I attended the final performance of the labour movement musical, A Labour of Love, with some of my friends.
The musical is an inaugural initiative of the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to commemorate Labour Day, in particular Young NTUC.
Tickets were sold for about $70 publicly. I learnt from some of my friends that tickets were sold out for all the performances.
Taking into account the premium prices being charged and the high level of branding by reference attached to the musical, my friends and I returned quite disappointed.
The marketing materials shared, "From an award winning team who worked on Beauty World, Fried Rice Paradise, Forbidden City and many other sell out shows, comes the first musical based on Singapore's history and the struggles of workers!"
Plus, various local media, including the leading broadsheet of Singapore, The Straits Times, which often take an extremely critical view of any artistic endeavour, had given glowing reviews of the musical.
Perhaps, the glowing reviews were a justified sacrifice at the altar of national interest.
A reasonable member of the artistic audience, who is usually also a discerning one, was therefore led (or misled) into believing that the musical was going to be of a standard produced by the much-loved architect of Singapore musicals, Dick Lee.
Nevertheless, many of my friends who watched the musical had a fair amount of fun "dissecting" the play.
The play was essentially the story of an old man who had dedicated his life to trade union work from the time he met his wife. In fact, it was his wife that got him to take an active interest in trade union work.
In this musical, active unionists were roped in as artistes to perform. This is laudable since it conveyed both the diversity and passion one finds in a trade union.
There was also good use of theatrical tools, including real-time subtitling and other interactive elements.
But passion, diversity and effective use of props, sound and lighting failed in the face of weak content.
The script had great room for improvement and, at many points, one ended up feeling that one was attending a propaganda event of sorts.
The NTUC story was exaggerated and the hyperbole got even louder as the musical progressed.
This came at the expense of the personal relationships being presented in the musical. As such, the plot missed the wood for the trees, since personal relationships are really central to the work of any effective labour movement.
One could not help but return with a perception that the producers had oversold the NTUC story, to a point where the story felt draggy and skewed.
This caused at least one person in the audience to remark tongue-in-cheek to a song about "hope, faith and a bit of luck" in the musical: "I need hope, faith and a bit of luck to survive this play!"
Thankfully for the producers of the musical, there was no interval in the performance, which meant members of the audience - some quite reluctantly - had to watch the performance right till the end.
Most ironical was a scene involving the pivotal character, the wife of the old trade unionist. At a metaphorical level, the wife represented the union and everything that the old trade unionist stands for.
Unfortunately, she dies at the end. Her death, to a sensitive audience, may well have symbolised the death or dark future of the trade union.
This is really unfortunate for a musical that, at the outset, sought to highlight the relevance of a trade union in a developed Singapore.
As a result, one ended up watching up a musical that was high on entertainment value and energy but low on plot.
Better "hope, faith and a bit of luck" next time, Young NTUC!
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