Barbie and Ken, live and in the flesh. Well, almost. Last week Chelsea Bernier and Randy Dierkes were in Taipei to promote the musical Barbie Live!, a touring show that brings the Mattel character to the stage for the first time. The show, which is currently touring in Indonesia, will come to Taiwan in January to play 15 shows in Taipei, Hsinchu and Greater Kaohsiung, opening at the Taipei International Convention Center (台北國際會議中心) on Jan. 3.
The Barbie doll was launched in 1959 and as one of the world’s best-selling dolls, has been part of many children’s childhood. Barbie’s animated movies have been a major aspect of building the brand, linking Barbie with contemporary music and literary classics, and Barbie Live! will draw on some aspects of the most popular movies, particularly Swan Lake and Barbie: The Princess and the Pop Star (loosely based on Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper). These will be known by fans of the copious Barbie animation output (a total of 25 feature films, a minor role in Toy Story 2 and 3 and numerous other celebrity appearances).
Photo courtesy of Kham
Speaking with Bernier and Dierkes last week, it was hard not to think that I had not already fallen into Barbie World, so committed to the show were the two stars.
Bernier, slim, blond and blue-eyed could easily have been Barbie even out of costume, and her enthusiasm for the positive message about “being strong, being yourself and embracing the power of friendship” was infectious.
The power of the Barbie brand has at various times received the ultimate marketing accolade of both generating controversy and being lampooned. Bernier said that performing around Asia since the Singapore premiere in September, the response to the show had been very positive. “We haven’t had any negativity, and I think that is because we do speak a positive message in the show, and that is really where the emphasis is.”
Photo courtesy of Kham
Dierkes added that producers had emphasized the personalities of the cast to make sure the show was not “just about our appearance, but our inner beauty as well.”
Those familiar with the Barbie animated movies will have a pretty good idea about the tone of the show, which is very different from that of child-oriented shows created by many Taiwan’s theater companies. Bernier said that while it was a show for children, it “wasn’t a children’s show,” and its overall staging puts it much closer to being a fully-fledged musical than purely children’s entertainment.
Stage manager and resident director Pip Loth said that Barbie Live! was to some extent drawing on the resurgence of musicals for teens and tweens that has been spearheaded by the success of shows such as Glee. This is a subgenre that takes its inspiration from pop culture, differentiating it from the more operatic tone of musicals by Andrew Lloyd Webber and others.
Among the musical numbers, there is a mix of material taken from the Barbie movies and original music by Robbie Roth, the composer for the Flashdance soundtrack, which incorporates a wide range of musical styles.
“The story takes place on a Hollywood soundstage where Barbie and her best friend Teresa are filming a brand-new movie musical and Teresa is not feeling so confident in her theatrical abilities so Barbie takes her through a journey through Swan Lake, Mariposa and the Fairy Princess and Princess and the Pop Star. These are some of the movies Barbie has starred in and it has female characters who go through a journey and learn about themselves. And through hearing about their stories, Barbie teaches Teresa to be brave and be confident and be herself,” Bernier said, summarizing the show.
Drifting from the main story into recognizable elements of the movies is one of the highlights of Barbie Live!.
“The stage design by Stanley Meyer (who has created stage designs for the likes of Alice Cooper and Cyndi Lauper) allows the story to flow from a Hollywood soundstage into these dream sequences (that play out elements from the DVDs),” Bernier said.
Dialogue for the stage show will be dubbed in Mandarin, but songs will be sung directly by the cast. There are sections when the cast interact with the audience, and Bernier said that with each new country she learns a small number of lines in the local language so that she can interact with the audience. So far her greatest challenge has been with Thai.
Barbie Live! will perform seven shows between Jan. 3 and Jan. 5 at the Taipei International Convention Center, followed by two shows (Jan. 8 and Jan. 9) at the Performance Hall of Hsinchu City’s Bureau of Cultural Affairs (新竹市文化局演藝廳) and six shows at the Kaohsiung Cultural Center (Jan. 11 and Jan. 12). Tickets are NT$500 to NT$2,000 and are available through at www.kham.com.tw or through 7-Eleven, Hi-Life and OK-Mart convenience store ticketing systems.
Since its launch in 2014, the Taiwan Season has increasingly become a “must-see” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. So, when this year’s three-week Fringe became an early casualty of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, Chen Pin-chuan (陳斌全) was determined that the Taiwan Season must continue in some form. Chen, director of the Cultural Division of the Taipei Representative Office in the UK, says that he and Taiwan Season curator and producer Yeh Jih-wen (葉紀紋) had been thinking of ways of growing and adding value to the season anyway. The crisis and the cancellation of the live performances brought those ideas forward as
Scott Saulters wasn’t sure if his film had just taken one of the two top prizes at a recent film competition. Although Saulters has been in Taiwan for 15 years and is proficient in Mandarin, the award ceremony for the inaugural “Bi Tian Iann” (眯電影) short film contest was conducted entirely in Hoklo (also known as Taiwanese), a language he can’t speak. “I thought I heard it, but I didn’t want to look too excited,” he says. Despite his limited command of the tongue, Saulter’s entry, Wu Yu Tzu (烏魚子, mullet roe), took first place in the amateur category of the
The 22nd Taipei Arts Festival (臺北藝術節) opens tonight with three productions, a slightly scaled-down pandemic version that seeks to keep its tradition of big ideas, challenging programs and international connections alive and moving forward in an increasingly uncertain world. The theme of this year’s festival is “Super@#S%?” — as good a term as any when descriptives and superlatives seem not only inadequate, but somewhat irrelevant in a world where so many people cannot imagine being able to return to theaters, either as performers or audience members — they are too worried about having a job and their health. Technically, however, it is
Shuanglianpi (雙連埤) is both a Hakka outpost and a place of great ecological interest. The conjoined body of water from which it gets its name is the centerpiece of the 17.16-hectare Shuanglianpi Wildlife Refuge (雙連埤野生動物保護區). No waterways of significance fill or drain this scenic lake in Yilan County’s Yuanshan Township (員山鄉). During the 1895 to 1945 period of Japanese rule, the colonial authorities — struggling to secure Taiwan’s foothills — encouraged Han people to settle in areas adjacent to indigenous communities. Around 1910, a 49-year-old Hakka pioneer called Tsou Cheng-sheng (鄒成生) from what’s now Taoyuan decided to begin farming at