The Emperor’s New Clothes: A Witty Musical That Is Unabashedly Singaporean

Imagine a play where ministers are the comic relief, the Esplanade silhouette becomes the much-raved air-conditioned dome over Singapore, the Emperor’s parade is literally our National Day Parade – all while highlighting issues of our “cut-throat meritocracy” society in the most lighthearted and Singlish manner.

This is the musical genius of Wild Rice’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

Writted by playwright Joel Tan and directed by Pam Oei, this musical could be the most daring political commentary yet. Local elements and references in this play are off the roof, with the two tailors of the Emperor’s new clothes and lead actors of the musical Khairul (played by Sezairi Sezali) and Nate (played by Benjamin Kheng) named “K and N”, and intentionally referred to as “KNNCCB”.

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Upon entrance of the Drama Centre Theatre at National Library Board (Level 3), you would be greeted with the stage setting, directed forced perspective of dystopian Singapore. It is jarring but in an awesome way, already forcing you to look at Singapore in a different perspective as a kind of foreshadowing to the contents of the play.

Musical numbers directed by Julian Wong are catchy and natural, flowing seamlessly with the narration of the musical. It will remain as an earworm in your head, and have you humming its tunes all the way home.

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Costumes are bright and elaborate as ever, truly reflecting the idea of a procession. Casting and costuming holds nothing back to convincing the audience of setting, theme and all-explosive hustle and bustle of our city.

Wild Rice’s director, Ivan Heng comments:

We knew that SG celebrated our 50th anniversary, we wanted to create a season and a play that can be honest – we want to celebrate Singapore in the most intelligent and meaningful way. This is the only way we can love Singapore and be truly patriotic about it. We at Wild Rice are given the freedom to dream.

This musical collectively summarises the Singapore spirit. From references to the questionable practices of megachurches in Singapore, to freelance Singaporeans artists and designers willing to do things for free, this musical will most definitely speak to every Singaporean regardless of age, language or religion.

The Emperor’s New Clothes is such a genius play because it caters to all ages without comprising the number of real issues and political commentary observed in Singapore. It makes even the children understand what should be questioned in our society, what should be changed, and the kind of mentality we are supposed to have in life about the arts. It provokes its audience into deciding what really matters in the Singaporean life – instead of just obsessing over paychecks and intelligence defined by a piece of paper.

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At the gala premiere, Ivan Heng wraps up the night’s performance with a little conversation with the audience:

Ivan Heng: “Was the play funny?”
Audience: “Yes!”
Ivan Heng: “Uncomfortable?”
Audience: “No…”
Ivan Heng: “You’re lying! *laughs* But if this was a moving play – hang on to that feeling. Hang on to it.”

Why would we recommend this musical? Because it will have you clapping, singing and cheering along as you laugh hysterically from the edge of your seat. No worries about being artistically uninformed or new to the abstract elements of theatre – this musical will speak to you directly, in a way that surely entertains and provokes every thinking Singaporean citizen.

The Emperor’s New Clothes runs from 20 November – 12 December 2015.
Tickets from $45 available through SISTIC and can be accessed here.
All photos in this article are credited to: Wild Rice by Albert Lim KS


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