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[Interview] Local Legend Dick Lee Gives His Take on Showbiz, the Seventies and Hotpants

Dick Lee2

The nation will soon get a taste of local icon Dick Lee’s signature flair at this year’s National Day Parade, with Mr Lee serving as show director. To celebrate his success in showbiz, the singer, composer and playwright returns to his roots by staging a revival of HOTPANTS, a musical he first directed in 1997. The revival will run from the 14th to the 30th of August at the Drama Centre Theatre and features a brand new cast. The Ridge spoke to Mr Lee about his life in showbiz and the HOTPANTS revival, which marks his second foray into stage directing.

1. How far are the story and characters of HOTPANTS shaped by your personal experience in show business?

Many of the teenagers’ experiences are based on my very own GROWING UP episodes in the early seventies. I went to St Joseph’s Institution at Bras Basah Road when CHIJ was just across the street, so there was a lot of inter-school interaction. I also took part in a talentime with a vocal group from school and came in second.

2. What can different generations, those who have experienced the seventies and those who haven’t, expect out of HOTPANTS’ take on that era?

Parent-child issues and the generation gap are the same then and now, but the setting enhances how it was more difficult to cope with change back then. Today’s young audience should see how much easier they have it now and also learn something about the seventies.

3. With you being in the director’s chair for HOTPANTS, what new surprises can fans familiar with your writing work look forward to?

As the musical was originally staged in 1997, it bears my earlier trademark from when I was still writing commercial feel-good musical comedies. After having gone in a more serious direction lately – with FORBIDDEN CITY, and more recently, my first serious play, RISING SUN – I think the audience will be happy to see a return to my familiar style. The direction is tighter, but so is the script, which has been edited with some songs removed and new songs added.

4. How far do the differences between the 1997 original and the 2014 revival reflect your personal development as an individual?

The theater scene in 1997 was just out of its infancy. But I must say, I worked with a great cast of Divas, including Jacintha Abisheganaden, the late Emma Yong, a not-yet-famous Tanya Chua and even Kumar! This time round, I have the benefit of an experienced professional cast who bring a sharper, more nuanced level of performance to the piece.

5. Many of the cast members are too young to remember the 70s. How did they react to discovering that era through your direction and their characters?

When I gave them a snapshot of Singapore in the early seventies, their mouths dropped open! It surprised them that Singapore was a kind of cowboy town back then.

6. Should hotpants (the fashion) make a comeback as well?

Haven’t they already?

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