Dick Lee on Theatre, Music and Identifying With the Empress Dowager


Following three sold-out runs with more than 100,000 tickets sold to date, an epic musical is making its way back to the Singapore stage yet again. The monumental restaging follows its original debut back in October 2002 at the Esplanade, before returning again in 2003 and 2006. Gearing up as this year's musical to watch, Forbidden City will be led by a star-studded cast including Kit Chan as the Empress Dowager Cixi with music by Cultural Medallion winner, Dick Lee.

Lee is by no means a stranger to the arts scene. Quite the contrary, the musician, playwright and composer’s hit National Day theme song "Home" is one that continues to be crooned by many a patriotic citizen years after it was first performed almost 20 years ago. After Kit Chan's iconic performance of "Home" in 1998, the duo will reunite in this stunning, must-watch musical. ‘Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress’ brings to life two of the greatest icons of ancient China in a spectacular tale of love, betrayal and power. Dark secrets loom over the stunning set, abound with dazzling costumes and a quest for Truth. What truly transpired behind the walls of the Forbidden City, and who was the Dowager Empress?

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Lee, for one, lists the Empress Dowager as someone he particularly identifies with, especially given her tenacity, guts and the way she “does what she can to survive!” Indeed, with true tenacity, there is one takeaway Lee has learned from decades in the business. For a theatre veteran who started his career at a very young age, the popular composer finds that it is important to constantly reinvent yourself to stay relevant.

“I loved movie musicals when I was a child,” says Lee, who fondly remembers The Sound of Music and Oliver! The Musical. “I started writing short musicals when I was 12, performed by my siblings. My first musical outing in public was for the 2nd Arts Festival in 1984 - songs for the play Bumboat - then to my first full musical Beauty World in 1988.”

“I've seen the [Singapore] theatre scene grow and evolve through the years and am glad that there is enough of an audience for me to continue to write musicals,” he adds. Though he admits that the local population size is limiting, Lee expresses gratefulness that it is an audience that is able to support a three week run on average.

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“Theatre,” he muses, “Is an escape as well as a reflection of life.” He recalls the time he went from being a fashion show producer to a fashion designer to a full time musician to a MNC VP to a creative director in a challenging, seemingly haphazard sequence. However, Lee says he has no regrets.

Likewise, Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress entices as an experience that one will not regret having, either. “It's an epic tale, beautifully staged, with an amazing cast and my favourite score,” says Lee.

The two-hour musical runs from 8 – 27 Aug 2017 at the Esplanade Theatre.

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