Old butterflies get a makeover

By Sun Shuangjie Source:Global Times Published: 2016-3-9 18:18:01

Musical version of classic story reinvents the way lovers behave

Over the past 25 years, the Hong Kong director and dramatist Edward Lam has been a major figure in the Chinese-language theater scene, with 56 works under his belt.

Art School Musical, which premiered in Hong Kong in May, 2014, was his 54th production and the first musical, as such, he has created for his troupe, the Edward Lam Dance Theatre. From April 1 to 3, Art School Musical will play in Shanghai.

Lam's signature theme, bringing classical stories into modern settings, continues here as it redresses the ancient story of the Butterfly Lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtai.

Zhu was the girl who wanted to live the life of a scholar and dressed as a man so she could attend school. There her classmate Liang fell in love with her but they could not marry because Zhu's family had pledged her to another man.

Liang was heartbroken and died soon afterwards. His true love, Zhu committed suicide beside his grave on her wedding day. Miraculously the lovers were reunited on the afterlife as beautiful butterflies.

Self-exploration process

Lam moves the setting from an old-style school to a modern art school, and Liang and Zhu become two art students.

He felt that the self-exploration process of creating art resembles the self-exploration people become involved with in their intimate relationships.

"The reason why I made this is that it speaks about our era," Lam said. "Art School Musical reflects the feeling of powerlessness in young people. It's not what we often see in mainstream media which is occupied with materialism and the dreams that drive young people to work. This is an introverted examination of what they really feel about themselves."

Taking the classic story even further, there are more than one pair of lovers in this version, and sometimes these other lovers change sex as they extend the themes of life and relationships.

"I've had enough experiences with people who see life as a trade or even a gamble, in which they should win and not lose," Lam said.

"I've seen so many people who don't say what they really feel but instead are ready to repeat lines from television shows when dealing with personal issues, as if this will help them win. How about we don't think of life as gambling but as a learning process?"

Scenes of the Hong Kong director and dramatist Edward Lam's musical Art School Musical Photos: Courtesy of Shanghai Culture Square

Heartfelt lyrics

To match the emotional core of this show, Lam has written 18 heartfelt lyrics, which have been turned into some quite moving songs by the award-winning composer and music producer Chen Chien-chi, who is also the music director of Sony Music Entertainment (Taiwan).

Lam didn't believe in the many conventions of musicals - for example that a musical should have at least one ballad, that the song titles had to be catchy and that it was best to offer a reprise at the end.

So in Art School Musical his songs are personal and poetic reflecting the essence of the emotions on the stage.

Margaret Cheung and Jordan Cheng play Zhu and Liang and both said the lyrics had moved them to tears, even before the music was added.

"I felt the words were kind of soft and feathery but at the same time they are cold and directly express the feelings involved," Cheng said.

"It's not so direct that you know what's going on in the story through the lyrics," Cheung said.

"It's like a swimming pool, and only after you jump into it can you understand what it is really about."

Lam said the songs in the show were simple and soulful and for him and Chen they represent a flow of natural emotions.

He said he took 10 days in solitude to create the lyrics and Chen wrote the music based on how he felt without referring to Lam.

Date: April 1 and 2, 7:15 pm; April 3, 2 pm

Venue: Shanghai Culture Square

Address: 597 Fuxing Road Middle 复兴中路597号

Tickets: 80 yuan ($12.30) to 580 yuan

Call 6472-9000 for details

Posted in: Metro Shanghai, Theater, Culture

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