musical Review Singapore The Second Breakfast Company Theatre

★★★★☆ Review: The Paiseh Pieces by The Second Breakfast Company

New musical sees 2BCo stretching into new directions as they tackle the perils of adulting.

CategoryScore (out of 10)
Direction (Adeeb Fazah)8
Book (Adeeb Fazah)8
Music/Lyrics (Bennett Bay/Stephanie Phang)8
Performance (Gail Belmonte, Kevin Brendan, Nadya Zaheer, Fiona Chua, Misha Paule Tan, Rino Junior John, Sharon Mah, Tan Rui Shan)8
Costume Design (Denise Dolendo)8
Choreography (Pat Jon Gregory)8
Set Design (Petrina Dawn Tan) 8
Multimedia Design (M.Nurfadhli Jasni)8
Lighting Design (Ian Pereira) 7
Total71/90 (79%)
Final Score:★★★★☆

If it’s one thing they don’t teach you in school, it’s how to handle life after it. And for best friends Rina, Tobias and Sara, life’s about to get just a little too real, as they graduate and move on up to the many facets of adulthood, in The Second Breakfast Company’s (2BCo) first ever musical.

Written and directed by Adeeb Fazah, with music by Bennett Bay and lyrics by Stephanie Phang, The Paiseh Pieces takes its title from the last piece of food everyone is too scared to take out of courtesy, and symbolising our three protagonists’ fears of being the only one left behind. More specifically, The Paiseh Pieces also references the varsity standard of McDonald’s meals, a convenient and easily accessible fast food that forms the basis of many a supper with schoolmates, catching up over chicken nuggets and ice milo, and talking about life late into the night.

Yet as close as they may have been, the three protagonists find their lives spiralling off into vastly different directions. Rina (Gail Belmonte) is forced to extend her tuition after failing several mods, while desperately trying to prove her own independence and fighting for her own dreams against an overbearing single mother (Sharon Mah). Tobias (Kevin Brendan) is working a dead end data entry job while juggling auditions to become a big time actor, while Sara (Nadya Zaheer) seems to have it all put together, about to marry her longtime partner (Rino Junior John) and move into their BTO. Only, he hasn’t proposed, and cracks in the relationship begin to show.

Throughout the musical, The Paiseh Pieces charts each of their struggles and journeys, checking in with each one periodically as they jump from one decision to another, lost with no clear direction, and trying to just stay afloat. While Adeeb is still relatively new to writing, he has penned a remarkably simple, yet charming and distressingly relatable series of scenes that reflects current day millennial angst over everything from unaffordable housing, to freelancing troubles, to the stress of achieving the ‘Singapore Dream’ of starting a family.

The Paiseh Pieces‘ is filled with so many ideas and story threads that it often feels like it’s exploring so much, it has no way of tying up all its loose ends (as proven by the end). But that doesn’t stop the journey there from having plenty of heart, thanks to Adeeb peppering it with quintessentially Singaporean references and off-beat, almost sitcom-like humour, from paying for overpriced coffee to do work at cafes, to awkward difficult bosses milking your passion for all it’s worth. All the while still maintaining a strong dramatic thrust that makes you feel for these characters.

This is also thanks to the performances from all three leads. Gail Belmonte has a winsome, can-do attitude that she imbues Sara with, her tenuous relationship with her mother a familiar one. Kevin Brendan commands the space with good stage presence and a gentle soul, an earnestness to his portrayal and commitment to his role that makes us root for him. Finally, Nadya Zaheer is expressive in her face and body, and her physicality makes it immediately obvious what Sara is feeling at any one point of time, making it easy to connect to her. When all three come together for their ‘Ice Milo Conference’ interventions, they share a good stage chemistry that makes us believe they’ve been friends for years, comfortable and frank with each other.

Most importantly, all three cast members can sing, and show off the eight original songs composed by Bennett Bay. There is a diversity to the compositions that reflect Bennett’s range, whether it’s the initial high energy, full cast opening number ‘Another Day Of Pretending To Be Adults’, or the more punk rock-inspired ‘What Do I Want?’. As a pop-rock musical, the songs are serviceable and while not catchy or particularly memorable, serve more as monologues that drive character development and test each cast member’s vocal prowess. It is a pity then that the venue is limited by its primitive sound system set-up, at times affecting the clarity or audibility of performers’ voices, in spite of their high energy and emotion they pour into each number.

The cast is also supported by an ensemble of five – Sharon Mah, Rino Junior John, Misha Paule Tan, Fiona Chua, and Tan Rui Shan, who fill in for various other roles, and perform choreography as the leads’ backup dancers. Of the five, Sharon Mah is given the meatiest parts, and delivers on both the humour and the drama in her roles, whether as a questionable financial advisor, or Rina’s overbearing, long-suffering mother. While not integral to the musical itself, their presence helps flesh out the world of The Paiseh Pieces, and makes group numbers more dynamic, thanks to Pat Jon Gregory’s simple but effective choreography.

The Paiseh Pieces was never meant to be a big Broadway/West End style production, but a pared down, indie show that proves that musicals can be staged even on a limited budget, as long as the ideas and commitment are there. There is something precious about seeing Petrina Dawn Tan’s set and M.Nurfadhli Jasni’s multimedia (both forming Doodle Productions), which are necessary to fill the blank space of Wisma Geylang’s studio, providing a viable stage with levels for actors to position themselves in an otherwise small space, and visual aid to better set each scene. Endearing in its almost makeshift quality (Denise Dolendo’s costumes are ordinary clothes you would find in most millennials’ wardrobes), The Paiseh Pieces is a show that doesn’t need to try too hard to win you over, and succeeds as a reflection of this generation’s daily problems.

Even if the conclusion is left relatively open-ended, with all three leads accepting that life is tough, by the time they come together to sing finale number ‘The Paiseh Pieces of Life’, you realise you want them to overcome the odds, because if they can do it, then so can you. All three leads know that their friendship has fundamentally changed from this point on, but take comfort in the fact that even when they’re apart, if they each have their own ‘paiseh piece’, they’re still connected in some way. Life isn’t always going to be smooth sailing, but if you ‘grab it by the chicken nuggets’, as they say, take a leap of faith, and strive for what you believe in, you just may get there someday.

Photo Credit: Poh Yu Khing

The Paiseh Pieces runs from 8th to 12th February 2023 at Wisma Geylang Serai Project Studio. Tickets available from Eventbrite

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