Review: Jay Chou’s Jukebox Musical, The Secret

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The Secret 不能说的秘密 musical will thrill both fans of Jay Chou and those who are new to his music with a plot line that cleverly weaves the pop star’s familiar hits with a storyline that’s heart-tugging and filled with many dance numbers.

Jay Chou’s music and movie as the basis of a broadway-esque performance? You would have never thought this would be done and yet the team from China Broadway Entertainment have managed to do that, using the storyline from the box-office hit and the music from the many albums that the singer has put out. The result is the heart-tugging The Secret, which can also be dubbed Jay Chou’s first musical.

The musical features plenty of well-known Jay Chou tunes that you will find yourself humming to, including Fine Day (晴天), Simple Love( 简单爱), and Rooftop(屋顶). We got to learn about what goes on behind the scenes, as well as be amongst the first in Singapore to catch it. (read our review below [click here])

The Backstory Behind The Secret

This musical was an ambitious project by China Broadway Entertainment producer Ivy Zhong and was the first time that a musical had been created based on Jay Chou’s music.

It is also the first Chinese film that has been adapted by Broadway, as a whole host of well-known names from the strip were involved in the making of this musical, including Tony-award winning director John Rando, scriptwriter Marc Acito (of Allegiance – A New Musical Inspired by a True Story) and set designer Beowulf Boritt.

China’s musical industry is still pretty new, and according to the producer, this is the first time a Broadway type musical had been produced in China. This meant that things were done rather differently.

In China, a musical’s concept and music are written, actors cast, and the musical is staged. However, things in Broadway work rather differently. A workshop is held to flesh out the musical and the book (script and music) is written on the go, with adjustments made. Of course, as all the music came from Jay Chou’s music collection, this part was set in stone, much like how Mamma Mia was conceptualised. However with the plot line, though largely adapted from the movie, was tweaked based on the workshop.

There is also the added “complication” with the use of an American scriptwriter and director, as some jokes in English though funny, won’t translate well to Chinese. This and cultural differences as well, as shared by lead actor Cao Yang who plays Ye Xiang Lun. Western culture’s take on the romance between boy and girl is more straightforward and direct, whereas for Chinese culture, it is more subtle and shy, and this had to be communicated with the Western directors, who then made tweaks to the script based on feedback from the cast.

Cao Yang was one of the first few actors involved in the project as he had been in the workshop for the musical. For the Jay Chou fan, this project was a joy for him to work on. He largely drew from the movie for his character, though the actions that he does are larger and more dramatic than Jay did during the movie, thanks to the nature of a show for the stage. Thus, although he had to wait for nearly a year to be confirmed as the lead of the musical, he was more than happy to take it on and add it to his list of credits as a musical actor.

Unlike him, The Secret is Wang Xiaomin’s very first venture into a musical. The actress, who has singing credits to her name, was pleasantly surprised to be selected. Though she too drew reference from the character in the movie, she personally added a new dimension of quirkiness and insecurity to Lu Xiaoyu for her stage adaptation.

Though Jay Chou was not personally involved in the conceptualisation of the musical, he did watch the production and gave his approval of the adaption, adding that he didn’t think he himself could have done as great a job as the actor in the cast did.

The musical, which debuted at the end of 2016 has toured across China to great success and this staging in Singapore is the first time the production has been brought overseas. The set in its entirety, which included over 10 moving sceneries was brought over from China, along with it 50+ strong cast and crew.

The production has also been a learning experience for the company, as the musical theatre scene in China is still in its early stages. Thus, even small things like having cupboards for each individual cast member have become incorporated into the usual routine of the production.

As expected too, the musical is in Mandarin. But fear not if your Mandarin is not up to speed, there are English surtitles.

Our Review Of The Show

The show started with a scene to set the story as Lu Xiao Yu plays the piano, which is a main prop and even character in this story, before we are introduced to the school setting in the rousing opening number, which is reminiscent of a typical Broadway show, lots of dancing, lifting and prancing about the stage.

We won’t go into the story proper, though fans can be assured that it doesn’t fall too far from the actual story, with different parts fleshed out. And yes that iconic piano duel scene from the movie has been included in the show. Perhaps as to be expected as a story that has to fit the repertoire of selected songs, there were certain added scenes that did feel like they existed simply to make a song fit into the story line.

Perhaps this was also to make the story more Broadway-esque with mass numbers of people dancing in unison like a typical show on Broadway, and for this show this takes place with sailors and mermaids, cowboys, the roaring 20s and a rugby match. This is where the lustre does fade a bit as the cast is still slightly out of sync when dancing in unison, especially when there are moves that include lifting others up.

However, by and large, the numbers do hold up, with the rugby match being perhaps one of the more well-executed dance numbers. The show was also let down slightly by the surtitles that were now screened at the appropriate timing, often out at the wrong time and if we didn’t know Mandarin ourselves, we might be slightly lost at what was going on in each scene.

That is not to say that there aren’t the touching and heartbreaking moments. This is where perhaps the cast shines the best, when they get to belt out their high notes in a touching scene. Each of the main leads and the principal get to have their shining moment, and the song is sung with no visible flaw.

As with every show, there is a goofball character, and for The Secret, Ah Lang and Ah Bao played this role extremely well with their goofiness that not everyone can pull off well, and they added relief to the show. That plus the chemistry between the leads helped to carry the show to life and keep the audiences drawn into all that is going on on the stage.

Having come to watch the show without watching the ten-year-old movie of the same name, we were pleasantly surprised by the storyline. We were not ardent Jay Chou fans either, though there were definitely songs that were familiar to us. But after the show, we were pleasantly surprised by the depth and breadth of the songs, especially the genres that they crossed, and we’re keen on re-listening to the tunes we heard during the show, a sign of a show well-enjoyed.

To catch a snippet of the musical, watch the video below:

Catch The Secret at Mastercard Theatre at Marina Bay Sands from April 6 to 15. Tickets start from S$48 and are available from SISTIC.

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Exploring the world, stringing words together and making pretty pictures. These are just some of the things that fill up Kayla's day. She has over a decade of experience in creating strategic content for a wide range of media.

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