Forbidden City : Portrait of an Empress - Soulful Work of Art



Epic, heart wrenching , soulful work of art.


The tale of the Empress Dowager had been told in many forms. From fearful interpretations of the Dragon Lady that ruled with ruthless ambitions and an iron fist to the downtrodden Empresses that bought the fall of the Qing Dynasty with her failed reforms and leadership.

Before watching SRT's  Forbidden City: Portriat of an Empress, my history of China has always been hazy. Thankfully , you need not be a history buff to watch this muscial. Rather , watch it with an open mind and your eyes and ears will be treated to a feast of visual delights and  audio high notes.
Source : SRT

Forbidden City returns to our shore after a hiatus since 2002. The tale , told from the eyes of painter Katherine Carl, is one that depict the Empress in a softer tone. Katherine was invited to paint a portrait of Empress Cixi. Upon reaching China and meeting up with the Empress, she asked for sessions to get to the latter better, This is because Katherine needs to get to know the her subject to paint her for who she is and not what she see.
Source : SRT

Through these interactions with the Empress, secrets and feelings were unfold. Katherine learn that there might be more than meet the eye to Empress Cixi fearsome reputation ( the latter was said to have a hand a killing 3 emperors ,including her own son,  for power) Instead, underneath the harden facade, the painter discovered the Empress sufferings and sorrows through the years.
This musical is loosely base on actual events. It was through this musical that I learn a part of China's history that had eluded me in the past. This was a heart wrenching musical that captured the audience attention from the start to the end.


The delicate performances of the 3 Empresses through the passage of time was brought to life on stage. The stage itself looked seemingly simplistic, but it carried a myriad of interesting visual cues such as floating lanterns, a moving train and an impression of endless path that exploits the depth of the stage. Given its origin, one might be pleasantly surprise that this musical was written by our very own Dick Lee and Stephen Clark. Overall with an impressive stage and musical scores,it will not be surprising if Forbidden City makes its round on Boardway

Source : SRT
Individually, the performances held its own. The three actress that portray the Empress effectively showed how the Empress transformed from a naive and innocent concubine to the harden Dragon Lady. Cheryl Tan as the young Yenenara (Cixi) shine with her pureness in her voice, while Shelia Francisco played a credible older Empress Cixi with aplomb. The star that shone is the brightest was Kit Chan , otherwise more famously known as the singer of our favourite National Day Song- Home. She played the middle age Cixi with a commanding presence on stage. For fans who watched the  production  when it debuted in 2002, Kit was playing the young Empress and was missing from Act 1. It did left the audience a little bewildered especially those who are not familiar with the storyline.

Source :SRT
Making her appearance only on the second act, Kit lit up the stage and provide a wake up call to the musical from its  soothing yet sedative first act. With high notes hit, she gave the musical a much anticipated crescendo it deserved. Alas, compared to her former role, she has lesser lines and it all ended too fast with her solo finale. Needless to say , it was a performance that deserve a standing ovation on its own.
Source SRT
There were other standout performances that held the musical together. From the comical duo of the keepers of history, Dwayne Lau and Sebastian Tan to the strong performances of  Steffanie Leigh and Earl Carpenter as the painter and reporter, it made the musical deserving on the big stage. Collectively, the group performances were tight making the musical enjoyable throughout.

We should be proud of the Forbidden City. This is a musical that could possibility bring this tiny red dot to the forefront of Boardway. With homegrown talents from the musical genius of Dick Lee to the prowess of Kit Chan, this is one musical that has what is takes to be world class.

Take a bow , SRT.


Forbidden City : Portrait of an Empress is now showing at Esplanade Theatre till 27 August.
Limited tickets available here.

Disclaimer
TWD was invited for a media preview. All opinions are of our own

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