When China was caught in the grip of civil unrest in the 1930s, cultural and artistic society was flourishing in Taiwan. Fashionable members of the emerging middle class savored their newly acquired lifestyles, while the literati and artists participated in cultural movements that explored the island's distinct identity. Such is the version of history re-created in the multilingual musical April Rain (四月望雨), which returns to the stage this weekend just a few months after it premiered in June to an enthusiastic reception.
Dubbed the country's first Hakka and Hoklo musical, the production loosely follows the life of the pioneering composer Teng Yu-hsien (鄧雨賢). Known as the father of Taiwanese folk music, Teng's oeuvre includes Four Seasons Red (四季紅), Sadness in the Moonlit Night (月夜愁), Yearning of Spring (望春風) and Flower in the Rainy Night (雨夜花). The title for April Rain comes from the first Chinese character of each work si (四) yue (月) wang (望) yu (雨), which combined spell out April rain.
The musical, performed in Hoklo, Hakka, Mandarin and Japanese aims to shed light on the memories of older generations, and presents a nostalgic view of the intellectuals and artists active at that time. Teng is portrayed as an artist caught between different cultures, torn between idealism and reality.
Enriching the historical storyline are dance pieces and Jan Tien-hao's (冉天豪) musical numbers, including several newly arranged songs and more than 20 original arrangements. To Jan, the musical's biggest challenge was capturing the atmosphere of the time without being an awkward theatrical compilation of old songs or a new creation cut off from the past.
The musical qualities of the various languages played a key role in the composition of the melodies, a modus operandi in keeping with the composer's belief that the melody of a song should conform to the language in which it would be sung.
"I think such an approach works. Many elderly audience members came to us after the performances, saying the musical took them back to the old days. Such sentiments don't come from a faithful recording of Teng's songs, but the transcending power of music that brings back the aura of the past," Jan said.
The musical, said director Yang Shih-ping (楊士平), addresses the need to preserve and pass down Taiwan's cultural heritage and to examine history for inspiration and hard-learned lessons.
"In Teng's time, we see how the island's inhabitants understood and questioned their identities and struggled in conflicting cultures, a theme which resonates in present-day Taiwan," Yang said.
What: April Rain (四月望雨)
When: Tonight at 7:30pm; tomorrow at 2:30pm and 7:30pm; Sunday at 2:30pm
Where: Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall (國父紀念館), 505, Renai Rd Sec 4, Taipei (台北市仁愛路四段505號)
Tickets: NT$300 to NT$2,500, available through ERA ticketing outlets or call (02) 8941-3733
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