Yat-sen , a musical, was originally commissioned for the 50th Hong Kong Arts Festival in 2022, but ended up being pushed back one year because of venue closures during the Covid-19 pandemic. All that extra rehearsal time showed in the slick production about Sun Yat-sen, the “founding father” of modern China, as a young man. It is a tale of clashes between conservatism and progression, of hot-headed youth battling authoritarianism, of hard choices and unforeseeable sacrifices. If those references are not obvious enough echoes of 21st-century protests in Hong Kong, the musical features a scene recalling how British supporters of Sun demanded his release after he was detained by the Chinese in 1896. The festival deserves commending for the boldness of this commission given the current political climate. After all, Sun and his fellow revolutionaries did manage to topple the incumbent Chinese regime in 1911 . Artistically, the liberally dramatised depiction of the birth of revolutionary ideas, from the initial, inchoate anger of a teenager sent home to the backwater of Guangdong province after living in Hawaii for years with an elder brother, is certainly a refreshing take on the creation story of modern China. It is a story with strong connections with Hong Kong. Hailed and assailed: reactions to the March 1925 death of Sun Yat-sen Sun’s mother tongue was Cantonese, he was baptised in a church on Bridges Street, in the Hong Kong neighbourhood of Sheung Wan, and he studied medicine at the University of Hong Kong. The city was also where he first got together with fellow students Chan Siu-bak, Yau Lit, and Yeung Hok-ling, kindred spirits who became known collectively as the “Four Bandits” for their rebel-rousing talk. Luk Ho-tung, Sun’s childhood friend and one of the first to be persecuted for his revolutionary activities (his loyalty and naivety brilliantly portrayed by the actor Terrence Leung), visited him in Hong Kong often. Yat-sen revolves around this band of brothers. Television and film actor Ling Man-lung played Sun , belting out one demanding solo after another without missing a note while taking on a very physical role; it is hard to believe this was his first musical. (It took its toll; Ling suffered an eye injury on stage and the March 4 performance had to be cancelled.) Jessica Lung and Melodee Mak stood out with their solid singing and affecting performances as the polygamist Sun’s wives number one and two (among other roles). It was baritone Sammy Chien, though, who blew everyone away every time he opened his mouth in his role as Reverend Charles Robert Hager, who baptised Sun. The cleverest scenes come just before and after the intermission, when the perfect picture of youthful idealism is suddenly revealed to be a dream – the dream of the now dead Luk, who is giving Sun plenty of survivor’s guilt. And the part about Sun’s extraordinary kidnap by the Qing court’s agents in London and detention in the Chinese embassy was grippingly presented, the drama of his internal struggles much enhanced by Siu Wai-man’s simple but effective set. Here, though, Ling was at risk of hamming it up as the exhausted prisoner before a high-profile protest outside the embassy building secured his release. The Book of Water: melodrama reinvented as a TED Talk for the stage Unfortunately, for all the efforts poured into the three-hour epic production, and the hard work and persistence required of the cast and crew for over three years, Yat-sen is seriously flawed. Contemporary re-examination of history is particularly fruitful when uncovering previously silenced players, facts and perspectives. But this contemporary take on the Chinese revolution looks very much like the bro fest that was the much ridiculed, all-male line-up of the “Hello Hong Kong” tourism campaign launch . While Yat-sen promised to humanise Sun rather than glorify him as an icon, it only served to further mythologise the man. Inner monologues are often given by Sun’s alter ego, the Monkey King (as in the classic tale of Journey to the West ) and, in the penultimate scene, Reverend Hager compares him to Moses leading the Israelites out of the Wilderness. It’s not that Sun wasn’t an incredibly important figure. But there were plenty of women who played a role in the revolution, and the female cast members are all relegated to objectionable stereotypes such as adoring fangirls (and wives/concubines) and ignorant peasant women. In fact, records suggest that it was a female staff member who rescued Sun from the Chinese embassy. Here, it is the male butler. Taiwan orchestra cancels concert with Russian soprano Anna Netrebko Chauvinistic and patriarchal interpretation of history aside, the worst dismissal of women on the first night happened during curtain calls when the creative team gave long-winded, self-congratulatory speeches in Cantonese after the performance. As the microphone was passed from one man to another, the director, Tang Wai-kit, pointed out that they had to take a breather so that bouquets could be brought out for himself, Ling, lyricist Chris Shum, composer Peter Kam and playwright Sunny Chan. “The girls are here now,” Tang said, referring to the staff tasked with handing out the flowers. Next, he forgot to thank the one female actor who had stuck with the project since day one – after thanking the three male actors who did. When reminded, he dug the hole deeper by saying about the actress: “Please look up Sofei Au in the programme. She’s very beautiful in it. Oh, sorry, I mean she is still beautiful.” In addition, too much of the music, dialogue and structure of the musical are cliché-ridden and banal. The mostly linear narrative merely scratches the surface without conveying the breathtaking melodrama of it all. The tunes are pleasant but forgettable. The level of humour is woefully unsophisticated. As a showcase of Hong Kong talent, Yat-sen deserves five stars out of five. But it is retrograde and patriarchal, and quite out of tune with the progressiveness that Sun and the Xinhai Revolution represent. Yat-sen Musical, Hong Kong Arts Festival, Lyric Theatre, Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts. Reviewed: March 2.