Published on 3 August 2017

Credit: Singapore Repertory Theatre

Singapore’s most successful original musical Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress will be restaged this month. This time, the role of The Empress Dowager will be played by Cheryl Tan, Kit Chan and Sheila Francisco depicting different stages of her life.

Tan, whom you might remember as Ivy Chan Poh Choo from Beauty World (2015) and Juliet from Shakespeare in the Park’s Romeo and Juliet (2016), tells us more about playing this iconic role.

By Melanie Lee

How do you feel about being cast as the imperial concubine Yehenara in this run of Forbidden City?

I feel really honoured, especially to be sharing the stage with such amazing people. Broadway star Steffanie Leigh and West End star Earl Carpenter have experience on the biggest stages in the world, and Kit is such a household name in Singapore. I’m really learning a lot just by being in the same room and watching them. I’m very grateful to Singapore Repertory Theatre for that chance. It’s also my first time performing at Esplanade Theatre and I cannot wait!

How are you preparing yourself for this role?

Apart from the normal rehearsal process, I’m also going into text analysis and exploring different decisions and iterations of the character. I’ve also read some of the books on Cixi. There are very different pictures of her painted by historians, which makes it mysterious and exciting.

What has it been like sharing this role with Kit Chan?

I really like working with Kit. She has such a unique sound, and she phrases so beautifully. She’s also super nice and down-to-earth and generous with mentorship. I’m very grateful.

How do you personally respond to this story?

I hope that by being a part of this story, I am at least playing a small part in moving the world towards being better for women.

Any tips on keeping your voice in tip-top shape?

Drink A LOT of water. Warm up and warm down. Never get comfortable – keep pursuing deeper knowledge of your instrument so you can be safe.

What will you be working on next?

My first acting project with W!LD RICE, Mama White Snake! I’ll be playing the young romantic lead opposite Andrew Marko. In between, I’ll be directing a mini-musical in KL.

Any advice for those with musical theatre aspirations?

People used to tell me it was going to be tough, but I’ve only now come to terms with the realities of being an artist. Age and responsibilities start knocking. Try to understand that when you’re going into it – being an actor is not romantic after a while, it’s difficult. That aside, consume as much art as you can. There’s so many resources these days. Study your craft. Be disciplined about feeding your soul, and practice.

How are you hoping to grow as an artist?

Honestly, I’d love to learn to produce, but the next step is to do as much screen work as possible, so that’s what I’ll be focusing more on after this year. Eventually, I’d like to have a school and maybe create some original musicals.

Credit: Javad Tizmaghz

Forbidden City: Portrait of an Empress will be playing at Esplanade Theatre from 8 – 27 August 2017. Click here for more information.

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