Retro with a twist

  • Arts
  • Saturday, 09 Nov 2013

Singing in the rain: Singing Market promises to wow audiences with retro music and an explosion of colours

Singing Market The Musical tackles enduring themes of love, dreams and sacrifice with Chinese oldies.

WHEN was the last time you visited your local market? Has it been too long since you stood in line, exchanging neighbourhood gossip with the poultry vendor as he chopped the choice bird into delectable nuggets? Remember the delights of just sitting at the kopitiam and having a cuppa with an old friend?

A song sung by Disney’s Belle in Beauty And The Beast comes to mind: “Little town / It’s a quiet village / Ev’ry day / Like the one before / Little town / Full of little people / Waking up to say: / Bon jour!”

What if, like Belle and the townsfolk, the vendors in your market started to sing?

Walk into Singing Market The Musical and, at once, you will be transported to the 1970s, with all its retro glory, psychedelic costumes and a melting pot of Chinese classic oldies.

Presented by Asia Musical Productions, the musical is set in a Chinese market in the 1970s and revolves around the vendors whose everyday normalcy morphs into a high-octane musical journey when they join an ad hoc performance troupe at the eleventh hour to save the yearly Hungry Ghost Festival staged at the market.

This time around, the tradition faces oblivion when the chairman’s wife, who was supposed to invite the performance troupe, gambles away the money and is left penniless. Two of the vendors at the market, sisters and recently retired singers, see this as an opportunity to re-ignite their passion and go about mobilising a performance troupe, with the old vendors as the performers.

This comedic Chinese musical (with English surtitles) also explores the personal lives of these vendors and their dreams and relationships – there’s even a love triangle!

Ho Lin Huay, who wrote and directed the musical, didn’t have to look far for inspiration. Many of her characters are drawn from her own memories as a child growing up in a Chinese market. In fact, the noodle Ah Soh (aunty) in the musical is actually based on the Hakka noodle seller she used to know at the market.

“My family actually owned a Chinese medicine shop at the pasar (market). My memories of the place and the people are fond ones because all of them were very nice people. They may not have been highly educated but they were good people.

“I remember during the festive seasons, everyone would wish and treat each other. But nowadays, I think, people don’t do that anymore, or not as often anyway. In the 1980s and 1990s, the bonds and relationships between people were better. I wanted to remind the audience about this bygone societal beauty,” Ho, 42, said.

Ho reckoned that although the musical is set in the 1970s, some of the major themes explored, such as love, sacrifice, dreams and friendships, are just as relevant to audiences now as they would have been to the people of that era.

“There are no boundaries to such things. Love is still love, be it in the 70s or now. And when it comes to dreams, everyone had or has a dream. Ask any elderly Chinese person and they will probably tell you their dream was to sing, which is why there are a lot of veteran singing shows in China!

“Also, with this musical, I want to tell the audience that relationships and connections between people are lacking nowadays because of technology. People are always looking down at their phones instead of each other during gatherings. There is simply no communication with each other. But people back then thrived on relationships. They cherished and valued them. That is the message I would love the audiences to take home,” Ho shared.

Ho explained that all the songs featured in the musical are classic oldies ranging from the 1950s all the way to the early 1980s.

“The audience will definitely recognise these songs as they are classics, but what Cody Foong, our music director, has done is rearrange all the songs so that they have a fresh and different feel to them.

“Some fast songs are now slow and sentimental while the slower ones have been rearranged to be upbeat. I have to say, some of the songs actually sound totally new while still evoking familiarity,” Ho said.

Every great event needs a catalyst, and for the market in this musical it comes in the form of Fang Fang, played by Alana Sim.

“Fang Fang and her sister are recently retired singers and in order to make a living, they sell accessories at the market. But both of them still love to sing and perform. This is why when my character hears about the dilemma the chairman’s wife is in, she jumps right in and decides to form a troupe for the festival. There’s a chance for them to perform and earn some cash at the same time,” Sim explained.

The 28-year-old added that much of the comedy comes from the singing and dancing lessons Fang Fang and her sister give to the vendors. “Most of the vendors can sing but they don’t know how to dance. So, it’s hilarious to watch them learn all these moves.”

Sim shared that though her character is materialistic, she has a loving and sacrificial side to her as well. Fang Fang, she said, upon discovering that the man she’s in love with is in fact in love with her sister and she him, decides to pull back and let the lovers be together.

This theme of sacrifice is also explored in the character of Mei Li, played by Elaine Lee. Mei Li is a timid, shy and bespectacled girl who works with her uncle at a kopitiam but secretly desires to further her studies.

“But she decides not to pursue her dreams because she doesn’t want to leave her uncle all alone,” said Lee, 23. “Mei Li’s uncle took care of her her whole life, ever since her parents separated and her mother went to Singapore looking for greener pastures. He had his own dreams but sacrificed them to take care of her. So how could she leave him after all that he had done for her?” Lee reasoned.

Sacrifice, unrequited love, friendships and dreams. Matters dear and near to our hearts, these are the very things the Singing Market delves into. The premise may be comedic, the furnishings may be classic songs, but the foundation is built on these very human and true themes that make the language they are delivered in almost a secondary concern (and the English surtitles will help, too).

Singing Market The Musical (with English surtitles) will be playing at Pentas 1, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, Off Jalan Ipoh) this Friday and Saturday at 8.30pm, Nov 17 at 3pm, Nov 20 to 23 at 8.30pm and Nov 24 at 3pm. Tickets are priced between RM63 and RM253. To purchase tickets, call 03-4047 9000 / 03-2276 2077 or visit

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Retro with a twist


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