Thank You For the Music!

  • Shawne Wang
  • 5 November 2018
You can’t make a musical without musicians – and the live band behind A $ingapore Carol is the best in the business! What do these incredible performers love about making musical theatre?
The Band in the Orchestra Pit at Victoria Theatre!
(L-R) Rizal Sanip, Joshua Tan, Elaine Chan, Colin Yong and Joel Nah


Composer, Co-Music Director, Keyboards I & II

Working on the cast recording with Sebastian Tan in Pavane Recording Studio!

Tell us about your first pantomime with WILD RICE!

It was Cinderel-LAH! in 2003, which was also WILD RICE’s first pantomime ever. I’ve been really lucky to have composed the score for and/or music-directed every single pantomime – except one – ever since then!

What’s it like to compose music for a show like A $ingapore Carol?

It’s a lot of fun, and a huge challenge because not many companies create a brand-new musical with the tight timeline we have. I love composing for musical theatre because the songs help to tell the story – the actors don’t just sing the songs, they have to feel them and perform them. A $ingapore Carol was especially interesting because I got to experiment with so many different genres of music. I wrote Bunga Pisang as a pastiche of Dick Lee’s Bunga Sayang, for example. One song had a K-pop vibe. And I was asked to write a number that’s like Defying Gravity from Wicked, but in the style of The Fifth Element – so I got to compose something quite operatic, which is rare for me.

What do you love about working on the WILD RICE pantomime?

I love that it’s become so much of a tradition for artists and audiences here. There’s just something so special about rounding off the year with the pantomime, because it’s so joyous.


Co-Music Director, Keyboards I & II

How many pantomimes have you done with WILD RICE?

This is the fourth time I’ve worked on a WILD RICE pantomime. The very first time was ten years ago – I was the rehearsal pianist for Snow White & The Seven Dwarfs, which was also my first time working with Hossan Leong. I also played the keyboards on Aladdin and was the music director on Hansel & Gretel.

What does a music director do on a musical?

We help to tell the story of the show through music. A music director calls the shots on the sound and feel of the music, and how it flows within a show. On A $ingapore Carol, I’m co-music-directing with Elaine because she wasn’t available during tech week, when a lot of decisions and changes are still being made before the show goes live. For instance, I had to adapt Elaine’s original arrangement for Christmas No Enough, the finale number. Originally, she had arranged it as a standalone song. But that had to change once the song was incorporated into several scenes, as it is now.


Drums & Percussion

Tell us about your first pantomime with WILD RICE!

It was Aladdin – WILD RICE’s second pantomime, back in 2004. It was staged in the Jubilee Theatre!

How do the drums help to shape the music in a show?

The drummer helps to outline the style of the particular song. That’s especially important in a pantomime, when you can have so many genres of songs – like Malay-style, or pop, or Latin-influenced. The rhythm kept by the drummer helps to change a song’s style to suit the scene.

What’s the difference between performing in the theatre and playing in concerts?

It’s a different duty we’re performing in the theatre. The band as a whole is there to support everyone on stage. The directors are telling the story, and we have to be flexible – try to see what they see and hear what they hear – so that we can help to make their ideas work!


Acoustic/Electric Guitar & Keyboard III

Tell us about your first pantomime with WILD RICE!

It was the first version of Jack & The Bean-Sprout! in 2006. There were only two musicians – Rizal and me. It was my first musical, and we both had to play our own organic instruments, as well as piano, keyboards and bass.

What do you have to do for a musical that you don’t usually have to as a musician?

The real challenge comes in having to multi-task! Usually, I can focus on playing my own instruments – the acoustic and electric guitar, and some keyboard work. In a musical, I also help with soundscaping. That means incorporating sound effects, for instance, like wind and pets, with some strings. I recall times when we had to change patches while holding keyboard notes. And we also have to follow the actors very closely, because they are the ones who are giving us our cues to start playing.


Acoustic/Electric Bass & Flute

Tell us about your first pantomime with WILD RICE!

My very first show was Cinderel-LAH! in 2003. It’s been 15 years, and I’ve only ever missed one pantomime – the first Jack & The Bean-Sprout!, because the bass part was pre-programmed. In terms of actual performing, I think I’ve clocked the most pantos – more than even Elaine!

What do you like about performing in the pantomime?

The fact that it really challenges us as musicians. We have to really stretch ourselves. For the pantomimes, I’ve had to play the flute, keyboards and Chinese flute, on top of my two bass instruments. And, of course, there’s a lot of discipline involved because you have to play all of these instruments live! In an orchestra, you get to warm up before you play your solo. In the theatre, you pick up your various instruments cold and you’re always moving on to your next cue. It’s definitely not just playing music, like you do in a concert. In a musical like A $ingapore Carol, playing is a very situational, in-the-moment thing – we’re constantly interacting with the actors and the audiences.

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