Above Full Moon: Glowing, engaging and entertaining to watch

  • Arts
  • Thursday, 23 Apr 2015

Love blossoms in faraway Japan, where Li Shu Tong is immersing himself in the local culture and studying the Western Arts. Above Full Moon by Asia Musical Productions, produced, directed and written by Ho Lin Huay, with music by Imee Ooi.

The crowd knew it was in for a treat right from the get-go at KLPac. Such was the dramatic (and very red) opening scene of Above Full Moon, after which Edward Nam masterfully commandeered the stage alone as a young and emotionally-charged Li Shu Tong (1880-1942), the great all-rounder (educator, writer, poet, painter, calligrapher, etc) of early 20th century China.

Amidst the chaos of the Boxer Rebellion, the ambitious young man is indignant and frustrated. His emotions are exemplified in this powerful scene: “The sun will rise again tomorrow”, he sings, before adding grimly, “but it will not light our hills and valley.”

Classically-trained Nam, 27, was clearly in his element in this performance, now showing at KLPac. With his beautiful vocals, he grabbed centre stage in each of his singing scenes. His portrayal of a man torn between responsibilities and ambition – stuck between two worlds and two loves – was skillfully executed.

Asia Musical Productions’ restaging of Above Full Moon, to its credit, can still pack an emotional punch. It last played in Penang in 2011.

Tianjin, China, in the late 1890s, was dominated by the Society of Righteous and</p><p>Harmonious Fists during the Boxer Rebellion.
Tianjin, China, in the late 1890s, was dominated by the Society of Righteous and Harmonious Fists during the Boxer Rebellion.

Back to the present run, a scene in the second act (preceding Li delving deep into his spiritual journey as a monk) was an inspired one. It employed light and dark to illustrate worldly pressures and expectations from loved ones. The conflict brewing within him, weighed heavily on his shoulders.

Li is often flanked by his Japanese love interest, Tomoko, played by the talented Lee Elaine, and, to a lesser extent in terms of stage time – but no less impressive – Lim Wen Suen, as his Chinese wife.

Above Full Moon was written, produced and directed by Ho Lin Huay, who holds a degree in motion picture and theatre production, with music by Imee Ooi. It had its first run back in 2004 in Kuala Lumpur, with three subsequent restagings, including one in Singapore.

Back to Tianjin

Kicking off in the late 1980s in Tianjin, China, the musical charted the life of the multi-talented Li, his contribution to the nation as an educator and proponent of the arts, and eventually, his journey in fulfiling his calling as a monk.

The transition from the character’s go-getter attitude and fame in his younger days, to the serene and solitary life of a monk, was impressive to watch at KLPac.

The story spans across numerous cities, including Tianjin, Shanghai, Hangzhou and Tokyo, from the late Qing to modern China. Li’s moving from China to Japan, and back again provided the production team with plenty of room to explore different set design themes and costume influences.

Compared to its original run in 2004, this 2015 run at KLPac had to be scaled down a bit to fit the venue – so the set design looked neat and tidy, with functionality at its core.

A young and driven Li and classmates have high hopes for their countrymen.
A young and driven Li and classmates have high hopes for their countrymen.

Many scenes were composed of a few select props and carefully curated lighting design. In any case, there was enough drama and poignant contrast that captivated the audience. On stage, you had the bloodbaths and people running amok.

These scenes reflected a troubled nation that was plunging into chaos and uncertainty. Add the street protests, and some thunder and lighting ... all these elements served to enhance the impact of the production. Above Full Moon, comprising a 30-plus cast, showed that you don’t need a whole lot of fanfare and fancy footwork to make a musical an absorbing watch.

One of this writer’s favourite scenes in this show demonstrated this well. It was a solo number by Lee, who played the Japanese woman who followed Li back to China. In this particular scene, she waited for an answer in the midst of a snowstorm.

The audience waited along with bated breath – and her metaphorical drowning in snowflakes and heartbreak was, to put it succinctly, simple yet effective.

Above Full Moon took you not only on Li’s life journey, but also a journey of emotions running the full gamut from rousing patriotic songs; to songs of hope and despair; and of courtship, love and helplessness.

 Full Moon also had</p><p>some light moments.
Above Full Moon also had some light moments.

Clocking in at just under three hours (including intermission), the musical could have easily ended up feeling long and lethargic – but it was not the case for Above Full Moon.

Every minute of the show was a pleasure, thanks to good pacing and an engaging storyline.

This new and relatively young cast boasted strong vocals, with obvious attention spent on clear enunciation, making Above Full Moon an unforgettable musical.

Above Full Moon is presented in Mandarin with English surtitles. It runs at Pentas 1, KLPac (Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, Kuala Lumpur) until April 26 at 8.30pm, with a 3pm show on Sunday. Tickets are priced at RM83, RM123, RM153, RM183 and RM253. Visit www.ticketpro.com.my or call 018-266 6900. For details, visit www.asiamusicalproductions.com.

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