Bug Symphony a theatrical event for the whole family

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 June, 2015, 10:30pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 June, 2015, 12:24pm

With the school summer holidays almost upon us the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong is staging a timely diversion for young families.

The Bug Symphony is based on a story by the orchestra's artistic director, Leanne Nicholls, and has been developed into what she calls "an orchestra theatre spectacular".

This involves supplementing the orchestra with actors, including comedy duo Scotty & Lulu, and the Celtic Bauhinia Irish Dance Troupe. It also requires the musicians and conductor to wear bug costumes. "In musicals and theatrical productions the musicians are normally placed in the pit and concealed from the audience where they provide a mostly accompaniment role," says Nicholls.

" Bug Symphony breaks down such conventions by casting the orchestra on stage as part of the story and the theatrical action. The musicians carry a dual role — interacting with the main cast while also providing live musical accompaniment. Moreover, each bug musician is cast in a way that depicts the character of their instrument. For example the harpist is a butterfly and the flautist is a honeybee."

Wearing the praying mantis suit is guest conductor Tim Elliott, who has been in Hong Kong for more than four years, but who made his debut in a local stage production as recently as January this year with the Hong Kong Singers.

"I did How to Succeed In Business Without Really Trying, and Mandy Petty, who directed that show, knows Leanne, so when she heard she was doing the show and needed someone who had a musical background but also did stage stuff, I got linked in," says Elliott. Although he now works in retail, Elliott has a music degree, and liked the idea of combining acting and conducting roles as Maestro Mantis.

Other parts include Stag Beetle played by Rick Lau, Scorp The Broadway Stinger played by Jordan Cheng Kwan-chi, venomous Assassin Bug played by David Allen, the saxophonist Cockroaz played by Lena Cuglietta, Queen Bee played by Jacqueline Gourlay Grant, and the dancers as fireflies.

The plot involves the discovery, at a musical rehearsal for the coronation of the Queen Bee, that eight essential notes on the oboe are missing. Scotty & Lulu are sent off to find them.

"It's basically a lot of crazy bugs onstage having a lot of fun," says Elliott. "It's a kids show, but it's unusual to have stage music for kids with a 25-piece orchestra. I guess it's like doing a pantomime, in that we're all dressed as bugs and being over the top as characters, but it has an educational element, which is great. My character is very flamboyant."

The two matinees and three evening performances are very much geared to keeping the children in the audience engaged and entertained. For the 45 minutes prior to each show children can have their faces painted, be given bug "tattoos" and learn a little from an exhibition of genuine bugs from the rainforests of Chile and Madagascar.

Music and lyrics for the show are by Nick Harvey and Scott Ligertwood, and orchestrations by Simon Whiteside. Keith Hawley is the director and choreographer, and the rainforest set is designed by Michael Betts with costume design by Yoki Lai, and lighting design by Eva Yan. Additional choreography is by Catriona Newcombe.

As well as writing the story and some additional lyrics, and playing the oboe, Nicholls is producing the show. The biggest challenges being addressed in rehearsal, says Elliott, are to do with ensuring that the music and the staging mesh properly.

"At one point in the middle the orchestra will open up and out will come Leanne dressed as a spider," he says. "A French horn player has to wear a massive snail shell. It's going to be interesting seeing how they cope with that."

Bug Symphony by City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong, Cultural Centre Grand Theatre, 10 Salisbury Road, TST, June 26, 7.30pm; June 27 and 28, 2.30pm, 7.30pm. HK$200-HK$480, English with Chinese surtitles. Inquiries: 2861 2156