Written and composed entirely by Singaporean teen, Shayna Toh, Firefly in the Light is an original pop musical that follows the journey of Wendy and her childhood friend Jake as they tread parallel paths towards their dreams.

Fun fact: The tunes in the musical, Firefly in the Light, came before the story. Seventeen-year-old Shayna first wrote the pop melodies and lyrics to the pieces featured in Firefly in the Light, before the story line took shape in this Broadway musical junkie’s mind. This is exactly where her strengths are – her innate musical sensibilities and it shows in this fresh independent musical.

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Throughout the musical, rousing melodies are accompanied with punchy catchy lyrics that left my feet tapping to the beat and helped the actors convey the emotions for each scene. (Oh yes, excellent titular song – Firefly in the Light – brought to life by lead actor, Linden Furnell as Jake will have you humming it for days after the musical!) The compositions set the tone and sometimes I found myself wondering to myself if the music far outshone the acting.

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Of course, praise where praise is due for the cast. I found the natural and emotive acting and singing by theater sweetheart Linden Furnell who played Jake, very endearing and it was easy to empathize with him and understand his convictions and support for Wendy. He lends such energy and passion to the character of Jake.

Also, in the supporting cast and playing a few roles is Ivan Chan, in Act 1 as part of the ensemble, and then in Act 2 as Jake’s manager. He particularly shines as he belts out with much gusto and comedy Learn the Rules to a wide-eyed lovelorn Jake who is still besotted with Wendy in Act 2.

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What also impressed me was the choreography and wonderful creative use of the stage at The Art House’s Chamber which allowed the actors to dance right up to the audience in the first rows. It was downright interactive. Imagine being transported to the halls of a school in an unnamed and unidentified place and students rushing right up to the audience engaging them in song and skimpy showgirls in bold corsets shimmying and teasing the audience. You’re right in the scene thanks to the intimate setting of The Chamber. However, most who have visited The Chamber prior to this musical would be familiar, this is a challenging stage to work with due to the acoustics. The dialogue was slightly compromised in order to fully let the compositions be appreciated in all its glory. That said, I still enjoyed the musical immensely and caught on to the plot.

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The music deserves a standing ovation, but the musical’s brevity at only 1 hour and 45 minutes, including a 15 minute intermission, may have been too condensed and contributed to certain gaps in character development.

Wendy was a well-developed character in the musical. Her motivations and strong zeal to shine bright was so apparent and her parallel to a firefly was well explored -glowing brightly in a natural environment but wilting away under the strain of unrelenting harsh man-made light, but Jake definitely could have done with a bit more fleshing out.Perhaps more emphasis on a love story would have provided a stronger connection to the impact of the series of events in Act 2.

Nevertheless, the leads played their roles with fervor. Wendy’s underdeveloped relationship between both her parents was a little too surface-deep in my opinion and a bit more background might have solicited a stronger emotional response when watching the musical and seeing that bitter realistic twist in the end of Firefly in the Light.

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All-in-all this coming of age tale is not the typical boy-meets-girl story with a heartwarming end. It is one that shows the bitter sweetness of life, how it isn’t always a box of chocolates and how in moments destinies and fates can change favour. Life is a challenge requiring a fight with different paths one can take leading to similar dreams but with varying consequences and results.

It also aptly highlights how the world is never always one’s oyster for everyone and that life does not revolve around placing winners on a pedestal, it simply goes on and the winners are those who thrive in whatever environment they are in.

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I found the complex and darker theme of how self-pity and self-loathing can completely destroy any person and their dream no matter how bright they used to shine, one that is sobering and also particularly intriguing in this original musical and I would like to applaud Shayna, the production team, cast and the musicians for a haunting and ambitious musical. I look forward to future runs of this musical.

Firefly in The Light premiered at The Arts House Chamber and the musical was performed to a sold-out crowd in a one-night only show on 15 November 2014.