Taiwanese musician Jay Chou can more or less be considered one of the greatest Asian songwriters of his generation, inspiring a rabid mass following since his debut in 2000. From that initial success spawned a minor career in film, leading to his writing and directing 2007 smash hit film Secret, and winning 3 Golden Horse Awards.
Although not a musical film, combined Jay’s undeniable success and catchy tunes, it makes perfect sense to adapt Secret for the stage, taking on the form of a jukebox musical and utilising some of the musician’s greatest hits and lesser known songs in its soundtrack. A joint production by China Broadway Entertainment and a team of award winning creatives from Broadway, including Tony award winning director John Rando (Urinetown) and Kinky Boots sound designer John Shivers, The Secret premieres this week at Marina Bay Sands’ Mastercard Theatres, and marks the first time the musical is being presented outside of China.
Said China Broadway Entertainment Producer Ivy Zhong: “I initiated this project mostly because I was a fan of Jay Chou, and his songs are such a big part of my generation’s youth, and believed that they would translate well when adapted for stage.”
On the significance of The Secret, Broadway Asia Executive Producer Simone Genatt says: “As an emerging music market, The Secret marks a rare opportunity to create such a huge commercial musical opportunity. Broadway and China have very different styles of working, and they weren’t used to how we had so many workshops and kept making changes along the way. But ultimately, we managed to push each other on to achieve the result we have today, and when you see the show, it doesn’t matter what language you speak, because it delivers on the visuals and the universality of its romance.”
The Secret is a romantic musical with a surprise time travel twist, following protagonists and students Ye Xianglun (Cao Yang) and Lu Xiaoyu (Wang Xiaomin) as they meet and fall in love with each other in their school’s old piano room. At the media call held, we were treated to two numbers from the musical. The first was an emotional scene between Xianglun and Xiaoyu as they declared their love for each other. Utilising Jay Chou’s famous song ‘Rooftop’ (屋顶), the scene naturally takes place on a rooftop, and ends with a romantic kiss from Xianglun to Xiaoyu. A familiar tune from our own childhoods, the song immediately sent us into a nostalgia bubble, and immediately felt connected to these lovers.
In the second number, we watched the opening scene of the musical, as the entire company plays students returning from summer vacation to school, lamenting the end of summer in one of Jay Chou’s lesser known songs ‘I Want Summer’ (我要夏天). Choreographed by acclaimed choreographed Zach Woodlee (Glee), the energetic number was a strong start to the musical as students rushed across the stage while performing acrobatic feats such as splits in the air, while also being incredibly well synced in their movements.
During the Q&A session afterwards, both Ivy Zhong and , and The Secret stars Cao Yang and Wang Xiaomin were present to answer media queries. On selecting both cast members, Simone Genatt explained: “In China, it’s easy to find a good singer or a good dancer, but very rarely can you find a triple thread who can dance, sing and act. Both Cao Yang and Xiaomin have big shoes to fill with these iconic roles played by famous actors, but they’re very capable.”
A graduate from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, Cao Yang is no stranger to performing onstage, and has earned multiple accolades including being invited to be a guest singer for Jay Chou’s team on the second season of reality show singing competition Sing China. Says Cao on working on the musical: “Jay Chou did a really good job in the movie already, and when we adapted it, we were focusing a lot on making it bigger and more stageworthy.”
One example of this is how Wang Xiaomin adapted her character to be quite different from the film. Whereas n the film Lu Xiaoyu is a quiet, sickly girl, Wang reimagined her as an acute, sensitive character, combining both the film character with her own personality. Although this will be her first time acting in a stage musical, Wang has previously acted in various film and TV drama roles, and has won multiple music awards in China. Says Xiaomin: “I was so honoured when Jay Chou himself came to see our show and appreciated that he mentioned how he never imagined it’d be possible to adapt his film and use his songs so effectively to make the story flow.”
Considering this will be the first time The Secret is playing outside of China, one wonders about future plans to potentially export it to the West and the difficulties associated with it. Says Simone Genatt: “Broadway musicals are not necessarily American stories. You’ve got Les Mis set in France, Miss Saigon in Vietnam and The King and I in Thailand. Right now China’s hot, and taking the idea of a Chinese musical and adapting it for Broadway is very feasible and we’ve got theatres in the US interested in developing it further with us. We may not know what we’re singing when we’re listening to Jay Chou’s music, but there’s something universal and very Broadway about his tunes, and absolutely have plans to develop The Secret further for an international market.”
On the challenges of working with two cultures from different sides of the world, Simone explains: “We actually worked really well together, and the biggest challenge was probably figuring out which songs to be used and how best to integrate the lyrics into the story. We learnt a lot about each other during the process, and gained a lot in terms of our knowledge of Asian and Chinese cultures.”
Cao Yang adds: “There are differences in culture that affected the way we were directed and had to change Marc Acito’s script. For example, there are a number of jokes he wrote that didn’t land well with the Chinese audience, and after we worked on them, audiences in China began to roar with laughter when those scenes played. Or in the case of courtship, there are many love scenes in The Secret, but in America, people are much more open than in China, and John Rando kept asking why we weren’t looking at each other or acted so shy around each other during the scenes, which we had to explain.”
Xiaomin concludes: “But really, the Broadway team was very professional. When we were touring China, Rando suggested that we add a little flavour to our scenes to make it unique to each city, such as using different dialects at times. Even though they come from a very different background from us, they still know how to make the show work and the best it can be for any audience.”
It’s no secret then that with a capable cast and creative team steering it forward, The Secret looks set for a moving and powerful opening when it premieres tonight at Mastercard Theatres. Find out just how good it is after we catch it ourselves, and stay tuned for our upcoming review of it this weekend.
The Secret plays from 6th – 15th April at Mastercard Theatres. Tickets available from SISTIC