Friday, April 30, 2010


Another valiant effort by W!ldRice, though less deserving of a standing ovation on all twos (or fours) than the previous season. I had a few words with Animal Farm's Director, Ivan Heng, before the show and told him I'd caught the previous run and thoroughly enjoyed it. He interjected that this time around, there had been "some updates". I wonder if he'd said that to lower my expectations or if that was an apology in disguise.

The set was simple and static, resembling a barn with zinc sheets as walls. In the centre, a few rows of steps rise up to meet the back wall, on which the seven commandments were scribbled. Animal Farm by W!ldRice is possibly the most physical piece of local theatre you'll ever see. The arched feet, the bent knees and backs, the stiff fingers that resembled pig trotters, head and body jerks reminiscent of fowl behaviour, the shrieks, neighing, barks and clucking. For the cast, this was one place they could behave like animals and get away with it. In fact, animal behaviour is imperative!

Yeo Yann Yann (of 881 and Singapore Dreaming fame) deserves special mention for how hard she worked herself playing Clover the horse. Gani Abdul Karim who played Boxer was convincing as the tireless and diligent workhorse, but the way Yann Yann trotted around the stage the whole show through and kept in character and stance is praiseworthy. I can't remember a time she wasn't on stage. Someone, anyone...please put a trough on stage for her to hydrate herself. Pam Oei was the convincingly conniving righthand pig Squealer, whose squeals made the audience squeal with adoration, but it was Denise Tan who pulled in the most laughs as Mollie the mare who believed in sugar candy mountain - a place animals go to when they die. Her Filipino-accented portrayal of Moses the raven also lent much comedy to the show. Lim Yu Beng was so-so as the kingpig, I mean 'kingpin'. He lacked the evil streak (why am I thinking of streaky bacon all of a sudden?!) and presence that Napoleon ought to have had. He just was so much more masterful as Boxer in the previous season.

There were a few slapstick moments that didn't jive. The odd song that sprinkled the show, including 'Tonight's Gonna be a Good Night' didn't go down well. The attempt to make the show palatable for the younger crowd didn't work for me. I hope George Orwell didn't turn in his grave. Another flaw was how inconsistent the accents were. Some dialogues were in standard English while others were laced with ethnic accents.

The show had elements of Stomp (when Jenson Koh the 8th member of the cast came out from behind his drum set and started banging on the stage floor and zinc sheets) and Mummenschanz (the use of aluminium tubing coils) and even a fleeting moment of Les Miserables.

Should you catch the show?

Yes, if....
- you've never caught the previous seasons
- you appreciate the hard work that goes into good physical theatre
- you love watching animal behaviour in humans
- you want to see how closely it sticks to your Literature text
- you want to see how text is adapted for theatre

ANIMAL FARM is now on at the Drama Centre at the National Library Building. Now on till 8th May 2010! Tickets still selling at SISTIC.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Man They Call The Bladerunner

He is a 42, a father of three, and in a month's time, will be racing in the 84km Adidas Sundown Marathon. What's more, he has plans to climb Mt Everest, and to run across the Sahara Desert. If that is not an inspiration, how about this?

Mohd Shariff Abdullah, of Shariff as he prefers to be called, has a prosthetic leg.

Throughout the conversation, I sat there in disbelief and awe of this man. Partly because I've just started running again myself, averaging about 4km, and already I am huffing & puffing by the end of the run. What excuse do I have -- even to complete the 10km -- if this man with a prosthetic leg can run an ultra marathon?

Shariff will attempt an 84km overnight race with a prosthetic leg.

We were curious to see what his prosthetic leg looked like. After all, he's not called The Bladerunner for nothing. Shariff dug into his bag and pulled out this sickle-looking contraption [pictured left]. He basically attaches it to his stump, and there are even rubber soles beneath, like regular shoes!

I wouldn't say it's light, but it's not heavy & clumsy either. Shariff describes it as a "spring" and says it's pretty hardy. It's only broken off once when he was running on rough, pebbled terrain. For an idea of the races he's completed, click here to read his blog.

I seriously don't think Shariff knows how inspiring he is. He kept thanking us for having him on our show, and saying that it's really nothing. I'm incredulous that he should think that, because he has broken down walls for me, and made me see that anything is possible, if you just set your mind to it.

If you'd liked to support him for his Mt Everest climb or his Sahara Desert run, do contact him. I don't think it's easy for him to raise enough funds for what he hopes to accomplish for Singapore, but we can all do out part to make his dreams come true. Contact him here.

Shariff showed me that if you set your mind to it, truly nothing is impossible.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

"M" is for the Man who Motivates

"Mr Motivator" has us know he's a supporter of Manchester United, but quickly dismisses it as needless because he doesn't want to take sides. Besides, "the club has many fans already", he says. He puts paid to the fact that most of these fans have never even watched their favourite club play a live match. Instead of advocating 'fan-ship', he's more concerned that fitness is nothing short of fun!

His real name's Derrick Evans. This 56-year-old grandfather of three has been championing fitness for about thirty years. He got himself on British TV channel GMTV in 1993 and since then, has been rallying his countrymen to take the path of fitness. This TV personality and fitness instructor believes people will be drawn to fitness if there's a fun element to it. In fact, such is his pull that even British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has tasked Derrick to help millions in the UK shed the pounds and fight obesity belly-on!

There are many triggers that have people turning to fitness, and fun is his bait. Ladies, there's a free workout happening at Zirca this Thursday, 29th April 2010. Click here to read more or sign up for his event led by Mr Motivator himself!

Mr Motivator even had us do some simple stretching and breathing exercises in The Living Room to get our muscles moving. And we thought moving our lips with all that talking we're paid to do was enough of a workout. I guess not. *sigh*

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mao's Last Dancer

He was born into utter poverty in China, but at age 11, was selected to train as a dancer with Madame Mao's Beijing Dance Academy. At 18, he won one of China's first cultural scholarships to the US and later secured a contract to dance with the Houston Ballet.

Two years later, when he wanted to defect to the West, a dramatic media storm ensued! Even involving then US vice-president, George Bush Snr.

This is the amazing & inspiring story of Li Cunxin, author of the bestselling book, Mao's Last Dancer, and protagonist of the hugely-successful movie (of the same name) now playing in the cinemas.

In fact, the movie opened this year's Singapore International Film Festival.

If you missed the conversation between Stanley and Li Cunxin in The Living Room this morning, there are 3 encore broadcasts tonight. This interview was conducted back in 2007, way before the movie was filmed. It's a 3-part conversation that should not be missed!

Mao's Last Dancer: A Chat with Li Cunxin
Tonight, 10.4pm - midnight, 938LIVE
2.15am, Channel NewsAsia
4.15am, 938LIVE

Friday, April 23, 2010

Chicago the Musical: Sensationally Sexy!!!

The moment that lanky, leggy woman sauntered up on stage, with that single spotlight illuminating her scantily clad, super toned body, I knew Chicago the Musical was unapologetically in a class of its own. My first thought? Boy, they sure know how to grab someone's attention!

Stan & I were privileged to catch the Opening Gala of Chicago on Tuesday night, three days before we were scheduled to meet the cast for an interview. I wasn't sure what to expect from an Australian cast, to be honest. After all, Chicago is such an all-American production, isn't it? The set, the accents, the jazz & choreography... just the whole genre of that era. Can an Australian cast really pull it off?

Besides, I dozed off watching the 2002 movie of Chicago, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones, Renee Zellwegger and Richard Gere... *bashful* And it had won 6 Oscars, including Best Picture!

But one consolation was this: Chicago was originally written for the stage, and so I believe on stage would be where the magic & splendour would happen!

After all, Hollywood always takes what's best on Broadway and spins it into a movie. But somehow, even the movie Rent was nowhere close to the stage version I caught in Nashville, Tennessee. So there was hope...

With that mindset, I went to Chicago the Musical at the Esplanade Theatre. And I have to tell you: I was completely blown away! It was witty, wicked and very, very sexy. The cast was completely believable with their American accents (not like a certain recent production where accents were all awry!), and the dancing was visually captivating.

In fact, everyone on stage was visually captivating! *LOL* I swear, you will not be able to take your eyes off them. They look good, sing good, dance good. What more can a paying audience ask for? But I gush.

At Chicago's opening gala where Stan & I bumped into many friends from MediaCorp TV, radio & print also present there. Media out in full force!

Well, we finally got to chat with the cast of Chicago the Musical in TLR today, and it was one of the most rowdy, entertaining & engaging conversations we've had in a while. I guess partly because Craig McLachlan (Billy Flynn) was in the house. He's the heartthrob who played Kylie Minogue's brother in the hit series, Neighbours, on Australian TV.

This guy used to grace the covers of teen magazines every month, and our beloved colleague Melanie Oliveiro admits to collecting posters of him as a teenager herself! *LOL*

Craig is charming, cheeky, and brilliant at stoking up the playful humour in the conversation, like making Caroline Kaspar (Dance Captain / Miss "Not Guilty!") spew Hungarian 'live' on-air! *LOL* I think someone's been feeding Craig too much jelly beans!!! ;P

But one lady I really wanted to meet was Deone Zanotto. She plays Velma Kelly in this production of Chicago, and her character really stood out for me. In my opinion, she quite outshone Roxie Hart's character, even though the latter had a juicier role on stage.

[From top, clockwise]: Craig McLachlan (Billy Flynn), Deone Zanotto (Velma Kelly), Caroline Kaspar (Dance Captain/Hungarian girl), and Karen Mortimer (Resident Director).

Despite her explosive character on stage, with her flawless voice & dance moves, Deone is surprisingly calm, collected, and very down-to-earth in person.

What struck me most about what she shared (and what Craig interjected, of course!) was that backstage, she would be stretching... jogging on the spot... keeping her muscles warm for the next scene. Each scene just demands so much from her physically that she can't afford to let her muscles cool down! When you watch Chicago, you'll understand.

We also had Resident Director Karen Mortimer on our couch, telling us about her role as (in my words) "Prefect" or "Monitor" for the cast! *LOL* In fact, she, Caroline & the hot female conductor Vanessa have been entrusted with ensuring that the music, choreography and characters stay true to what was originally intended, which means keeping everyone in check while still allowing their personalities to shine. Tough!

But it pays off! This production is nothing short of excellent, and it definitely exceeded my expectations. Guess what? I'm going to catch it again this weekend ~ paying this time! *grin* The only other musical that has compelled me to do that was my all-time favourite, Les Miserables.

Do catch Chicago before it ends its run here on May 9 ~ strictly no extension!. All I can say is: You will NOT be disappointed! *wink*

Chicago the Musical
Till May 9
Esplanade Theatre
Tickets via SISTIC.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Ebony & Ivory... Living in Perfect Harmony

His name is Yaron Kohlberg, and he's a pianist from Israel. What impressed me upon first reading his bio (other than the fact that he's quite a handsome lad!) is that he's only 27, and already he has clinched numerous international awards and travelled the world, sharing his gift.

It's a gift he was born with, with both parents being musically-inclined. His mum was a performing violinist with an orchestra, while his dad played the piano, albeit not professionally. But Yoran tells us that it was a demanding Russian piano teacher around the time he was 10 that really made him recognise his talent and set him on the path of professional musician-hood.

When he yawned and asked for coffee, I knew we would bond! *LOL* When Stan was reading the Business News on-air, I ran upstairs to grab some coins and then down to the vending machine to get him some. He had arrived in Singapore from Mumbai, and prior to that, was performing in Poland.

And he's such a charming young man who spoke English proficiently and exuded an air of quiet confidence. That was how I felt about Hen Lasker too, an Israeli filmmaker I interviewed for International Women's Day last year. But I digress!

The reason Yaron is in town is because the Embassy of Israel is staging a one-night-only concert featuring two accomplished young pianists from Israel for the Singapore community. What's heartwarming is that Yaron Kohlberg is Jewish, and Bishara Harouny is Arab, and despite their religious differences, they will be playing side by side on stage, and in complete harmony.

Hmm, now doesn't that remind you of the song 'Ebony & Ivory'? *grin*

Pianist Yaron Kohlberg & Idit Abu, Deputy Chief of Mission from the Embassy of Israel join us in The Living Room.

The concert is entitled Israeli-Arab Piano Duo Concert Gala, and it's held at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts on Thu 22 April, for one night only. It promises to be a spectacular show! And joining Yoran in The Living Room to tell us more is an "old friend" I interviewed with filmmaker Hen Lasker last year, when we did an IWD special on Women in the Israeli Army. Her name is Idit Abu, and she's Deputy Chief of Missions with the Embassy of Israel here.

Well, we're all crossing our fingers now that Bishara makes it to Singapore by tomorrow. He was stuck in Berlin due to the Icelandic ash cloud that has paralysed air travel all across Europe...

Yes, every day this week, Stan & I experienced the volcanic ash cloud's impact on The Living Room. We've had at least one guest missing on our couch each day this week! That's how connected we all are these days, isn't it? The world's become a Global Village.

And so, more than ever, I feel we need to be building bridges. Lots of bridges. Everywhere. And through ways & means beyond politics. And music is one of them. Music has the ability to transcend language, culture, and religious differences. And I take my hat off to the Embassy of Israel for recognising that, and for putting forth this message of peace & hope through this concert. We wish Yaron & Bishara all the best!!!

Israeli-Arab Piano Duo Concert Gala
Thu 22 April
7.30pm - 8.30pm
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Campus 3)
Pre-register by emailing

Thursday, April 15, 2010

DEE Man on a Mission

An American man's footrace across the Atacama Desert from Peru to Chile paves the way for 50 Singaporean athletes to head to Athens, Greece to compete in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in 2011!

Defining human spirit and endurance, denying the difference in cultures and what would have been in the name of national interest and designating his race as a cause worth investing in simply blows your mind. These are moments when you see love lived out and hearts and hands opened, just because someone had put his foot forward. And so began a 250-kilometre adventure across six days over rough undulating terrain in the South American desert, where temperatures soared to 46 degree Celsius. His feet and feat have raised $300,000 from donors all around the world. The beneficiary - Special Olympics Singapore athletes.

This is the story of Michael Dee.

(above: Michael Dee, David Rutherford - MD of Special Olympics Asia Pacific, Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang - President of Special Olympics Singapore)

Michael who recently resigned as senior managing director of Temasek Holdings had previously worked with Morgan Stanley for more than a quarter of a century. Despite the high-level corporate life he led, charitable causes was never far from his mind. In fact, Michael is a founding board member of Make-A-Wish Foundation Singapore - a charity that grants wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions. Incidentally, he'd literally put his feet to work for them by climbing Mt Kilamanjaro.

But why his choice to benefit the Special Olympics team most recently? Let's put it this way...If anyone could comprehend and appreciate the challenges (and promises) of one with intellectual disabilities, Michael could. His younger sister Anne, who's in her forties, has Down Syndrome. But what a remarkable difference Special Olympics had made to her life and he knows it can do the same for many more like her here in Singapore.

With the concern for funding out of the way, our athletes who'll be flying the Singapore flag next year can now direct all their focus and attention on training for the international competition. That's according to Dr Teo-Koh Sock Miang, President of Special Olympics Singapore. The funds are there and the flight is waiting.

It became apparent to Pam that if Michael's feet could do so much, what larger good could ours do beyond walking or running for fitness' sake? May this thought challenge you. Perhaps it's time to get your feet wet for a good cause. I'm feeling itchy already since my last run for a cause last November.

Speaking of a good cause, Special Olympics Singapore will be holding its flag day on Saturday, 1st May 2010. To lend a hand as a volunteer for the day, please make contact with them. Open your heart that day if you meet a volunteer. Financial contributions will continue to benefit the athletes in their training and development programmes and in support of financing other smaller scale tournaments throughout the year.

We like how Michael used the word 'investor' when speaking of those who gave towards the cause. He wasn't for the term 'donor' because the gesture of giving was really an investment into people's lives. Nice.

Retrace Michael's adventure and read the letters Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President S.R. Nathan sent Michael here.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Who's Harry?

Even the CEO draws a blank. If Mohan Mulani can't give a definitive answer to my question, our guess is as good as his. After "How are you?", that could well be the question he's asked most often. Mohan's after all the CEO of Harry's Holdings Limited - a post he's held since 2006. Prior to that, he was its Director.

Harry's has truly come a long way from when its founder Jim Gelpi in 1992 first planted the first outlet along the south side of the Singapore River at Boat Quay. From a lone F&B outlet, it added an 'upstairs' comprising a lounge and function room in 2000. Mohan wrote himself into Harry's history in 2002 when he bought out the shareholders and what change ensued. He was like a spark plug who ignited the business, growing it from jazz bar to what's now a heavyweight brand. By year's end, our island will have 31 Harry's outlets spread across the CBD, business parks, recreational and lifestyle belts, as well as malls. Remarkable growth for an 18-year-old company.

Among the many famous personalities, both customers and jazz greats, that Harry's has hosted, rogue trader Nick Leeson of Barings will perhaps be best remembered as a frequent patron. Mohan however shares that he was once told by his staff that Minister Mentor Lee had popped in one afternoon. Ahh! Could this be the missing piece to the puzzling name? I'm none the wiser after my chat with Mohan that I was before.

Mohan pens his journey and that of the business and brand in The Story of Harry's, his first book through which he articulates fresh, heartfelt and vivid recollections of the path they've collectively and individually taken. From milestones to millstones, it's obvious this man's no quitter.

It's an easy read brewed with lots of wholesome honesty, bubbling with full-bodied flavour just like Harry's Premium Lager (which you can redeem a bottle for by presenting Mohan's book at any Harry's outlet from now till April 2011).

The Story of Harry's (published by Marshall Cavendish) is on sale at all major bookstores at S$25 (before GST).

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

More than a Barnyard Story

I remember the first time I read George Orwell's Animal Farm. If there's one word I'd choose to describe how I felt, it would be "indignant".

Animal Farm is anything but a story about peaceful barnyard animals. It's about how absolute power corrupts. You won't need to look too far below the surface of those pigs' skins to find ugly human traits. But I shall not get into the story here...

All I can say is 65 years after George Orwell wrote the book, the message of Animal Farm is still relevant today -- perhaps even more so. And what better way to soak in the powerful message than through a stage production that features Singapore's very best.

Lim Yu-Beng (Napoleon), Pam Oei (Squealer) & 881's Yeo Yann Yann (Clover) in W!ld Rice's Animal Farm!

This is W!ld Rice's 3rd season of Animal Farm. It made its debut in 2002, and played to rave reviews. In 2004, the theatre company brought the play to New Zealand, and again, all shows were completely sold out there.

Just last month, Animal Farm travelled to the prestigious 2010 Hong Kong Arts Festival, and months before the Singapore cast & crew even stepped on Hong Kong soil, tickets for the show were already completely sold out.

In fact Yu-Beng & Pam have been in all three runs -- playing different roles of course! They joked that all the other cast members "can't stand them" because they knew everybody else's lines & would correct them! *LOL*

What was poignant for Yu-Beng though was that he's played both a pig and a horse. Napoleon, of course, being the dictator. So he knows how it feels to lord it over the animals, and how it feels to be lorded over. I've always known Yu-Beng to be an individual with a strong sense of social justice, and so I can understand when he said he felt "angry".

Animal Farm opens next Wed, 21 April @ Drama Centre Theatre!

For Pam & Yann Yann, the whole physicality of the production was what they griped about. I tell you, these girls so amused me! *LOL*

"If I could bring in a massage therapist right now, which parts of your body will you ask to be massaged?" Stan asked, with a twinkle in his eye.

"Lower back!" Pam squealed. OK, she didn't squeal. Groaned, more like it.

Apparently, them pigs have to be on all fours. And Yann Yann admits that though the other cast members did warn her about the physical demands of the production, she didn't quite take heed till she found herself limping & aching her way into rehearsals! And Yann Yann looks every bit a fit & toned young lady, so... GOSH.

SO! If you're catching Animal Farm, don't think it was all a piece of cake. A lot of blood, sweat & tears went into it! OK, more like sweat & aching muscles. Personally, I can't wait to catch it! Hope to see you there!!!

21 April - 8 May
Drama Centre Theatre
Tickets via SISTIC

For more info, click here.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Seafood & Cocktails by the Sea...

Do you enjoy seafood? What about cocktails?

OK, here's a proposal for you: Why not, on your next date with your special someone, head down to East Coast beach to enjoy a scrumptious seafood spread & top-notch cocktails by the sea? Think balmy evening. Al fresco. Sea breeze. At a restaurant that's posh yet laidback.

Sounds good? Well, it sure did to me! *LOL*

That's why on Monday - though I was technically on leave - I accepted 1 Twenty Six 's invitation for a media food tasting. I wasn't sure what to expect except that the cocktails would be good, since 1 Twenty Six is (after all) the sister of One Rochester, where we recently held our colonial cocktail workshop!

It was cool & drizzly when I got to Playground @ Big Splash at 7pm. Getting there is easy if you drive, but you'll need to cab in if you don't. Just look out for Carl's Jr and 1 Twenty Six is beside it.

Well, I'll let my pictures do the work from here on. As they say, "A picture's worth a thousand words". ENJOY!!!

The whole al fresco "jardin" concept reminded me of One Rochester, where we had our cocktail workshop recently.

My colleague Justine & I went together. Pity Stan couldn't join us. He had to be in "top form" for his upcoming tennis tournament!

The Nibbles Platter! Potato skins with sour cream & ocean trout caviar, Homemade cod brandade with grilled brushetta, Steamed vongole clams w a garlic & herb crumb, Crispy soft shelled crab with chilli mayo.

The Coast Platter! You can "upgrade" the communal set with this starter if you like. It has tiger prawns, crab, oysters, mussels, claims, sashimi...

We were served a variety of cocktails throughout the evening. These are the first three. Each one unique & refreshing. I had to really pace myself cos I drove! *sob*

Ah! The mains finally arrive...

Grilled King prawns with goat cheese tortellini with clam broth and coppa cracklings.

Tuna Nicoise in two styles, seared tuna tataki and tuna confit, with French beans, cherry tomatoes, and soft boiled quails eggs.

And if you're not into seafood, this beef dish is awesome & oh so tender! It's the Braised short rib of beef with creamy Paris mashed potatoes and horshradish cream.

A Truffled French omelette with hand-pickd Sri Lankan crab meat and mascarpone.

Wild barramundi with a brandade crust, spinach & almond puree, served with shellfish sauce.

Classic fish pie with snapper, ocean trout, prawn, leek and dill 'Pocolo fritto' lightly battered seafood with hand cut fries and lime aioli.

Our colleague Carolyn Camoens had been here before and told us about the Raspberry Donut shooter the mixologist made for her. We requested for that, and it was awesome! Heavy on Bailey's Irish Cream, with a fresh raspberry thrown in the middle.

A selection of petite sized desserts to share! All my friends will tell you, this is always my favourite part of any meal. Here's what we had:

Rose perfumed pannacotta with poached pear in creme de framboise.
Lime Souffle.
Wild honey and pistachio nougat parfait with cherry compote.
Pavlova with vanilla ice cream, poached strawberries, and passion fruit coulis.
Devils flourless chocolate, mascarpone, and raspberry ripple cake.

Fine apple and frangipane tart with calvados ice cream. This was another of my favourites because it's both savoury & sweet. :P~

We ended our meal close to 11pm! A very contented Justine & Pam with Executive Chef, Christopher Millar. Bravo! ♥

For more information about 1 Twenty Six, click here.