The title of the musical cabaret Sheng Dong Gee! Xi (聲東Gee!西) is a word play on the Chinese idiom shengdongjixi (聲東擊西), which means to feign or to create a diversion. And theater talents Wang Hung-yuan (王宏元) and Owen Wang (王希文) want to get their audiences to shout “Gee!” when watching the show.
The show blurs the boundaries between popular music from the East and West by combining about 30 English and Chinese-language songs to bring the audiences a laughter-filled evening.
The repertoire includes songs in classical and modern musicals, such as The Music of the Night (from Phantom of the Opera), Memory (Cats) and Seasons of Love (Rent); as well as Mandopop titles from 1950s to the 1970s like Eros (愛神) and Achoo Cha Cha (打噴嚏).
Music director Owen Wang says Western cabaret resembles “red envelope clubs’’ (紅包場), a popular form of entertainment in 1960s Taipei where female singers performed traditional Chinese songs to their audiences, who would then give the singers red envelopes. At the time, most audiences were soldiers who followed Chiang Kai-shek’s (蔣介石) army to Taiwan after 1949.
“Although singers in red envelope clubs wear qipao [a type of Chinese tight-fitting silk dress] and sing Mandarin songs, the performance style and the ambience are identical to Western cabarets,” Owen Wang told the Taipei Times in a recent interview.
He added that both cabaret and red envelope clubs began in night clubs, where people would eat and drink while performers sing, act, dance and interact with the audience.
However, Owen Wang says cabaret and musicals aren’t common in contemporary Taiwan, where theatergoers often associate musicals with large-scale Broadway productions, and he wants to change this with Sheng Dong Gee! Xi.
The original lyrics for Seasons of Love from the musical Rent, for example, ask the listener to think about how best to measure the passage of a year. Wang Hung-yuan’s version makes a chant out of the number of minutes a year, referring to the custom of Taiwanese enlisted soldiers counting down the minutes to the end of their military service.
“Musicals are more than just Broadway shows,” he said.