On 11 July 2004, I decided to attend one of these concerts. The concert was "Songs From The Heart" by RJ Rosales. I had previously seen Rosales in the role of Chang in the musical "Chang And Eng" and having listened to the cast recording of the musical for quite some time now, there was no question that he could sing well. Rosales is a Filipino-Australian singer and he used his nationality on a number of occasions in the concert to crack Filipino maid jokes. The short description of the concert indicated that Rosales would perform famous love ballads by artistes such as Elton John and Westlife as befits the theme of the concert. It definitely came as a very pleasant surprise that many songs from the musicals were performed at the concert as well.
Before Rosales started the concert, he requested for the permissions of all the boyfriends in the concert hall to allow him to serenade their girlfriends. Expectedly, no permission was given by any of the guys but nevertheless, that did not prevent Rosales from strutting around the stage and flirting with all the girls near the front roles which proved to be quite a laugh at times.
The first song performed in the concert was George and Ira Gershwin's "I've Got Rhythm" from the musical "Girl Crazy" and this provided an indication of the musical numbers that would follow in the concert. Elton John's "Something About The Way You Look Tonight" and Barry Manilow's "Mandy" followed.
As a nod to his prior work in the musical Miss Saigon, Rosales then performed the song "Why God Why?". This has always been one of my favorite songs from Miss Saigon and it has a difficult range to handle but Rosales performed it almost effortlessly.
Rosales' Filipino compatriot Jay Espano, the understudy for Eng in "Chang And Eng", then appeared on stage as one of two guest performers for the concert. Both Rosales and Espano sang the duet "From Now On" from the "Chang And Eng" musical. However, unlike the previous individuals who had played the part of Eng in the past such as Robin Goh and Roy Rolloda, Espano was completely overwhelmed by Rosales' strong vocals in their duet and I somehow felt that his voice may not have been a suitable choice to pair with Rosales'.
Espano made amends for this in the next solo song when he performed the song "Fallin'" from the musical "They're Playing Our Song". During this time, Rosales went for a quick change of clothing.
Rosales returned to another Ella Fitzgerald song for "Fever" where he manages to get the entire Concert Hall snapping their fingers to the rhythm. Tom Jones' "Kiss" follows before he dedicates a Filipino song to the Filipinos in the concert hall. I could only loosely catch its title to be "Da Ai Si Noi".
In Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love", Rosales invites a lady up on stage, dances and flirts with her only to find out later that she was married and that her husband and her brother were sitting in the audience and watching his every move with bulging eyes and veins nearly popping from their heads. Boy was that funny.
At this point, the second guest performer of the concert, Juwanda Hassim, joined Rosales in a duet of "She" which was originally sung by Elvis Costello. Hassim is no stranger to the musical "Chang And Eng" as well, having formerly played the alternate Dr Graves and the King of Siam in the production.
When Rosales went for his second change of clothing, Hassim performed Elton John's "Circle Of Life" (also featured in the stage musical "The Lion King"). This was a strange choice that he made because while the song involved a higher key and had many lines ending with a high note, Hassim's voice seemed more suited for songs in the baritone range. To work around the high end notes, Hassim had the tendency to hit the note before bringing it down to a more comfortable note but he did this so well that it really impressed me.
When Rosales returned to the stage, an impromptu singing competition was announced to find the next William Hung of American Idol notoriety. Two Singaporeans (Ben and George) and one Filipino (Jornell) were picked for the contest and all three male participants sang verses from Ricky Martin's "She Bangs" which was the song made infamous by Hung. Rosales tried to encourage the contestants by singing some of the lines himself but it didn't turn out much of a contest. George was clueless as to what the tune of the song sounded like and merely read the lines in accompaniment to the music. Jornell seemed to suffer from stage nerves and the reluctance to say the words "she bangs" in the middle of the Esplanade Concert Hall stage This earned the remark from Rosales, "Are you sure you are Filipino?", in response to his inability to sing. Ben eventually won the contest (and a copy of Rosales' latest CD - "Selections") when he obtained the loudest applause from the audience.
When the first few chords of "This Is The Moment" from the musical "Jekyll And Hyde" started playing, I could hardly believe my ears. The version of this song by Anthony Warlow has to be my all-time favorite song so I was almost stunned when the melody started.. Rosales interpreted the song in a softer, more sensitive way. Personally, I still prefer the stronger interpretations of this inspirational song but I guess this differs from person to person.
The finale involved all three performers and they sung "Celebration" which had been previously sung by Kylie Minogue as well as Kool And The Gang. This was probably one of the most disappointing parts of the concert. Perhaps this song was chosen because it could involve all three performers, but coming off "This Is The Moment", it really brought the concert down a few notches.
I had been initially skeptical as to whether Rosales could perform a solo concert on his own and I left the concert with my questions answered. Rosales never had any problems engaging and interacting with the crowd even if Singaporean audiences tended to be a rather uptight bunch of people. When Rosales asked a lady in a intimate tone what she did for her man to make him happy, he was greeted with "Cooking".
If anything, the success of Rosales' concert bodes well for the "Beautiful Sunday" series by The Esplanade. Large families with children in tow, couples as well as groups of friends were all seen enjoying this event. The performing arts scene in Singapore can only improve with such free events that encourage audiences to go to the theatre. Naturally, like Rosales, artistes can be paid a nominal fee for their performance and sponsorship may not be difficult with the success of these events. Rosales' CDs were seen flying off the shelves after his concert so there may be mutual benefits for the artistes and the performing arts scene in organizing such events.
In the long run, this may just be what is needed to sustain a thriving performing arts scene in Singapore.
Reviewed on 19 July 2004