This August, Dick Lee commemorates his 40th year working in the musical theatre industry with an ambitious revival of his 1997 musical – the first he ever wrote and directed –HOTPANTS!
As its offbeat name suggests, Dick Lee’s musical comedy was so brimming with fancy dress, kooky characters and cheeky capering amidst kaleidoscopic 70s nostalgia that Johnny Ramone just might have felt right at home.
Hard as it is to imagine our grandmothers decked in thigh-high leather boots bopping to the ditties of Anita Sarawak like Nikki Muller in her portrayal of too-cool-for-(teaching)school Suzy Desouza, it was surprisingly easy to relate to the whimsies, goals and tribulations of the undoubtedly larger-than-life but yet genuine cast of characters.
Daphne Foo, Sharon Desouza and Penelope (Penny) Chin are three schoolgirls attending a catholic secondary school for girls. While Sharon and Daphne are fast friends and enjoy status and popularity at school, Penelope is somewhat of a social reculse, meek and unassuming despite her good heart.
When the school’s flamboyant and slightly domineering vice-principal, Rodney Pereira, reluctantly decides to allow his students to participate in a co-ed talentime despite a personal conviction that encouraging such tomfoolery “degrades moral fibre”, the unlikely trio decide to team up and form the girl group ‘Hotpants’ to compete for the gold.
In doing so, their respective mothers –Connie Foo, Suzy Desouza and Nellie Chin – who themselves had a tangled relationship with each other in their youth as schoolgirls, are dragged into the foray – with all of their own eccentricities added to the bargain too!
Connie Foo is a loud and somewhat overbearing housewife, married to Alfie Foo, an earnest but deferential teacher at their daughter’s secondary school. His colleague, Suzy Desouza, has a fun-loving and flirtatious nature and is secretary to the loud and sometimes rather bullheaded Rodney Pereira.
Nellie Chin, a true juggernaut of good old Singaporean fastidiousness, is a hardworking teacher who also teaches alongside the staid Alfie Foo. The last two characters are Chris Chin, Penny Chin’s cheeky younger brother and Desmond Lee, a devil-may-care teenage heartthrob, who attend the boys’ school that is also competing in the talentime with the girls.
As the story progresses, the ten characters end up competing for much more than glory, medals and renown at a school talentime. While I expected a flamboyant, clichéd and saccharine sweet affair – chock full of colour, song and dance but lacking in terms of a gripping storyline and sincere emotional stakes, HOTPANTS showed itself to be a woven tapestry combining the excesses of broadway with all the banalities and rigours of life – all set in the familiar backdrop of Singapore with our ‘lahs’ and ‘lehs’.
Learning what it means to be a good friend and a good person amidst love, jealousy and betrayal – perhaps stir a bit of Moulin Rouge into a dollop of Hairspray and you’ve got yourself something reminiscent of HOTPANTS.
Dick Lee himself opined that his own experience with talentimes, which eventually became the main event around which his social life encircled, inspired him to write HOTPANTS. But more than just painting a picture of that talentime life, Dick Lee wanted to express the quintessence of life growing up as a Singaporean in the 70s –
“The other significant thing which sticks out in my mind is that everything was changing, and at a rapid pace…And surrounding all the contrasting rigidity and depravity, was an air of innocence and simplicity – Singapore was still a bit of a kampung –but the desire to catch up with the changing times propelled us ever forward.”
Searingly honest about both the cavalier and weighty moments we all encounter in life and overflowing with biting wit, tongue-in-cheek humour (puns galore, believe me, puns galore) and also spam for some reason –
-, I thoroughly enjoyed HOTPANTS – particularly for its compelling portrayal of humanity.
Of course, the addictive soundtrack helped too! As Dick Lee expressed in an interview, “the story informs the song, the song serves the story”. And a musical, is naturally a marriage of both.
I was impressed with the acting, dancing and singing, executed with panache, by Dick Lee’s talented cast. Sitting in the front row, I could see every minute facial expression and the actors and actresses never failed to emote sincerely. The chemistry between the cast was laudable and it gave the plot depth and sincerity, without which HOTPANTS, with all its plot twists, nuances and complicated character inter-relations, would not be able to impress as a seamless whole.
My favourite characters – though they aren’t easy to pick – would be the electric duo comprising of the good-natured and risqué Mrs Suzy Desouza (Nikki Muller) and the irascible yet charming Rodney Pereira (Ebi Shankara). The palpable chemistry aside, the sheer intensity of their acting onstage – and the effortlessness of their dancing, singing and rambunctious frolicking – was superbly thrilling to watch.
Thankfully, the set was simple and sleek and did not detract from the characters, which were honestly the brightest and most attention-grabbing entities onstage, particularly with their brilliantly hued costumes.
The sparseness of the set provided elegant set transitions that were quick and maintained the snappy pace of HOTPANTS, without which the production might have assumed a more tedious and bloated pace – especially considering that the show, including intermission, is a hefty one hour and forty minutes long approximately.
To bring this review to an end, I conclude that HOTPANTS is a tremendously fun and entertaining musical to watch, for the play is all the warmer for its cold bits. More about family, friends and sacrifices than it is about the flamboyance of broadway, HOTPANTS challenges its audience with a clear question about humanity – what does it truly take to enjoy life? A gold medal? A lover? Sweet and sour spam?
Go watch HOTPANTS and find out! :) Details on the show, below!
To read an exclusive interview with Kimberly Chan, who plays Daphne Foo, click here : http://kentridgecommon.
Dick Lee, the writer and director of the musical says, “For my 40th anniversary, I want to do something reminiscent of when I first started my music career in the 70s, so I thought why not a revival of HOTPANTS? I’m so eager to see how it will play out with this new breed of amazingly talented young artistes.”
|Venue : Drama Centre Theatre||Show Dates : 14 – 30 August 2014|
Tuesday to Saturday, 8pm
Tuesday to Thursday & Saturday Matinee, 3pm
Sunday Matinee, 2pm
Ticketing Agent :
SISTIC.com Pte Ltd
SISTIC Hotline (65) 6348 5555
SISTIC Website www.sistic.com.sg
SISTIC Authorised Agents
Ticket Prices :
Preview – Thu 14 Aug 2014,8pm
Standard: S$70, S$60, S$50, S$40
Tue to Thu & Sun
Standard: S$79, S$69, S$59, S$49
Fri & Sat
Standard: S$83, S$73, S$63, S$53
*Prices exclude booking fee
See you there!!