Tuesday, March 8, 2016

'Babar the Little Elephant' in Review - 4 Mar 2016, 9.30pm

Pianist Pauline Lee presented a fun and lively recital with tenor Leslie Tay and actor Jeremy Lee. The pieces, selected based on themes of childhood, seek to evoke the fun and nostalgia of simpler times.

On the programme are Leslie's singing of Aaron Copland's Old American Songs Sets 1 and 2 which opened and closed the hour-long recital respectively, Irving Fine's Selections from Childhood Fables for Grownups, Birds by local composer Jin Jun Lee and Poulenc's L'histoire de Barbar le petit elephant, presented by Pauline and Jeremy. Projections with the song lyrics and colourful crayon-coloured graphics were screened throughout, lending a visual complement to the evening's music-making.

Decked in colourful breeches and a polka dotted bowtie in the first-half, Leslie's performance went beyond simply singing; his active physical movements and charming stage presence made for a complete stage performance. The children-friendly songs, at times evoking animal sounds from chickens and other birds to cats and cows and chain sounds, were brought to live in a funny and engaging way that kept the audience entertained. More lyrical numbers such as Long Time Ago, Simple Gifts, At The River and Horses showcased his ability to spin warm legato lines and sing beautifully floated soft high notes. His singing of Jin Jun Lee's cycle Birds, beautiful and lyrical in its flowing music, was one of the show's highlights, with the song Hen a particularly sweet number where the protagonist wishes to have a loved one to nest with.

The titular piece, Poulenc's L'histoire de Barbar le petit elephant, was the odd one out in the programme as it is the only piece that doesn't feature any singing. Instead, Jeremy skillfully narrated the children's story in English to Poulenc's programme music, engagingly played by Pauline with the watchful eye of a conductor and the pizzazz of a musical storyteller. Jeremy's narration saw him play every character in the story, including the titular elephant, his animal friends and an old lady, which he played beautifully with multiple quick costume changes (cleverly hidden behind the piano), skillfully delineated vocal colours and body language. His handling of the long script from start to finish and the myriad of details that he brought to life was nothing short of masterful. Pauline handled the composer's modernist style with flair and vividly painted the sounds and music of the scenes.

In all, it was a colourful evening, visually, musically and theatrically speaking, that certainly kept its promise to entertain the little ones and evoke nostalgic feelings of simpler times in grownups. Well done guys! 

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