Artistic Director, Choreographer and Performer: Ken Kwok, Photo: Dicky Wong
R&T (Rhythm & Tempo), Hong Kong’s professional tap dance group that previously produced tap dance shows has finally produced its first original musical. The result is called Fay, a musical with tap dances about tap dancing.
The piece, with music by Charles Teo and lyrics by Jacqueline Kwok, book by Yu Hong Ting, and directed by Benny Yu, tells the story of Fay, an orphan brought up by an old shoemaker, Uncle Hoi, who loves to tap dance. One day, the government enacts a law that restricts tap dancing in public to legitimate skillful dancers only. Those allowed to dance must have certificates. To help Fay continue to dance, Uncle Hoi pulls some strings, and the results unfold during the 90-minute show.
This is the premise of the musical and it is quite solid, even though it is something like things we have seen before. However, for R&T, a group that mainly focuses on tap dancing, to produce a musical showcasing tap dances as well as telling a story about tap dancing – the importance for dancers to dance, and to continue to dream – is an effort to be encouraged.
Nevertheless, the show’s execution lacks something to convey its emotions and hopefulness.
First, the piece is too short. For a musical, especially a musical that is dance-based, it needs a running time long enough to structure the story competently. 90 minutes is just too short. To use the character of Uncle Hoi as an illustration, he is a shoemaker, but has also been a professional tap dancer. As a lead, his is a character that has huge possibilities to be filled-in with backstory to give it greater depth and interest. In Fay, however, the characterization of Uncle Hoi becomes clichéd as it is not fully developed.
I like the musical’s setting as a world where everyone knows how to tap dance. However, to make this convincing, the logic of the world needs a lot of explaining, but there isn’t any. Even if the book tells me that this is a totalitarian state, then the musical needs to show me how high the stakes of danger are if someone without a certificate dances. Maybe over the years that Fay has been growing up a lot of people have been imprisoned because they were caught dancing in public. The musical needs to tell the audience more about this, to illustrate the mood and the tone of the place where these characters live, so they can relate to the situation, and root for Fay to continue to dance.
Of course, this also relates to the performances. This is the first time I’ve seen Ken Kwok act. He has an energy that is very lucid with a potential for acting, but he needs the right direction to manifest the role. Uncle Hoi is a character that should have a lot of experiences, a lot of pain and grief, and these have to be drawn on so that the audience can see him struggle with whether or not to let Fay audition for the National Dance Troupe. If Kwok can show that struggle, then the musical will have much more weight, and audiences will empathize with him.
Other actors are doing their best to make their roles believable, but still, their characters are just too thin to support grounded performances. Cissy Ma as Kenix, the director of the Dance Troupe, is the most grounded among all.
It is a relief that the tap dances save the show from jumping off the cliff. It is a joy to see that there are tap dancers in Hong Kong who are up to a professional standard. Led by Kwok, whose tap skills are mesmerizing, the company of R&T showcases a series of tap work that bedazzles me. Through their dances, I can feel the cast’s passion for their work, and the show is full of heart and dedication. If only they can manifest the skill of making a musical well, Fay would be more memorable.
Performers: (from Left) Ken Kwok, Krystal Leung, Photo: Dicky Wong
graduated from Royal Holloway, University of London with an MA Theatre (Applied Theatre) and earned his BA English degree at University of Central Oklahoma. Lee is a playwright, screenwriter, theatre director, acting workshop convener, and performer in Hong Kong as well as a researcher in heritage and immersive theater.
Performance: Fay by R&T
Date: 14 January 2016
Venue: Theatre, Ngau Chi Wan Civic Centre