BWW Interview: Hossan Leong & Nathalie Ribette of FOREVER YOUNG by SingTheatre
SingTheatre presents a hilarious jukebox musical Forever Young that will knock you off your chair!
Set half a century later in year 2067, Forever Young chronicles the life of a group of retired actors living in a nursing home. These zany nonagenarians - formerly the pillars of Singapore's art scene are determined to prove that it is not all behind them. The residents do as they are told, but, once their no nonsense caregiver Sister Sara leaves the room, the pensionable performers belt out musical theatre canons, rock classics and more the way that only old people can!
Directed by Hossan Leong, the cast boasts some of Singapore's best talent - featuring prominent actors Karen Tan, Julian Wong, Tan Kheng Hua, Candice De Rozario, Suhaimi Yusof, Ebi Shankara and Leong himself. Through the cast's arthritic dance moves and renditions of familiar songs that include Jay-Z's Forever Young, Amy Winehouse's Rehab, The Eagles' Hotel California and One Direction's Story of My Life, the eponymous musical revue will shine the spotlight on eldercare in Singapore.
We interviewed Hossan Leong himself and Nathalie Ribette (founder, artistic & executive director of SingTheatre) to share their thoughts and expectations of the show.
Tell us about your experience with Forever Young so far?
Hossan: It's been an absolute joy. The team that we have is amazing. We are friends to begin with, so working together doesn't really count as work.
Nathalie: Working on Forever Young has been a dream since the beginning. When I watched this show in Paris, I knew I wanted Hossan Leong to be with me on this. We scheduled it to fit his schedule. And, as usual, he chose his cast and production team to be like him: professional, generous, talented and with a great sense of humour!
What are some of the similarities between you and your character?
Hossan: We are playing a version of ourselves when we are 90. So.... Grumpy? hahaha
How do you juggle being both the director and an actor in the production?
Hossan: I have Jun, who assists me as my stand-in so I can look at the piece from outside. Then I step in at the end. I must admit, it's a little scary, but fun!
What are you most excited for audiences to see in the show?
Hossan: Ah... there are surprises, as well as many familiar songs!
Nathalie: I'd rather not reveal this -- it has to be a surprise!
There seems to be a new wave of original musicals that have hit Singapore this year, do you think the industry is slowly beginning to change?
Hossan: It's been changing and growing for a long while now. Of course it's getting better. All we need are more funds. Story of our lives.
You also run your own entertainment consultant company, what inspired that?
Hossan: My personal aim in life...besides paying off my mortgage, is to entertain. To make people smile and laugh. Best way to do that is to use my company as that platform.
Besides running your company and being an accomplished stage actor, you also have a vast career in the local television scene, what has been some of your favorite pieces of work to date across both mediums?
Hossan: Gosh, I have so many. La Cage Aux Folles, A Singaporean in Paris, The Full Monty...TV work; hosting my own gameshow, We Are Singaporeans.
You frequently blend traits from your French background and current Singaporean culture into your work. How does Forever Young take/deviate from that?
Nathalie: For five years now, we have developed community and education programmes with no link to the French culture. Last year, as we were preparing for the celebration of our 10th anniversary, we started to relook and work on our core values, and thus birth our new motto "Performing for a better society". In our productions, we want to first bring social dialogues onstage. The French background is no longer a necessity, but that does not mean that we will not present French-related plays!
How do you bring your acting background into your role as artistic director?
Nathalie: I guess my intuition and my capacity to be easily moved are qualities for an actor that I use the most.
Community is a big part of your artistic beliefs. What are some of the more memorable experiences you've had in teaching/bringing your work to communities?
Nathalie: I have many memories but the example I love sharing is this: it was at the first MusicFest@Singapore General Hospital on 21 June 2013. MusicFest is an annual one-day music festival at the SGH campus. A few hundreds performers make music in every corner from 9 am to 8pm. I was singing some French songs when I noticed an old Indian woman watching me with a big smile. She stayed throughout my performance and I was wondering why because I was sure she could not understand a single word of what I was singing! At the end she came over to me and explained how much joy I brought to her. My performance reminded of her honeymoon with her late husband. She herself was very sick. We hugged each other for a long time and we shed tears. Music has allowed this improbable encounter: two women from different cultures, ages, races with no reason to meet... and I know that I will remember her for all my life with emotion. I am quite sure that if she is still alive she remembers me too.
Time for the fun (or at least more fun) questions! Who inspires you as an actor/artist?
Nathalie: The late Emma Yong -- she was my muse when she was alive. She was the inspiration for me to create the first community event at SGH in June 2013. When I am down, I imagine the words of encouragements she would have told me!
Dream role as an actor/a show you would love to work on/produce?
Hossan: I wanna be an Avenger!
Nathalie: O dear, I don't know. There are so many interesting plays and roles...
What would you be doing if you weren't an actor/artist?
What is your outlook for the theatre scene in Singapore?
Hossan: Sort of bright? We need to keep fighting!
Nathalie: The arts scene is getting more interesting and richer every year. The audience is spoilt for choice. Competition compels all production companies to produce quality work.
Any exciting shows planned for the future?
Nathalie: Give me three more weeks to tell you, as we are in the process of obtaining the rights!
One piece of advice that you would give to aspiring actors/artists?
Hossan: Keep on fighting. Be Brave.
Nathalie: Never take a no for answer. Dreams come true if you work hard for it!
Forever Young opens in Singapore on October 11th and runs to October 21st at the SOTA Drama Theatre. Tickets can be purchased at sistic.com.sg.