A tragic love story returns to the stage with an injection of freshness.
Tale as old as time, true as it can be. Barely even friends, then somebody bends unexpectedly. These words sung by Mrs Pot in Disney’s Beauty And The Beast are forever etched in our memories; words that speak of love.
There is another tale that is as old as time, hailed as the Chinese Romeo and Juliet. Set in ancient China, one could possibly lose themselves counting the times it has been retold. And like Belle and the Beast, the two were barely even friends and then, unexpectedly, somebody bent.
“It is a love story that could not be fulfilled. It is very much the story of Yentl and Romeo and Juliet mixed together,” said Pun Kai Loon, the director of Dama Orchestra’s (Dama) Butterfly Lovers the musical.
Returning for the third time to the Malaysian stage as part of Dama’s 20th anniversary, Butterfly Lovers tells the story of two young people, Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo, who fall in love with each other while in school. But like any Asian love story, their love is short- lived. The girl is betrothed to another by her parents.
Liang, upon hearing the news, falls ill and dies a tragic death. On the day of her marriage, Zhu runs to Liang’s grave and begs for the grave to be split open and with a clap of thunder, it does. Zhu throws herself into the grave and the two lovers’ spirits emerge as butterflies.
The twist to the story is that Zhu studies and falls for Liang in the guise of a man and he learns of her true identity only much later.
One might ask what is going to be different this time? It is after all a well-known story and Dama has staged it four times before (once in Perth).
Pun was quick to assert that the years spent restaging Butterfly Lovers have granted them the wisdom to look deeper into this tale and find ways to reinterpret the story and characters. And he adds, the fresh faces that have joined the cast have added more colour to the musical.
“It’s always interesting to see fresh faces having their own sets of interpretations. It gives a different kind of flow to the whole thing. And I don’t think you will be seeing a carbon copy of what we have done the last time.
Due to our accumulated wisdom over the years, in terms of staging, I think we have learned quite a lot and we took the artistic liberty to re-look and reinterpret the story,” reasoned Pun.
He assured that audiences who have watched the musical before will not find it boring, as “there will be a lot of freshness to it We like to treat this as wine, it gets better with age.”
Butterfly Lovers may be a musical entirely in Mandarin but the narration by Samuel Tseu will be in English. English surtitles will also appear on the screen for non-Mandarin speaking audiences.
Reprising the role of Zhu Yingtai is Dama’s resident soprano, Tan Soo Suan. Playing this character for the fourth time, Tan joked that she fitted the role best as she can be rather manly. But how has it been for her to play this role again?
“This time around, I have a new man to sing to. So everything to me is new again as there is different chemistry and different reactions. Besides that, I got to explore the character deeper to understand her.
“I find that there is a lot of singing involved in this production, easily three-quarters of the script. So, the challenge for me is to go even deeper with the songs and look at how else I can interpret them and sing them,” shared Tan.
Janet Lee, who will be playing Zhu’s personal maid, is another returning cast member. Having played this role before, Lee said she, together with her fellow cast members, were able “to go deep to the core and explore new things to present something refreshing and rich for the scenes. Soo Suan comes to me with questions and ideas that we had not explored before and vice versa.”
Tan Soo Tze and Dennis Yeap, two of the 15 ensemble members, shared that they had to learn an entire repertoire of gestures and physical stances to portray their characters. They even had dialect coaching sessions to ensure a uniform accent across the board.
To spice things up and add more colour on stage, the two said the ensemble members have their own back-stories for their characters, however insignificant they may be, and this in turn informs their expressions, relationships with one another and their decision making process on stage.
“Ever just the same, ever a surprise,” said Mrs Pot. That holds true to this restaging of Butterfly Lovers. The story may be well known, but like love itself, there are bound to be surprises. One question remains though. Are the butterflies of Zhu Yingtai and Liang Shanbo still fluttering about, ever in love with each other?
Butterfly Lovers will be playing at Pentas 1, KLPac, Sentul Park Jalan Strachan, Off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur on Oct 5 & 6 (8.30pm), Oct 10 & 11 (8.30pm), Oct 12 & 13 (3pm & 8.30pm), Oct 17 & 18 (8.30pm) and Oct 19 & 20 (3pm & 8.30pm). Tickets are priced between RM68 and RM288. To purchase tickets, contact 03-4047 9000/03-7880 7999 or visit www.ticketpro.com.my.