Canton Diva: opera/rap crossover to light up Sunbeam Theatre

Opera/rap crossover reworks classical tunes and serves as a sociopolitical satire on Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 October, 2012, 10:58am

A fung shui master and a comedian have teamed up for a wacky Cantonese opera production that promises to bring new and younger audiences to a historic theatre venue in North Point.

Li Kui-ming, also a Cantonese opera playwright, invited stage veteran Jim Chim Sui-man, best known for his comedy shows, to create an unconventional piece for the newly refurbished Sunbeam Theatre.

Li rescued the 40-year-old venue from closure at the last minute in February when he signed a four-year lease with landlord Francis Law Sau-fai, allowing him to rent the 81,000 sq ft space for HK$1 million per month. He is now running the theatre through his Prime Splendor Theatrical Troupe.

Canton Diva is a crossover between Cantonese opera classic Princess Changping and Gangnam Style, a rap hit from South Korea. The one-man show will not only give new interpretations to some classic tunes, but also serve as a sociopolitical satire.

"Jim Chim does Gangnam Style dance" Video by Hedy Bok

Chim said his parody, which opens next month, taps into society's pulse, and the alliance of "heroic characters" from local opera and screen classics in the show is a metaphor for the current situation in Hong Kong.

Li said he wanted Cantonese opera to become both creative and contemporary. "New titles are no longer about traditional values like loyalty and filial piety," he said. "I want this to be a creative venture between old and new that will appeal to a greater mass."

Canton Diva will initially run for four shows, but both Li and Chim hope it will become a recurrent production that can return to the Sunbeam.

Chim said this venue-artist collaboration could serve as a model for the future West Kowloon Cultural District, adding that he was glad to do a show that celebrated Cantonese culture.

"Cantonese opera is our cultural heritage," he said "Doing this project at the Sunbeam Theatre is more meaningful than just doing those big shows."

The new production with Chim is the first of many ambitious plans Li has for the newly renovated theatre, which houses two auditoriums with 1,033 and 536 seats. Mei Baojiu, son of Peking opera legend Mei Lanfang, has scheduled a performance in January.

The fung shui master said the cost of running the venue was under control. The theatre was booked up until July and was bringing in HK$1.6 million per month.

Despite the change in the theatre's fortunes, he said he hadn't broken even yet as he was still upgrading facilities, including installing 3-D screening equipment and LED displays in the lobby.

Li said he had also been negotiating for more space adjacent to the theatre owned by the same landlord. He planned to expand the theatre into a "culture hub" that may include restaurants and a foot massage parlour.