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Solve interactive whodunnit amid music, dance and drama at ChildAid 2023

It is the 1930s, and at the annual gala of a performing arts school in Singapore, a renowned singer disappears mid-performance – and everyone in the room is a suspect.

That is the premise of ChildAid 2023, the annual children’s charity fund-raiser organised by The Straits Times and The Business Times in aid of The Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund and The Business Times Budding Artists Fund.

Mesra – A Musical Mystery aims to reel in audiences by inviting them to help solve the mystery and catch the culprit amid music, dance and drama. Mesra means conviviality, warmth and the spirit of togetherness in Malay.

The 19th edition of ChildAid takes place on Dec 4 at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre and is by invite only. Members of the public can catch the broadcast on Dec 8 at 6pm on ST’s YouTube page (str.sg/ixCP).

Those who would like to donate online can do so at str.sg/ixCW

Ms Melissa Sim, 41, co-artistic director of home-grown theatre company How Drama, is helming ChildAid for the first time as its creative director – and is the first woman to take on the role. 

“How Drama specialises in interactive theatre, so we wanted to incorporate that element into the event and make it immersive,” she says. “Whodunnit mysteries have been so popular, we thought going with that genre would add excitement to the night.”  

Staged as a dinner theatre performance, the more intimate format in 2023 marks a departure from the glittering, large-scale spectacle of previous concerts. 

There are 47 child performers aged six to 18 in Mesra, about half the 100-strong cast from 2022.

But despite the smaller stage, there is still plenty of room for talent to shine.

As the mystery unfolds, it is interspersed with energetic musical numbers spanning a range of genres and eras. The eclectic line-up includes an original composition by one of the child stars, Hong Shyan Yee, 12; classical works; contemporary pop; as well as Hokkien, Malay and Hindi favourites. 

With less than a week to the big day, the cast display a mix of emotions at the full-dress rehearsal held at the SPH News Centre Auditorium on Nov 26. 

“I’m excited because it’s my first time participating in such a big event,” nine-year-old pianist Newton Tong tells ST.

It will be his 11-year-old brother Newman’s second ChildAid stint – his first performance was in 2021 – but the boy is slightly more apprehensive. 

“Sometimes, I get a bit nervous because it’s a very big hall with so many important people inside, so I’m scared of making some mistakes,” Newman says. “But I feel better when I’m playing the piano.” 

Kids in 1930s-inspired costumes performing a medley at the ChildAid dress rehearsal. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Another performer, Nurjannah Qurrantul’Farhaien Mohamad Faizal – who portrays selfish wannabe starlet Tessa – is glad to have the chance to hone her skills.

“This is my first time playing an evil character,” says the 16-year-old. “It was challenging at first, because I even had to learn how to walk like Tessa, but I gradually got the hang of it.” 

The youth also get the chance to work alongside seasoned local artistes such as singer Amni Musfirah and actor Dennis Sofian, both 29. 

Amni says this has been a valuable learning experience for the older cast members too, as the children “teach us not to take ourselves too seriously, and that we should just have fun and embrace the little kid within us”. 

Dennis adds: “When you find that joy and have fun doing your thing up there, the people watching you will feel that too. It’s an infectious energy.”

Mr Wong Wei Kong, editor-in-chief of the English/Malay/Tamil Media Group at SPH Media, says attending the rehearsal has him looking forward to “a really wonderful performance on show night”.

He adds: “It’s really uplifting to see the young performers not just brimming with talent, but also enthusiasm for a worthy cause. We wanted to try a new format for ChildAid this year, and I think they will pull it off splendidly.”

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