Profile: Dick Lee

Published on 27 October 2015

Multi-hyphenate extraordinaire Dick Lee shows no sign of slowing down, opting instead, to take on more challenges.

BY JO TAN

Dick Lee refuses to be lousy at anything. Not content with being a singer, songwriter and music producer, he has also been a playwright, theatre director, Singapore Idol judge, artistic director for the National Day Parade (NDP), a clothing and jewellery designer, and model trainer. As an internationally-celebrated recording artist championing Asian music, this one-time vice president of Sony Music Asia is an award-winning composer who has gifted us with tunes like ‘Home’ and ‘Bunga Sayang’. Last year, he revived a production of Hot Pants, a hit musical he wrote, directed and choreographed.

“Multi-tasking is all I’ve ever known,” shrugs the stylish silver fox, 59. “My mum had a boutique and I began my ‘career’ at 16, designing clothes for the boutique’s fashion show; choreographing and directing as well as composing and performing original music for it — I even modelled in it! Working on NDP is technically the same thing, just on a much bigger scale.”

Lee, who received the Cultural Medallion in 2005, says he owes his late mother, Elizabeth Lee, much more than the opportunity to showcase his talents. “She encouraged and supported me in all my crazy schemes, in a time when anything off the straight and narrow was frowned upon. She believed in me, and for this I will be eternally grateful.”

He now takes on her mentoring role by encouraging and providing opportunities to emerging talents in his capacities as director/artistic director. “I’m very impressed by the quality of some of our young talent and jump at any opportunity to feature them.”

Audiences will see new faces like Cheryl Tan and Timothy Wan in the upcoming production of iconic musical, Beauty World, which he created with playwright Michael Chiang in 1988. The cast in this restaging, which Lee is directing for the first time, includes television sweetheart Jeanette Aw, who stars as scheming cabaret-queen Lulu. “People may not immediately think of her in this sort of role, but Jeanette did a reading which was dark and understated. I was surprised and touched by her eagerness.”

He also continues to champion Singapore identity via NDP, his scripts or even in his advice to homegrown musicians. “There is a lot more media support for local artists these days, but they remain niche acts and may stay that way unless they infuse a Singaporean element into their music. I myself only achieved public recognition with my album The Mad Chinaman because I created something Singaporeans could identify with.”

Even as he nurtures budding talents, Lee continues his own artistic pursuits. “This year, I’m involved in two more projects: The Christmas Light-Up and SG50’s closing act, The Future of Us exhibition. I’m also trying to rewrite the second play in my biographical trilogy, Dancing Girl. Soon, I’m off to London for a workshop of my next musical, inspired by the legend of Mulan. Next year, I’ll present a concert to mark my 60th birthday and direct an Asian variety show in London.” There’s more. “I’ll be directing my first movie — my next challenge,” he says with a grin. “The more the merrier!”

Beauty World opens at the Victoria Theatre on 13 November.

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