A Boy. A Dream. A Choice.
Lao Jiu《老九》is one of Kuo Pao Kun (郭宝崑), the pioneer of Singapore theatre’s most popular and accessible works. In 2005, Lao Jiu was adapted into a musical for the first time, and this year it is restaged as an entirely new creative production featuring an exciting fresh lineup of performers and creative collaborators.
2012 marks the tenth anniversary of Kuo Pao Kun’s passing and The Theatre Practice is holding a Kuo Pao Kun Festival (郭宝崑节) to showcase some of his works. Lao Jiu is one such production:
Both Rachel and I enjoyed Lao Jiu very much. As we were commuting home, I asked Rachel what’s her key takeaway from the musical. Her answer sums up my sentiments nicely: “Everybody will have a Lao Jiu moment at some point in our lives. It’s about choice and that’s what makes Lao Jiu so accessible to everyone”.
Whether you are a student or a parent; a “scholar” or from the working class; you will be able to find inspiration from the musical.
Do get your tickets before they are sold out or the production ends it’s run.
As the only son in the family, Lao Jiu (the ninth born) realises that he should grasp the prestigious scholarship opportunity that has opened up for him; yet, he hesitates at the critical junction of attaining the academic prize. Where his passion lies instead is in mastering the traditional art of puppetry. Will Lao Jiu persist in pursuing his dream, or will he continue upon the well-trodden scholarly path? Caught in between what his heart dictates and what his family desires, what decision will he make?
The storyline seems so familiar isn’t it?
How many of our youths have cast their dreams and aspirations aside, in pursue of the coveted scholarships that promise a life of a smooth-sailing career and success ahead?
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is something worth thinking about. If my son Asher was to grow up and tell me he wants to be a full-time puppeteer, I would have my worries too.
In the context of Singapore’s elitist mindset of picking, branding and “manufacturing” scholars from a young age, the story of Lao Jiu still holds much relevancy into some of the fault lines in our current society.
Interview with the director, Kuo Jian Hong, the daughter of Kuo Pao Kun:
Interview with two of the leads, Sugi and Inch Chua:
Music video for the main theme song 《我是老九》:
I enjoyed Sugi and Inch Chua’s songs in the musical. Sugi brings about a playful charm to the lead character of Lao Jiu.
The two older cast of Marcus Chin and Lim Kay Siu exudes great chemistry too.
The narrative does appear a little draggy in the middle due to the simple story line. Nonetheless, the strong cast performance and musical numbers carried it along.
I like the added touch of puppetry play, weaved into the narrative. It reminds me of the multimedia theatrical adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by American filmmaker Stephen Earnhart which I saw at the Singapore Arts Festival earlier this year. Puppetry was also featured prominently.
To me, this is a way of breathing new life into an otherwise dying art. Puppetry would be very hard to appeal to the mass audience on its own, but fusing it with theatrical performances brings it to another level.