Toy Factory is well-known (but not necessarily in a good way) for shamelessly riding on the stars of the moment when it comes to marketing their productions. This time is no different. Shanghai Blues – The Musical was well-marketed with all the hype surrounding Hong Kong’s anti-drug ambassador and singer, William So (苏永康), 881 star, Mindee Ong (王欣) and Dim Sum Dolly, Emma Yong along with Jeffery Tan, Resident Choreographer of Singapore Dance Theatre choreographing the dances in the performance.
Set during World War II in China, the story started with the Japanese invasion all over the land. In the chaos, Lim Wen Chong (William So) and Du Yun (Mindee Ong) take shelter under a bridge on a dark moon-less night. So dark that both were conveniently unrecognizable. The two protagonists broke into a William So song with extremely cheesy rewritten lyrics. They talked briefly about where they were going and what they wanted to do. Wen Chong was a musician who was about to join the army against the Japanese. Du Yun was just fighting for survive. The superficial dialogue conveniently has both of them falling in love in the darkness and breaking in and out of the cheesily rewritten song and conveniently making a pact to return after the war was over. And just before they had to part ways in the darkness, Du Yun had to give Wen Chong the conveniently shameless slut kiss, which conveniently leaves Wen Chong surprised, so that a second shameless slut kiss can be planted. Oh yes, there was also the convenient token love momento, half a mantou (bun). Plus, the best part: they conveniently did not exchange their names for identification.
If you have noticed the frequently used conveniences, Yes, the script was written so conveniently that it made a trip to 7-eleven seem like an expedition. The characters were so superficially written and the rewritten song was downright crass and had a backfiring effect which was painfully comical. Unfortunately, there would be more of such horrendous and thoughtless scriptwriting.
So as conveniently as the war started, the war ended. And conveniently, 8 years passed. Wen Chong returns unscathed physically and emotionally by the ravages of war. And in his hand was a mantou, even more sickeningly convenient and cheesy was that a joke about a stale 8-year old mantou had to be weaved into the script. He appears like a little boy stepping into Disneyland for the first time. He conveniently reunites with his auntie who gives him a job in her nightclub.
At the nightclub, he bumps into the star singer who was conveniently Du Yun. They do not recognize each other because it was conveniently written previously that they didn’t get visual confirmation and the names of each other. They broke into to same cheesy rewritten song because it was convenient that they feel a strange connection. But she isn’t the same anymore. Previously a simple girl, now she is a seasoned and jaded songstress. I thought there would have been a bit of recap of the things she went through in the 8 years, but other than the regurgitated story of that night under the bridge from a convenient diary that was even more conveniently read out loud by Dan Lei (Emma Yong), she suddenly became a seasoned and jaded performer! So how the did that even happen? Oh yes, that part was conveniently left out.
So conveniently, Wen Chong and Du Yun were also neighbors who conveniently hate each other because they irritate the hell out of each other. Even more conveniently, was Dan Lei who ends up knowing Wen Chong in the cheesy, carbon copy way Du Yun first known him under the bridge. Conveniently, Dan Lei starts to fall for Wen Chong.
The plot had to have Du Yun chancing upon Wen Chong at the bridge and revealing she was the girl he met under the bridge, but he brushes it away thinking she was playing a prank on him because conveniently, she was a different person from 8 years ago.
Predictably, the story unfolds to reveal a convenient love triangle where the 2 leading ladies realize each other’s love/infatuation for Wen Chong and started pushing the other to him. Conveniently, each has their own back up plan so that they could play the to-love-is-to-let-go drama. Du Yun has a cao angmoh (stinky caucasian) wanting her, along with a bitchy and nasty rival who wants the cao angmoh for herself. Dan Lei enters and wins a beauty pageant but soon realized that there would be a price to pay.
Before Du Yun leaves with the cao angmoh, Dan Lei and Wen Chong share a dinner together. Dan Lei asked Wen Chong for an unforgettable night of beautiful memories before she loses herself in her newfound fame. Wen Chong rejected that he didn’t want to have an unforgettable night of nightmares. So conveniently, both spill to each other about the night under the bridge 8 years ago. Dan Lei reveals that Du Yun is the one Wen Chong had been waiting for all these while.
Wen Chong rushes off to the find Du Yun at the departure. With a little bit of cajoling, Wen Chong manages to make Du Yun sing along in that awfully rewritten song and therefore returning into each other’s arms.
On closing, Wen Chong’s song conveniently hit the airwave and made famous thanks to the connections of the cao angmoh because he would do anything for Du Yun.
And so the story ends. The script was unbearably cheesy and awfully corny. It failed spectacularly with an unconvincing story which didn’t even attempt to tug at the heartstrings. It took war so lightly like a flip of a page that it was appalling and unacceptable.
Thankfully, the show was kept alive with the wonderful performers. Every one was convincing in his/her role even with the lousy script. Being a musical, the singing was in general pretty good and enjoyable. While Mindee isn’t as seasoned in singing, she put up a good effort even when her voice was easily over-shadowed by William’s and Emma’s.
The dance choreography by Jeffery Tan flowed very well in the scenes in the nightclub, but those outside seemed a little too gay for themes of revolution and war in those tumultous times.
As for the set, it was as awkward as it was ingenious with the orchestra sitting right in the middle of the stage the whole time. Just about every set item had multiple uses when positioned differently, quickly changing to different scenes. However, this versatility seemed to have left the entire stage looking rather tattered and unmaintained with loose lines and ropes dangling all around, which I believe shouldn’t be the case for the nightclub scenes.
So yes, the show overall left a really bad flavor, not to mention a continued bad impression of Toy Factory. Well, at least the performers did not disappoint.