Sing it loud from the rooftops: reveal The Secret and let everyone know how fantastic it is.
The biggest challenge jukebox musicals often face is finding the right songs in an artists’ repertoire to fit a decent storyline. If done wrong, the entire musical could come off as hackneyed and forced. But in the event it does succeed, then expect only roaring success, mining the nostalgia of songs past to fill audiences with an indescribable, innate joy.
Uniting a dream team of creatives from Broadway and China, The Secret is a high school musical with a time travel twist that has every ingredient it needs to succeed. Based off Taiwanese megastar Jay Chou’s award-winning 2007 film of the same name, The Secret follows high school students Ye Xianglun (Cao Yang) and Lu Xiaoyu (Wang Xiaomin) as they meet, fall in love and embark on an epic romance that will span time and space itself, using Jay Chou’s own songs, written by him.
Jay Chou is without a doubt one of the most successful Taiwanese artists today, and with good reason – he’s a musical genius of a singer-songwriter, tackling varied topics and genres across his years in the industry with countless number one hits along the way. With fourteen albums worth of music, there’s plenty of material for the team to work with and weave into the already charming, timeless plot of The Secret, and using both hits and lesser known tracks makes for a balanced, fiercely cohesive show.
The Secret knows exactly how to make a good high school musical, opening with a high energy return to Tam Kang High utilising 《我要夏天》, introducing us to the intricately designed school uniforms by David C. Woolard, strongly indicative of the era. Jay Chou’s songs both here and later on in the cowboy-themed《时光机》 are cheery and upbeat, easily getting us pumped with the tight choreography by Zach Woodlee, each movement precise and rehearsed to perfect timing. Cast members Zhou Shiqi and Cao Linkun are especially charming as A-Lang and A-Bao, the bumbling clowns of the musical, bringing laughs from the audience each time they came onstage, while also displaying very strong vocal prowess, expertly handling both rap and verse portions of 《听妈妈的话》, as well as uplifting our spirits in 《乌克丽丽》.
But of course, a show is ultimately carried by its leads, and both Cao Yang and Wang Xiaomin are excellently cast, both skilled singers in their own right and complementing each other both vocally and with their believable onstage chemistry, making us want to root for the success of their romance. Romantic duet 《屋顶》 was an especially moving number, sending shivers down our spines as we watched them gaze into each other’s eyes and sing the hit. Even though Mastercard Theatres is such a huge venue, both singers made us feel like we were intimately part of that scene, almost as if we ourselves were seated atop that same building while watching them sing. Even with a minimalist set by Beowulf Boritt, the storytelling capabilities of the show were never compromised, easily allowing us to believe in the magic of the old piano room and the real emotions on full display throughout the show, ending off Act 1 with megahits 《简单爱》and 《搁浅》.
The Secret is incredibly well-paced, never letting the energy fall as we came back to Act 2 in full force, with a cabaret-style scene using 《稻香》, clearly indicating the era to us with its vintage costumes. It’s not easy to sustain the kind of energy displayed by the cast onstage, and this was maintained even as they fast forwarded 20 years into the present with 《晴天》, with the entire ensemble working very well together as a single cohesive unit, allowing the leads to shine and well supported by the rest of the cast.
It is in the second act that emotions run higher than ever, and the theatre was crackling with anticipation and tension as various phenomena threatened to tear the lovers apart, such as Xiaoyu’s debilitating illness. But The Secret does not disappoint, and rewards audiences with a happy ending when it finally reveals the eponymous secret of the piano room. As Xianglun plays the secret tune in the old piano room to save Xiaoyu, there was magic in the air as the set made a miraculous transformation back in time, as old blinds became new, lopsided paintings righted themselves, and Xiaoyu makes a triumphant appearance once more, fully showcasing the power of love and leaving us raw with emotion at their success.
Perhaps most moving of all was the final scene of the musical, as the entire cast comes together for a graduation ceremony. As a teacher of Tam Kang High, Xianglun’s father (Chen Xixu) congratulates his students as they finally graduate, and the joy that radiates off each of their faces makes you feel as if you too were graduating along with them and proud of their success. The full gamut of emotions is put on show in this scene, as Xianglun’s father goes from crestfallen at his son’s absence to a spectrum of expressions showing his joy and relief when both Xianglun and Xiaoyu reveal themselves, an indescribable sense of parental pride as he realises how much his own son has matured in his willingness to fight for the girl he believes in, when no one else would. The Secret’s message of the importance of family, friends and love in making miracles happen is crystal clear here, strengthened by the live band who brought all these beautiful emotions to life with their music.
Whether you’re a Jay Chou superfan or have no exposure to his music, it’s a guarantee that no one will be leaving the theatre with a dry eye with the immensely powerful emotions evoked by both the superb chemistry of its leads and Jay Chou’s timeless music. The Secret is one of the best new musicals we’ve seen, and is proof than just as opposites attract in love, the surprising teamwork between cast and creatives from both East and West has led to this victorious cross continental production. Kudos to Base Entertainment Asia and Perfect World Pictures for having the faith in this production to make Singapore The Secret’s very first stop outside of China, and one can only hope it goes on to find international success all around the world.
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Photos courtesy of Broadway Asia and BASE Entertainment Asia
Performance attended 6/4/18
The Secret plays from 6th – 15th April at Mastercard Theatres. Tickets available from SISTIC