This musical, while weighed down by unneeded subplots, offered several strong cast performances in telling a tale about the importance of honouring one’s past while pursuing one’s dreams.
It is adapted from the well-loved Taiwanese film Papa, Can You Hear Me Sing? (1983), which won four Golden Horse Awards in its day and featured hit songs such as The Same Moonlight and Any Empty Wine Bottles For Sale by singer Su Rui.
The musical is largely faithful to the movie about a girl called Ah Mei who is abandoned as a child, but taken in and raised by Uncle Ya, who collects unwanted items for a living.
Ah Mei grows up to become a singer, but gets lost in a world of fame, with her dreams taking her away from her roots.
The villains take the form of a calculating entertainment company boss, and a jealous star bent on undermining Ah Mei’s success.
The cast largely turned in likeable, competent performances, especially Taiwanese veteran musical actor Berson Wang, 54, who pulls off the challenging role of the self-effacing Uncle Ya, who is supposed to be 65.
Wang had big boots to fill, as Uncle Ya was played in the movie by the late Sun Yueh, who won the 1983 Golden Horse Award for Best Leading Actor for this role.
But Wang, best known for acting in the 1994 film A Confucian Confusion, managed to deliver a nuanced portrayal of the selfless Uncle Ya.
Unlike the character in the movie, who could not speak, Uncle Ya in the musical can speak and even sing. Wang shone especially in performing the song Ordinary Love, with his voice full of parental affection for Ah Mei.
During the song, Uncle Ya, which is hunchbacked, dances with Ah Mei, and for a moment, stands up straight, as if harking back to a simpler, more innocent time when both characters were younger.
Chinese singer Della Ding Dang, who is known for her vocal prowess, was charming as Ah Mei, a character caught between fighting for a better life for her family and the unscrupulous workings of a cutthroat, back-stabbing music industry.
Ding Dang’s bright, versatile pipes carried most of the musical numbers, from The Same Moonlight, If and Please Follow Me from the original film, to Runaway From Home and I Am A Little Bird, from Ding Dang’s own albums.
I did not mind including her songs into the song list – the musical at times resembled a Ding Dang star vehicle anyway – but there was too much emphasis on Ah Mei’s romantic relationships, which did not add much to the main filial piety storyline.
These unnecessary, at times awkward, scenes and sub-plots weighed the musical down to its three-hour duration – which included a 15-minute intermission.
However, despite these distractions, it was still possible to see the bigger love story here – one that celebrates the unconditional love from one’s family.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.