Delicate, yet intense

  • Arts
  • Monday, 14 Oct 2013

The set of Butterfly Lovers is a true spectacle.

Dama Orchestra’s restaging of acclaimed production Butterfly Lovers has fans all aflutter.

The life of a butterfly is short and fraught with danger.

Its average lifespan is hardly a month, and in that brief time, it has to fend of predators and troubles with little in the way of defences.

Yet it keeps on fluttering, eager to find friends. A butterfly’s beauty brings joy to all who set eyes on it.

Butterfly Lovers: The Musical, currently being shown at KLPac, is a tragic tale of lovers separated by social prejudices and class struggle. Staged by Dama Orchestra, the production is an enjoyable one, mainly due to its inspired music and stellar performances.

Stageside, the cast carried the show in confident style. The production features the talents of Tan Soo Suan, Liow Jun Yi, Samuel Tseu, Janet Lee, Jason Lai, Lim Kien Lee, Tammy Yee and Karen Kwan as principal actors, Pun Kai Loon as artistic director, Khor Seng Chew as music director and Gan Boon We as concert master.

Emotional: Veteran theatre singer Tan Soo Suan brought Zhu Yingtai to life.

This restaging of Butterfly Lovers is held in conjunction with Dama’s 20th anniversary celebration, with the show previously being performed in 2006 (KLPac) and 2007 (Genting Highlands and His Majesty’s Theatre in Perth, Australia).

Butterfly Lovers, described as a combination of Romeo and Juliet and Yentl, retells the historical legend of Zhu Yingtai, a headstrong young woman who disguises herself as a man to attend university.

There, she meets the soft-spoken but progressive Liang Shanbo, who she makes a pact with. Unfortunately, this bond slowly turns to love, much to the despair of Zhu Yingtai’s parents, who have betrothed her to another.

The show at KLPac is told mostly in Mandarin, with English narration.

Visually, Butterfly Lovers is stunning, with raised wooden platforms and elaborate backdrops effectively used to evoke the splendour of classical Eastern Jin Dynasty China.

The show’s narrator (Samuel Tseu) warns the audience about falling in love blindly.

Whether it is the scholastic atmosphere of a royal academy, the tranquillity of a forest, or the bustle of a local household, the production’s set design was consistently impressive and well-imagined. Costumes were also eye-catching and well-done.

The production’s highlight, however, is its highly charged finale, which took place by a grave. Lighting, choreography and puppetry are all effectively combined to produce a mesmerising supernatural transformation, which will undoubtedly remain in the memories of audience members long after the play is done.

Story-wise, Butterfly Lovers sticks rigidly to folklore conventions and offers no surprises: indeed, it is possible to predict the entire plot after the first scene, particularly with the narrator’s story hints. The show is also occasionally overly melodramatic and drags in the beginning, which slowed its momentum at times.

What was most interesting about it’s story, however, was its apparent reversal of traditional gender roles. Most cliché love stories feature an active male lead and a more passive female lead: Butterfly Lovers, however, went in the opposite direction. Zhu Yingtai was impulsive, headstrong and passionate, in contrast to her lover Liang Shanbo, who was more level-headed and mellow. This was a very interesting dynamic and story angle.

Minor issues aside, however, the production is a solid watch, mostly due to its powerful performances. Group numbers, such as the show’s Overture, were delightful to listen to, with the ensemble’s voices melodiously blending to bring the music of composers/music arrangers Loo Fung Chiat and Loo Fung Ying to shine.

The students at the royal academy (right) in the Butterfly Lovers musical singing about the values of education and hard work.

Lee and Lai did well as the couple’s hapless servants Yinxin and Sijiu, adding a touch of comic relief to the show’s mostly serious atmosphere, while Lim was good as Zhu Yingtai’s hot-tempered, staunchly conservative father. Also fun to watch is Tseu, who infuses his role as narrator Ma Weng Chai with a delightful cynicism.

The standouts, however, are undoubtedly the main actors. Liow is good as Shanbo, delivering an understated performance which clearly marks his character as a high-born soul trapped in a low-born body.

Tan performs excellently as Yingtai, her powerful voice doing exceptionally well on the show’s more emotional songs.

All in all, a worthy production, particularly recommended for fans of Chinese opera and ancient folktales. More modern audiences, however, can still enjoy its cast’s strong vocal prowess and passionate acting.

Butterfly Lovers will be playing at Pentas 1, KLPac, Sentul Park Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala lumpur 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

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Delicate , yet intense


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