With its first staging six years ago, The Theatre Practice has brought “Liao Zhai Rocks!” back to the Drama Centre Theatre for the month of April.
From the creative talents behind “If There’re Seasons…” and “Lao Jiu: The Musical”, this Chinese rock musical is making a comeback with a brand new cast to breathe life into the classic Chinese tale of love and folly.
The tale is one out of 400 others that came about from Chinese author Pu Songling‘s classic “Strange Tales From A Chinese Studio”. A love story filled with satire and perhaps some truth, audience members are invited to follow four main characters: a scholar, a vixen fox, a water spirit, and a priest (in training). Their lives intertwine as the events unravel before the audiences’ eyes. Together with an ensemble of 14 actors, the whole story is told through captivating timelapse and rock numbers.
The script is no less ambitious and complicated compared to the troupe’s previous staging in 2010. In a mere two hours, there were plenty of set changes to facilitate the story-telling. From a marketplace to King Yama’s kingdom (better known as hell), audiences can feast their eyes on them all.
But while the set pieces were impressively elaborate and aesthetically pleasing to look at, the set changes that followed became distracting after a while. The constant back-and-forth as well as the noise created from the movements did take away some magic from the atmosphere created. Even though the set changes were probably necessary, I wonder if other alternatives would have been better such as a more abstract space?
With that note, it was interesting that the stage was extended on one end to bring the action closer to the audience. However, I felt it was a pity that only two moments made use of it; under-utilising that particular stage space.
Set inconveniences as well as space usage aside, I must say that the acting was extremely decent, with strong performances from the priest and the ensemble in general.
Actor Sugie shone in his character of the priest – mastering the comic timing required to make his moments work. Out of all four leads, he felt the most charming with his “blur” nature and ignorant confidence.
The ensemble is a force to be reckoned with. They brought the performance energy up and kept the environment alive in every scene they were in. Be it singing, choreography, or acting, the actors worked together very well to drive the story forward, as well as to entertain the audience. The teamwork was evident, and I kept looking forward to seeing them return onstage during the show.
Lastly, having live sound during the show was one of the staging’s best features. After all, how can a rock musical not have a live band playing? The musicians definitely kept things going with the loud music while pacing with the actors as they belted out song after song. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the different instruments ring out from the orchestra pit and filling the theatre with cheers… before aggressive guitar riffs transported all of us to the depths of “hell”.
Though certain aspects of the show could have been better developed, “Liao Zhai Rocks!” still proves itself to be a relevant and enjoyable musical experience. Are you ready to travel through time and space with this production?
Originally written for Popspoken.