Although I don't claim to be an expert on reviewing musicals, and especially not Chinese musicals, I decided to review the musical version of Jimi's "Turn Left, Turn Right" (or "Love, Regret" as they call it) as a way of memorialising the experience, much like how I write reviews for my favourite albums or movies. As I had never seen a Chinese musical before, I didn't know what to expect, but was in extreme anticipation mode about seeing the talented performers Waa Wei, Wang Dawen and Joanna Wang performing and interacting on stage together. Furthermore, it seems that the producer and composer for many of the songs within the musical was none other than George Chen, renowned producer and cult favourite within the Taiwanese music industry for his elegantly crafted works. What could go wrong?
The storyline of the musical differed a little from Jimi's original story, adding characters and making it so that Mr. Regret and Ms. Leaving (Wang Dawen and Waa Wei respectively) were brought together both in real life, and simultaneously by the will of a shoddy yet likeable bunch of muso misfits including a film director, a rock singer, and a writer (played by Cui Tai Hao, Yang Deng Jun and Yao Jen Chang) who do nothing but sit in Jimmy's Cafe all day and mooch off its friendly and motherly owner (Liang Xiao Heng) and assistant Ms. Weather (Datian). Joanna wang comes into the picture as the woman who is looking for her cat, who drifts in and out of the picture from time to time. Also present in the musical are a cat who is actually a human (played by Pan Zhiyuan) and a bird (played by Li Man) who ironically are a couple and often narrate the storyline or interject with their philosophical thoughts on life and love. Through several missed opportunities, Mr. Regret and Ms. Leaving repeatedly try to find each other but find their paths to be parallel each time until finally they decide to let go of each other, bringing them back together.
With any medium of the arts, be it movies, music or musicals, one of the main criteria I go off is the degree of immersion the work of art brings to me. In other words, a work of art (or musical in this case) to me is one that embraces me into their world and allows me to transcend time and space to enter a dimension of timelessness, where all that matters is the story in front of me. In other words, the overall criteria for me is whether I was fully engaged with the storyline of the musical.
And my answer to that question is both yes and no. Dawen, Waa and Joanna have been artists that I've admired for a long time, and it would be extremely easy for me to fall into the trap of viewing them not as their characters, but as their real-life selves. However, apart from the initial exhilaration of seeing them all on stage together, all preconceptions of what I knew about their real lives, their music, their ideas faded away, allowing me to entirely engage with these characters they had breathed life into. Dawen's musical theatre background certainly did not let him down as he convincingly played the friendly, yet lonely and downtrodden violinist Mr. Regret; stringing my heart along with every note he sang and every word he said. The versatile Waa, who played Miss Leaving was equally convincing in her role as the quiet translator who lived in a world of her own; a girl with unique perspectives and a fervent, yet subtle desire to meet someone who could truly understand her innermost thoughts and feelings. Both played their characters so well that to me it was just as if I was in their heads, and could completely relate to what they were feeling; their shy giddiness upon first meeting, their bittersweet yearning to see each other again, and their unspeakable happiness upon finally meeting again. Wei and Wang had an undeniable stage chemistry that I felt came not from their own personalities, but instead from the pair's intense dedication to their roles. In those three hours, as I listened to Wang and Wei's vocals fuse in sweet harmony, I did not doubt even once that Mr Regret and Miss Leaving were indeed soulmates.
Joanna also played her part as C, or the crazy cat lady (as I like to call it) superbly, but unlike with Dawen and Waa who changed themselves to fit the role, it seems that the role fit Joanna's personality perfectly. Although a side character who intermittently appears throughout the musical without rhyme or reason for the most part (I later found that she was supposed to be a woman who had lost her memory, and was instead looking for her lover), Joanna played her role so effortlessly that no one would even think to ask about the importance of her presence, slipping herself so seamlessly in and out of scenes with little fuss or overdramaticism, yet commanding all the attention in the room each time she opened her mouth. I later found out after reading up on the musical, that the cat she was looking for was instead not a cat, but instead a lost lover, symbolising a type of love that trails aimlessly with no rhyme or reason as opposed to Mr. Regret and Ms. Leaving's 'Left-Right' love story.
Vocal-wise, Waa, Dawen and Joanna's vocals were in tip-top condition, nailing all the harmonies and really singing their way into my heart. However, I felt there was a real difference in quality of the vocals of the chorus group, whose voices did not mesh in unison, and kind of detracted from the 'wow' factor of the musical.
The other cast members were enthusiastic in their reprisal of their roles; with special commendation especially going to Jimmy Cafe's lady boss S played by Liang Xiao Heng and her lovelorn shop assistant Ms. Weather played by Datian. S was the quintessential 'Lao Ban Niang'; humorous, tough on the outside but with a kind heart and a ear open to anyone who might need it. Datian had a strong set of vocals and was for me an integral character which linked all the various stories into a more cohesive whole, by skilfully being the person to befriend Waa's character, acting the part of the lovelorn fool pining for a lover in New York, while encouraging and partaking in the coffeeshop banter with the other characters.
The whimsical props, costumes and the simple yet beautiful songs composed by George Chen, and even Sodagreen's Wu Tsing Feng in part were for the most part a pleasure to listen to, and truly buoyed the musical along in terms of reading an eclectic, vintage yet whimsical theme and atmosphere. A nice of mix musical theatre stuff, with a little rock and bossa nova thrown in for good measure had my ears perking up at every listen. My favourites were the ones written by Qing Feng, especially "But dreams will only go farther" and "Curious City". Although I have to say I was a little disappointed in the arrangement and production quality as I had hoped for something a little more well executed and extravagant, it was still pretty good and did a solid job of conveying what the character's lines couldn't.
However, there were also parts of the musical which to me were less immersive, and were mainly the parts featuring the trio of misfit musos, played by Yang Deng Jun, Cui Tai Hao and Yao Jen Chang. Although they tried their best, cracking jokes and providing the audience with comic relief over their jolly antics, their performances to me were of mediocre quality, and failed in truly immersing me in their part of the storyline. I found the three of them to be lacking in personality; for example, the rocker played by Yao Jen Chang had a nice voice, but he was in no way a rocker. He didn't have the voice for it, and he most certainly didn't have the attitude for it. So although these three characters were the main link joining the inception-like happenings between Mr Regret and Miss Leaving's real-life love story and their scripted one, their lacklustre performance really blurred the lines for me, leaving me to pick up the pieces of the puzzle for myself.
Furthermore, another issue I had with the musical was that it was too focused on character development and ignored the importance of clarity in the storyline. There were inherent complexities that made storytelling more difficult, due to the extra layers that were added to the plot involving side stories between Joanna's cat lady C. and the Rocker Y., Ms Weather pining for a lover in the States while amateur director K. fawned over her, the random love story between a cat who is actually a man and a bird (there is ABSOLUTELY no way I would have known this without further research into the characters), and the alternate reality concept of Mr Regret and Miss Leaving's story being retold in reality as the artistic trio reviewed their scripted version of it. Although I was able to appreciate each of these little stories on their own, I nevertheless found it hard to put all these stories together in a cohesive whole, other than trying to put together scraps and bits of pithy lines uttered by the characters to link all these stories of love and loss together. Personally, I would have liked for the story to be more simple and streamlined, as I feel although the musical is strong in terms of its free-flowing artistic direction, it lacks in clarity by trying to use whimsy as an excuse for all the loose ends within the musical.
All in all, I was nevertheless still able to appreciate the sweet story and enjoyed myself, even gaining a few pithy sayings about love and loss from watching the musical. I came out of it better than when I went in, so despite the downsides, "Turn Left, Turn Right" was a pleasure to watch and was a welcome escape from the mundane issues of daily life.
Photos taken from Mr Wing Theatre's Facebook Page.
Hasty pictures taken during the performance...
List of artists/musicians/personalities I saw during my time in Taiwan:
**the number next to their name signifies how many times I saw each artist
Again, if you have any questions about any of the artists I saw, please feel free to ask! I'm happy to answer whatever I can. These are artists from all walks of life, some are producers who I really like, or musicians I really appreciate, or of course singers who I'm a fan of. Some may be jazz musicians, others singers from eras past or some of the new up and coming indie musicians. I am so glad to be a part of all these events, and to have had the chance to watch them all perform in their respective professional settings!
Mify Chen (from Roomie)
许仁杰 Stanley Hsu
Lara Veronin梁心颐 (4)
林俊杰JJ Lin (2)
Andrew Chen陈势安 (3)
Lala Hsu 徐佳莹(3)
Hsiao Hung Jen萧闳仁
He ren jie 河仁杰
Skot Suyama (2)
张震岳Chang Chen yue
Lin yu chun小胖
Huang zhi jiao
威权from lollipop F
As I've finally started going through all my Taiwan stuff I've decided to create a log of all the concerts and events that I've been given the privilege of attending during my time in Taiwan. If you'd like any information about any of the concerts that are listed below, feel free to comment or to message Asian Pop Weekly via facebook!
· 21st-Sunny Frog concert @ Ximending Riverside Featuring Lara Veronin, Stanley Hsu, Mify Chen and others
· 24th-KKBOX Awards @ Taipei Arena featuring JJ Lin, Sodagreen, Lala hsu, Yen-J, William Wei, Diana Wang, Dawen Wang, Jam Hsiao, Queen Wei etc..
· 14th-Lara Veronin at Chengyuan High School with Freya Lin
· 28th-Joanna Wang <Midnight Cinema> screening
· 29th-William Wei <有所畏> autograph session at Huashan Creative Park
· 30th-势在必行2 音乐分享Party at Huashan Creative Park
· 11th-Lara Veronin at永春高中with R.Chord and Bii
· 19th –Yen-Joy Everyday Birthday Concert at Legacy Taipei
· 20th-VChuan 《全是爱》 autograph session at City Café 花房
· 20th –Joanna Wang Free Music Event & Autograph Session
· 22nd-Yen-J&Hsiao Hung-Jen 娱乐百分百好友音乐会 Filming at GTV station
· 5th-MP Magic Power Autograph Session for Coke @ 7-11
· 7th-Gigantic Roar音乐会@ Legacy Taipei
· 10th-William Wei <在你身边>Concert @ Legacy Taipei
· 14th –Peggy Hsu <La Valse>音乐会@Starbucks Gongguan
· 16th-金曲奖Program Filming featuring Yen-J, Ricky Hsiao, Li Ya Sha among others
· 23rd-Interviews with Shawna Yang, Brandy Wu and Michelle Wu from Metamorphosis Jazztet @Blue Note Jazz Club
· 24th-City of Irony featuring Esther and Lara Veronin screening at SPOT cinemas in Huashan Creative Park
· 24th -Yoga Lin Speaking in Tongues Concert @Taipei Arena
· 30th-Metamorphosis Jazztet Lunchtime Concert
· 30th-Interview with Skot Suyama
· 31st-Ricky Hsiao <上水的花> Autograph session @ Huashan Creative Park
· 31st-Dawen Wang & Hush performance at NTU
· 1st-Hito Awards Featuring Hebe, Tanya Chua, Lala hsu, William Wei, Claire Kuo, Rachel Liang, JJ Lin, Sodagreen,Waa Wei, Dawen Wang, Yen-J,Diana Wang, Jia Jia etc.
· 5th-The Next Big Thing event @ Legacy Taipei
· 6th –William Wei lecturing for the Golden Melody Awards program @ NTU
· 15th-Lala Hsu preview concert for new album <寻启人生>@ Legacy Taipei
· 22nd-Met Lara & Esther at Topo Café for Afternoon Tea after winning TAWKI poster competition
· 26th –Golden Melody Awards Livehouse-Crossing Borders featuring Olivia Ong, Andrew Tan, Diana Wang and others
Joanna is really an artist that I admire, especially for her unique views on things, and her ability to stand out from the crowd with bravery and independence. She causes a stir, but once you get to know her and her music, you find that she isn't just making a mountain out of a molehill. She is a really passionate singer who cares about her music and how it gets put out to the public in the form of albums. I really enjoyed watching her performance on the 20th at the Taipei museum of fine arts, which was a pretty low-key event, with her performing with an accompanist and her own guitar a selection of songs both from her new album <Midnight Cinema>, as well as other original songs that she's written, showcasing her unique point of view and personality.
For each and every song she had a story to tell, about why she wrote this song, what the song is trying to say, and what she wants others to get from her music. This is a really important part of being a person in the music industry, because if you can't get people to understand what you are trying to say from your music, then there really isn't much of a point in sharing the music with others. Some of the stories behind her songs were wacky, humorous; while others were more serious and deep. However, each and every song had an interesting message behind it which Joanna clearly put out to the audience during this performance. I truly enjoyed the performance, and hope to see her perform again soon!
It's been my dream since I started getting to know more about Chinese music to be able to live in Taipei, and now I'm finally going to be able to! Starting from the 11th of February, I will be staying in Taipei for 139 days and hope to share parts of my experiences that may be helpful with readers everywhere! (Feb 2014)