A musical about Singapore’s turbulent post-WWII years is being helmed by a Filipino composer

…and its cast mainly features Filipinos.

We can hear the pitchforks being sharpened already, but before you angrily comment, hear the story out and reserve judgment until you’ve seen it.

You’ve put the pitchfork down? Alright, read on.

First off, the musical was to be about Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew and is backed by Capitol Investment Holdings Pte Ltd, but Ed Gatchalian, president of the 4th Wall Theatre Company, decided to focus on the lives of Singaporeans who lived in Singapore between 1955-1965 instead, after his interviews with several people who lived in Singapore during that period. In Gatchalian’s words:

“…(The inverviewees’) stories proved to be more interesting; the story of the musical must be about the nameless and faceless heroes of the modern Singaporean economy. Singapura takes place from 1955 to 1965, from the struggle to the uncertainty. We end not with success, but with determination.”

The cast includes 35 Filipinos, 11 Singaporeans, an American and a Canadian.

The plot revolves around a Singaporean family living in the 1950s to 1960s period. Violence during the Hock Lee bus riots causes the protagonist, a bus driver, to think about moving to another country, but his daughter wants to stay in Singapore to fight for a better life. She also has to deal with her lover’s requests to leave for a safer Britain. The family is portrayed by three Filipinos: Julien Mendoza is the male lead; Maybel Bangayan Ty plays his wife; and Marian Delgado is their daughter.

Times were turbulent back then, but no Singaporean has stepped up to deliver a musical portraying these times before.

One comment left on the wall of one of the local actors (Jonathan Lim) muses over a play about Malaysia written by Singaporean theatre writer Alfian Sa’at and lends credence to the argument that a foreigner writing such a production may be for the better due to objectivity.

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The report on The Straits Times had mistakenly reported that the production of Singapura costs S$20 million. According to Mr Gatchalian, who is also the composer, the production costs S$2 million and received no money from the government, SG50 fund or otherwise. We think if he actually tried though, he could have received funding from the SG50 Celebration Fund.

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Is the outrage justified?

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Yes, the musical is about Singapore but is largely represented by Filipinos. Yes, the musical is composed by Filipinos.

To that we say, so what? The rest of the directorial and production team are from Broadway. If the team has done their research, a Singaporean play featuring Filipinos as main characters should be a non-issue.

How many of the xenophobes know about Singapore’s history in the 1950’s and 1960’s, apart from what we’ve already read in our history textbooks and watched in National Education shows over the years? Shouldn’t we be feeling ashamed that a Filipino wants to know and show Singapore’s history more than the Singaporean layman?

Besides, we’re pretty sure most of the people complaining aren’t ever going to watch a musical in their lives anyway, Singaporean-produced or otherwise. While we do not guarantee that the musical will be good, having Filipinos in the cast will not automatically make Singapura bad.

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Not every Filipino is like our good friend Edz Ello, and not every Singaporean is an ugly xenophobe.

Singapura will open this May at the Capitol Theatre and run for 11 weeks. 


Featured image via Singapura: The Musical
With references from The Real Singapore, The Straits Times, The Philippine Star