Sunday, July 23, 2017

SRT's "Forbidden City: Portrait of An Empress" 2017: Diva's Interview with Dick Lee and Cheryl Tan


Step into the world of Cixi, the last Empress Dowager of China, at the re-staging of the musical "Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress". The Singapore Repertory Theatre production, starring local performer Kit Chan as the grown up Cixi, on 8 August 2017 at the Esplanade.

Set in China over a century ago, the lavishly stunning musical production will also include Broadway and West End star Earl Carpenter ("Les Misérables"), local actor Benjamin Chow ("RENT", "The LKY Musical"), Cheryl Tan ("Romeo & Juliet", "Beauty World") as the young concubine Yehenara, and Broadway actress Stephanie Leigh (Mary Poppins).

Cultural Medallion recipient Dick Lee provides the music for "Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress", and Red Dot Diva managed to get hold of the veteran performer/ songwriter for a snappy Q&A. She also got to interview singer-actress Cheryl Tan.



DICK LEE

Red Dot Diva: What are your sentiments regarding "Forbidden City", now that it's returning on local stage for the 4th time?
Dick Lee: "Forbidden City" is my most epic musical with a score that I'm really proud of, so it's wonderful to see it being re-staged.

RDD: Without giving too much away, are there any changes made to the 2017 version?
DL: I'm hoping to reinstate a song that was taken out of the earlier productions. It contains one of my favourite melodies from the musical and is trio sung by the 3 empresses at different ages.

RDD: Which is your favourite song in "Forbidden City", and why?
DL: "My Only Chance" is the song the young empress sings and I've been told, the most memorable from the show. I like its hopeful and yearning quality.

RDD: What is the best advice you have ever received?
DL: There is no self-respect without self honesty.

RDD: In five words, describe what you think the audience can expect from "Forbidden City" 2017.
DL: Night Of Stunning Singapore Theatre

Watch SRT's interview video of Dick Lee as he discusses about the upcoming musical:




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CHERYL TAN

Malaysian actress and singing teacher Cheryl Tan has lent her voice on several theatre productions including playing Juliet in SRT's Shakespeare in the Park production of "Romeo & Juliet". She also took lead of the 2015 production of "Beauty World" as Ivy Chan, which received rave reviews. Recently,  Cheryl Tan appeared on the silver screen as "bad girl" Dr. Sylvia Soo in Channel 5's drama series "Faculty".

In "Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress",  Cheryl Tan has been cast as the young Yehenara. Red Dot Diva caught hold of  Cheryl to find out more about her involvement in the play. The lively young actress was excited about the musical, and had lots to say!

RDD: When did you first realize that getting into the performing arts is what you want do as a career?
Cheryl: Probably around 13. In your teenage years you form intense blocks of your musical personality, you start choosing and exploring your own thing and your own style. It really shapes who you are. Some people have grunge rock or hip hop and I had musical theatre. So this stuff has been in me for a pretty long time!

RDD: What is it about "Forbidden City" that draws you to it?
Cheryl: This is my third lead in a Dick Lee show (after Beauty World and Hotpants), and I've always really appreciated having this in-depth look at Singaporean theatre history. I'm Malaysian, so I didn't grow up with this music and it's very cool to see how it's touched people’s hearts over the years and helped shape the scene here. It's an important part of a national identity. I've told people I met for the first time about it and had them sing lines back to me, people who aren't connected to the theatre industry at all. How cool is that? I think that's really cool.

I'm also SO EXCITED to work with these total legends, I really hope Kit Chan becomes like a mentor to me and just being in a room with Earl Carpenter and Steffanie Leigh is gonna be crazy. Holy moly. They've been on the world's biggest musical stages, they probably hang out with Lloyd Webber and Mackintosh all the time or something. There's so much I'm going to learn!

RDD: What was your audition like for young Cixi?
Cheryl: I wore a really pretty dress (seriously it is super pretty I love that dress) and put a flower I'd found on the road in my hair while singing Starting With The Eyes. I hadn't seen the staging and I made up the contextual information, so I acted it like I was dressing up to be picked, which must have been such a stressful thing. Sometimes when we draw eyeliner we get dramatic like our life depends on it but in that song, her livelihood seriously depends on her eyeliner! 

My favourite moment was the music director's 8-ish year old daughter dancing in the back of the room while I sang. I'm pretty sure she got me the role. Thanks, kid!

RDD: What are the aspects of the musical that you find particularly challenging?
Cheryl: Well the character is very complex and very mysterious. The research I've done indicates that basically not many people know exactly what was going on with her - she was very very strong and very very full of contradictions, morally questionable, obviously neither all-good nor all-evil.. it goes on. The history is fuzzy. I'm going to have to craft something based on the script and my own decisions, which will also be harder because I have to do this with not one but two other women who are sharing the role. I can't simply do what I want, we have to present a cohesive whole, so that's the very unique challenge of this project! I cannot wait.

RDD: Did you find out some interesting facts about the era depicted in the production?
Cheryl: Did you know that the name Yehenara is made up, and we have no idea what her name was prior to entering the court? The young CiXi purportedly helped save her family from a financial crisis, at age 11. Also, according to my source (which is apparently pretty biased, sadly), the emperor's harem was run by an empress who would mediate arguments and take care of the concubines, so there was a fairly calm environment without crazy politics and backbiting. CiXi and the empress would go on to take power from a bunch of men and be joint empresses for a while. Isn't that crazy? Two women! I love it 

RDD: How do you keep your throat and voice healthy when doing a musical production like this?
Cheryl: Practice, warm-downs, lots of water, very limited alcohol, as much sleep as possible. Lessons, when you need them. The hardest thing is to be mentally strong and manage the insecurity and self-judgment that all performers have. To push for the highest standard and yet be kind to yourself. It all comes out in the voice. 

RDD: What’s the last thing you do before you step out on stage?
Cheryl: Goodness, I don't even know. Breathe? Hope. Believe! 

RDD: What you think the audience can expect from "Forbidden City" 2017?
Cheryl: Old stories, new blood. 

Watch SRT's interview video of  Cheryl Tan featuring her lovely voice singing one of the songs from "Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress":





If you love lush sets, gorgeous costumes, moving songs and an epic drama about love and loss, don't miss getting your tickets for "Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress". Tickets are available at SISTIC.  

Red Dot Diva has already bought her tickets for the show and she can't wait to enjoy yet another unforgettable theatre night out!



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Thanks to SRT for the interview opportunity!

Red Dot Diva has also previously interviewed Yang DeRong, the costume designer of "Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress". Click here for the article!


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