Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Bye Bye Baby...

As the dust finally settles, the cast and crew of Jersey Boys (South Africa ) are now grabbing a breather before the show's early April run in Johannesburg.

Most who saw the musical had only the best things to say about it - "awesome!", "fantastic!", "amazing!" - and once again, hearty congratulations to Showtime and Base Entertainment Asia for a job well done!

Sometime last year, I filled out an online survey form emailed by Base Entertainment ( they captured my address because I attended an Andrew Lloyd Webber tribute concert previously ). I was asked a number of things, like which musicals I'd watched overseas and locally, but one question which really stood out is this: among the list of 10 shows, which would you like to see in Singapore most? I vaguely recall Spring Awakening and maybe Chicago in the mix, but without any hesitation at all, I checked the box for Jersey Boys.

Never in a million years did I think it would ever become a reality. After The Lion King, Wicked, A Chorus Line and Annie - Australian versions which I avoided - I was still waiting for the right opportunity to catch a full-scale musical at the Marina Bay Sands. And even though I wanted to watch Jersey Boys pretty badly, the only reason I held back until a week into the run proper was fear - of having a perfect memory marred, of not being able to get past the Broadway original's impossibly high standard and the original cast recording which I know like the back of my hand.

Fortunately, I did get past them, thanks in large part to my emed resident, whose opinions I value and trust. Turns out she was right on the money - I was extremely impressed with what I saw and heard. :D

But aside from the show itself, 5 key people have helped make the entire experience a truly special one. With events like these, meeting the fans is practically a duty you can't afford to shirk from. Numerous Tony winners on Broadway make it a point to sign autographs and pose for pictures at the stage door after every performance, to show their appreciation for the audience's support.

In early 2008, a few months after I missed "the original Frankie Valli", John Lloyd Young, post-performance, I wrote him a short letter saying how much I enjoyed the show, and was shocked to receive a personal reply, including 2 autographed photos. When I sent a thank-you note in return, he reciprocated with a second reply a few weeks later. I think the exchange could've gone on for ages, but decided to give him some space. Very reluctantly, might I add. :)

I mention this because it's an example of how certain actors go far beyond what anyone expects, and it stays with you forever. Like Jonathan Groff, who chatted with fans for more than 30 minutes after a matinee performance, and gave me not only a beautifully posed picture, but a whopper of a hug as well.
And Kevin Spacey, who thrilled and inspired my cousin's teenage daughter immensely when he penned a personal message for her in a Richard III programme, and was unbelievably gracious to both of us.

We sometimes set the bar so high, we easily forget how tough it is on the actors themselves.

Take this South African production. Not only were they joining an international pedigree franchise ( stressful! ), they were debuting it in an Asian country ( Frankie who? ). While predecessors like The Lion King, etc, appeal to a wide audience and feature eye-popping set designs to please the crowds, Jersey Boys relies heavily on musicality and the strength of its leads.

The absence of a massive supporting cast makes each performance a challenging and exhausting one. The musical moves at an insane pace, with a never-ending parade of high-energy numbers stuffed between tense dramatic scenes. It's got to be one of the hardest jobs ever. Doing it far from the comforts of home and family no doubt only adds to the fatigue.

Which is precisely why this particular Jersey Boys experience illustrates how far the actors' dedication goes. Even before I first met them in person, Daniel Buys ( who plays Tommy DeVito ) accepted my Facebook friend request and sent me directions to the stage door. ( Yolanda Kimber, the company manager, did the same through the JerseyBoysSA FB page. )

When my group arrived, I was completely shocked to see all 4 actors waiting for us. Grant Almirall ( Frankie Valli ) revealed that they'd come out together specially to meet us, and Yolanda was right there with them as well.

The guys were a huge pleasure to talk to, signing beautiful autographs and expressing their appreciation for our support. That was great! I thought. Am going to watch it again, who knows if we'll get to talk to them once more?

The next day, 2 of the other gentlemen - Kenneth Meyer ( Bob Gaudio ) and Emmanuel Castis ( Nick Massi ) - also accepted my friend requests. Not long after, Yolanda agreed to arrange an interview for a theatre blog I contribute to. And over the past month or so, the actors corresponded with me regularly about the show and other assorted subjects. When they had to work through the Christmas and New Year holidays, I sent them festive greetings. When Grant wasn't well and couldn't perform for a few nights, I wished him a swift recovery. It wasn't much, of course, but I hope it helped in some small way.

When I finally saw the show a second time, I was lucky enough to encounter them again at a formal meet-and-greet in the foyer. They all looked gorgeous in their sharp suits, but I do kinda miss the T-shirts, bermudas and flip-flops a little heh!

I brought a few tokens of appreciation to thank them for doing the interview, but even before I got to say anything, Daniel and Emmanuel came forward and hugged me - something I didn't expect at all. ( Actually, I stuck out my hand first, earning an annoyed "Wha...?" look from Daniel. Oops, my mistake! :)) Grant and Kenneth followed, and the moment felt like a reunion of long-lost friends rather than a fan merely meeting the cast.

They were also incredibly sweet to my mum, who completely adores them. Winning her approval is not an easy thing to do! :)

I've gone through enough meet-and-greets to know that this one was really off the charts. I am not a member of the press, I'm not a big-time sponsor, I'd only met them once before, but none of this mattered. I was absolutely stunned.

Aside from audience members, they also posed with a horde of super-excited ushers, which brought a huge smile to my face. And it appears the stage door ambush has caught on with many, as evidenced by the numerous photos posted by blissed-out fans on their Facebook pages. Excellent, keep 'em coming! :D

Even after that second evening, the guys wrote back to thank me for the gifts and cards. Kenneth, who's always been the quietest of the group, practically floored me when he responded to a Facebook post on my personal page, saying he would miss Singapore as much as we miss them. Awwww. :)

When I first saw Jersey Boys in New York more than 5 years ago, I never thought it would ever make it to Singapore. When it did, I never imagined getting personally involved with it in any way.

What's transpired over the past 6 weeks will always have a special place in my heart. I love this musical so much, and every single piece of memorabilia I own ( both then and now ) is a treasure.

But most of all, I will never forget these 5 wonderful people from Jersey Boys ( South Africa ), who didn't just go through the motions of publicity like most would, but embraced all their Singaporean fans like family.

South Africa wasn't high on my list of must-sees before, but now it's definitely in the top 3!

Yolanda, Grant, Daniel, Kenneth and Emmanuel - thank you so much for everything. I eagerly await the tornado of hysteria Jersey Boys will generate on the rest of its regional tour! God bless, and hope we'll meet again one day! :)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Hello, 2013!

The new year is upon us! :)

As awards season descends, I've been loading up on the major nominees, among which Zero Dark Thirty sits prominently.

Famously referred to as The Hunt For Osama Bin Laden, the film is one slow cooker, clocking in at 2-plus hours, with numerous scenes of lengthy interrogations and CIA agents huddled in discussion in dim conference rooms.

I found it profoundly difficult to follow at times, no thanks to muffled dialogue and fleeting character development where the terrorists are concerned. The 10-year timeline adds to the rush - how many pages of script can you afford when there's so much material to cover?

Compared to director Kathryn Bigelow's previous offering, The Hurt Locker, ZDT is far less entertaining but also much more important. Ask yourself where you were when you first heard about the 9/11 attacks and I guarantee you will recall every detail without hesitation. A tragedy of such horrific proportions permeates our consciousness whether we allow it to or not. Rest assured that emotions will run high at some point, and that the final 30 minutes are extremely satisfying.

Buoyed by a top-notch cast - Jessica Chastain, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong - the film features memorable performances, though IMHO, Chastain's best work to date is the sorely overlooked The Debt.

Keep an eye out for a standout scene with Strong bellowing at his colleagues and banging a table. Edgerton, on the other hand, shines every time he's on screen.

Disputes about accuracy aside, ZDT highlights the dedication of America's covert agents and the epic task they undertook to secure justice for the innocent thousands who perished that fateful day.

A top awards contender, this also focuses on a subject which is dear to my heart. Abraham Lincoln is widely regarded as America's greatest president, and Steven Spielberg's biopic chooses a key period in his life - i.e. the passing of the 13th Amendment to abolish slavery in the United States.

Like ZDT ( and many recent movies ranging from Skyfall to The Hobbit ), Lincoln lasts a bladder-bursting 2 hours and 40 minutes, with numerous scenes of subdued conversation. The complexity of Washington politics is lost on me, but again, the illustrious cast makes the journey highly enjoyable.

Daniel Day-Lewis embraces his role wholeheartedly, earning well-deserved accolades from critics and film industry colleagues. However, his tour de force performance thus far was in There Will Be Blood. Lincoln is, without a doubt, a great character, but Daniel Plainview generated much more from the audience - a potent mixture of disgust, pity and admiration.

All bets are on Day-Lewis to win his third Oscar. Do you agree?

Next, a few highly anticipated TV shows which will premiere soon.

The Following airs in the US next Monday.

Hannibal will debut in March.

And the incredibly hot Jonathan Rhys Meyers will play Dracula in a revamped version of Stoker's timeless tale. Do not fret - the story may deviate from the original, but the setting remains in the correct era.

Other exciting events in the near future:

1) Adam Lambert's concert on 8 March
2) Venus In Fur, staged by the Singapore Repertory Theatre
3) Kumar's annual standup gig at the Esplanade
4) Dirty Dancing at the Marina Bay Sands
5) Rabbit Hole, Next To Normal and Gruesome Playground Injuries by Pangdemonium!

Details can be found at Just Watch Lah.

If you previously weren't a big fan of local theatre, 2013 is the year to change that!

Till next time... :)