by arthur kok

>date: 22 sep 2001
>time: 8pm
>venue: the singapore indoor stadium
>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.


The embroidered cheongsams, black brogans, rosewood furniture and particularly the powder-cake complexion of the women meant that MAGIC OF LOVE turned out a campier 'On the Bund' on Saturday nights. Helping the English medium sit well with the Chinese premise of the production was not only the strong east-meets-west aesthetic but also the framing context of a cabaret in Shanghai. Against this performance space (the cabaret) within a performance space (the Singapore Indoor Stadium), a musical drama of relations under siege unfolded.

Lawrence and Priscilla are a father and daughter team of illusionists who devote their waking hours to perfecting their craft and amassing the accolades. Their bond soon becomes threatened, however, by feelings of neglect, distrust, personal pride and ambition. Between this pair exist the allergy-stricken (but good) Ah Chu and the jealousy-stricken (therefore bad) Shanghai Charlie. Most of the characters seem to have stepped out of a feel-good sitcom, with the criminals unconvincingly flat and one-dimensional (think evil laughter and laughable ambition).

>>'The musical lacked a strong score despite having composer Iskandar Ismail on the payroll'

Perhaps the focus was on the 'magic' or illusions which lay claim to being unique to this production. If one were judging by the look of the tricks, then one would agree with the claim. They carried a strong Oriental theme right down to the engraving and filigree on the props setting these apart from their Western counterparts. For the actual magic items however it has to be admitted that the "card tricks", the "floating/flying object", the "object which vanishes in a container" (with the option of appearing elsewhere) and even the more spectacular illusions have clear (and more professional) precedents.

Holding together this lightweight and feel-happy musical were a cast of varying stage-experience. Lawrence and Priscilla, were played credibly by relative newcomers and a real-life father-and-daughter pair (Lawrence and Priscilla Khong). Their portrayals are made more earnest as they sought to work their own journey to renewed intimacy through the musical. Ah Chu (Chua En Lai) sees an actor more accustomed to demandingly unconventional stage acting uncomfortably working through his colourless role of a lapdog.

Finally, the musical lacked a strong score despite having composer Iskandar Ismail on the payroll. There were few memorable songs although this was mitigated to a degree by the excellent voice of Lily (Skye). Also, some of the aural soundscapes crafted to evoke the "moment" (whether a cabaret number or a grand illusion) suffered a hollow sound perhaps from the not up-to-par recording and projection values. Particularly vexing was the poor audio pick-up for the singing bits by Shanghai Charlie (Lee Weng Kee). The uneven amplification surely was an oversight (and not because of his "dark" role!) that needs to be corrected.

All these grievances aside, the musical still managed to tell a simple and affecting story. This is because the plot sought the simplicity of a parable and audaciously sidestepped any aspiration for complexity and nuance. The foregone conclusion anticipated by the genre is that hurts can be healed, evil can be overcome, and that the "magic of love" does indeed triumph. In the light of the recent tragedy in America, I wonder if this does indeed approach some sort of a respite from the troubled age we live in.