'Broadway of Asia' aiming high
The Sunbeam Theatre, Hong Kong's leading Cantonese opera venue for 40 years, will reopen next month in a new guise that its operators hope will turn it into the 'Broadway of the East'.
As well as Chinese opera, the North Point theatre - saved from closure at the last minute when opera writer Li Kui-ming signed a four-year lease in February - will stage concerts and plays and show films.
'We want to revitalise the Sunbeam, to promote the best of local culture from the past decades,' Li said yesterday when announcing the programme line-up for the new Sunbeam when it opens on May 21. 'We want to make it the Broadway of the East.'
He said he had high hopes and was already exploring the possibility of extending the lease for a further five years.
Chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying, who pulled strings behind the scenes by introducing Li to landlord Francis Law Sau-fai, will officiate at the opening.
Li, also one of Hong Kong's best-known fung shui masters, said he had spent more than HK$10 million on renovating the theatre, for which he is paying a rent of HK$1 million a month. He had previously estimated the work would cost HK$1.5 million.
The impetus for rescuing the theatre was to preserve collective memories, but the sound and lighting systems are being upgraded to international standards to meet the demands of performances other than Chinese opera.
Li, said that he now estimated the venue would break even in the third year of operations and he was hoping for a long-term, 10-year plan.
'It's not going to be a profitable endeavour and I'm prepared to invest the income from my fung shui service into the theatre,' he said.
Three Cantonese opera titles written by Li and produced by his Prime Splendor Theatrical Troupe will launch the new Sunbeam in its grand theatre, which has 1,033 seats.
Mainland troupes will also perform at the venue, with a Peking opera week from December 7 to 10, featuring more than 100 performers.
The theatre will also revive the best known homegrown stage plays.
Li will join with Clifton Ko Chi-sum's Spring-Time Theatre to stage three classics including I Have a Date with Spring, penned by playwright Raymond To Kwok-wai, which ran for 70 shows in 1995.
Ko said that since the Yuen Long Theatre opened in 2000, the government had not built any more performing arts venues to meet the growing demand.
'We are told to wait for the West Kowloon Cultural District, but how long do we have to wait? Thus the re-opening of Sunbeam Theatre to showcase various performing arts stands for a very important stage of Hong Kong's arts development,' said Ko, who has planned 10 weeks of performances at the Sunbeam.
A series of oldies concerts would also be staged, said Li.
The Sunbeam's small theatre, which has 340 seats, will become a venue for performing-arts education to groom a young audience for drama and Cantonese opera. Chung Ying Theatre will become a partner. It will also host seminars during July's Hong Kong Book Fair.
Sunbeam would also become the largest cinema in Hong Kong, said Li, who will revive film screenings at the theatre by installing a digital film projector, which can be upgraded to screen 3-D movies.
He also hopes to revive Hongkongers' habit of going to midnight screenings on Saturdays, as well as 10am and 12.30pm early screenings on Sundays. Late-night screenings may be introduced at Lunar New Year.
Smart Kong Ming - a tale of the young Zhuge Liang, the legendary chancellor for Shu Han during the Three Kingdoms period, starring Joyce Koi Ming-fai and Ng Mei-ying
Rouge - dubbed a prequel to the classic The Legend of Purple Pin about the reunion of a couple driven apart, starring Chan Wing-yee and Wai Chun-fai
The New Story of Pan Jinlian - retells the tale of the most controversial fictional female figure in Chinese classical literature, starring Chan Ho-kau, Ng Chin-feng and Lee Lung
Famous Peking Opera Showcase Week, December 7-11
I Have a Date with Spring
Legend of Mad Phoenix
Opera film classics
Princess Changping, starring Yam Kim-fai and Pak Suet-sin
The Hearts of Pa and Mom, starring Lam Ka-sing, Ma Sze-tsang and Yuen Siu-fai
A concert to commemorate Cantonese opera legend Sun Ma Sze-tsang in July