SINGAPORE: The crowds may have stayed home this year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but National Day Parade (NDP) 2020 remained a visual and aural spectacle, adapted for the small screen.
Singapore marked its 55th birthday with fireworks, a show and a parade, but it was very different from previous years'.
But even with last minute changes to the show, the elimination of mass performances - an NDP staple - and the large crowd, it did not stop the performers from putting up a rousing show on Sunday (Aug 9) for its 150-strong audience and hundreds of thousands more watching from home.
This year's theme - Together, A Stronger Singapore - called on Singaporeans to stay united as one people and work together to emerge stronger from the COVID-19 pandemic.
READ: ‘We will need this unity and resilience more than ever’ in fight against COVID-19, says PM Lee in National Day message
Broadcast live from The Star Performing Arts Centre, the evening show centred on the struggles of everyday Singaporeans in coping with the outbreak.
Kickstarting the show was a soulful rendition of Room at the Table by singer Charlie Lim, as he strummed an electric guitar.
A second song, a medley of familiar NDP tunes, was sung by John Lee, Rebekah Sangeetha Dorai and Umar Sirhan, evoking nostalgia against a backdrop of black-and-white images of an older Singapore.
While the first act recalled a past Singapore, the next two acts captured the struggles of Singaporeans today. A colourful and multilingual song-and-dance number by local musicians and comedians celebrated the everyday lives of Singaporeans during the “circuit breaker”.
Closing the second Act was Abangsapau’s reflective song Each Other, which elicited a warm round of applause from the small audience.
Interspersed through the show were several interviews, with people sharing their experiences and struggles during the pandemic.
A haunting dance segment in the third Act intensified into an extravaganza of light and sound, in a piece highlighting the challenges the nation faced.
Aptly titled Stepping Up, Act Four showed interviews with frontline and essential workers and volunteers, who stepped up during the nation’s COVID-19 efforts.
Homegrown artists Shabir Tabare Alam and Abby Simone then performed a fast and energetic song, accompanied by a contingent of hip-hop dancers and a blinding array of visual effects.
Veteran musicians JJ Lin’s and Stefanie Sun’s soaring vocals filled the theatre, accompanied by Heema Izzati on the cello. They sang a specially penned English version of their Mandarin song Stay With You.
Learndialect.sg founders Ski Yeo and Eugene Lee, found that the interviews with the healthcare workers incredibly emotional.
“When I saw the videos of the healthcare professionals really giving their all ... they didn’t expect anything in return. So this is something like we felt - ‘wow’,” said Mr Lee.
Another song - Queenfisher - launched Act Five, with a stunning visual choreography of giant fans, along with young local musician NAMIE’s powerful and evocative voice.
But the highlight of the Act was Nathan Hartono crooning the theme song Everything I Am, from the top of a lighted podium. A brilliant formation of lights and white-clad dancers underscored his emotive performance.
This was followed by Umar Sirhan singing veteran musician Dick Lee’s Everyday Heroes, in another tribute to frontline and essential workers.
The final performances of the night was anchored by a dazzling array of lights and pyrotechnics, as various artistes of sang the classic NDP song We Will Get There and did a reprise of the show.
As part of the virtual choir, thousands of Singaporeans recorded their voices for the joint singalong of We Are Singapore.
This was stewardess Serene Claire Tay’s favourite part, who said she was moved by how Singaporeans came together to face challenges.
“I was singing along softly ... There were tears in my eyes, it was very heartwarming,” she said.
The night’s festivities ended with the pledge and National Anthem, as fireworks went off at 10 locations around Singapore.
The pledge was another key moment for Ms Yeo, 36, and Mr Lee, 36, who said that they have not said the pledge since they were in school.
“I thought it was really cool to take the pledge in front of everybody and together with everybody and I felt like the words mean a lot, especially because we’re battling COVID right now,” she said.
For Ms Amy John, who is a nurse working at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, the evening show “brought out the essence of human touch”.
“COVID-19 has stripped us of everything, and we only have each other to depend on,” she said.
In pictures: Fireworks light up the night sky as Singapore celebrates its 55th birthday
A TRIBUTE TO FRONTLINE WORKERS
While previous year's National Day festivities were usually reserved for the evening, NDP this year started with a morning segment at the Padang, downsized and adapted amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was part of a tribute to frontline workers, who were also recognised with the first maritime sail-past in two decades.
In the morning show, frontline and essential workers joined Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Halimah in a salute from the NDP contingents.
READ: NDP 2020 - At downsized Padang parade, frontline and essential workers get salute
The usually sizeable parade contingent comprised only personnel from the Singapore Armed Forces and the Singapore Police Force this year, with the size of each contingent halved from the usual 72.
During the "anthem moment", the Public Warning System siren gave the cue for Singaporeans to sing along to the National Anthem. At the same time, seven state flags were raised across the island, while a Chinook helicopter carried the Singapore flag over the Padang.
Six F-15SG fighter jets flew in a delta formation over the Padang in the Roar of Unity, capping off the morning segment at the Padang. The jets then went on for tribute passes above eight hospitals and the rest of Singapore.
But there was more in store for heartland revellers.
READ: Healthcare workers saluted as National Day Parade comes to the heartlands
About 9am, the Red Lions parachute team landed at two locations: Near Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and near Sengkang General Hospital. They were greeted enthusiastically by the crowd as they leapt from a Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) C-130 Hercules aircraft.
Thousands of people came out to catch a glimpse of the mobile column as it rolled through the heartlands estates. The loudest cheers were reserved for the frontline and essential workers on board some of the vehicles, with many waving handheld flags and shouting encouragement.
NCID nurse Ms John found this year’s NDP “quite refreshing”.
“It’s quite refreshing actually to see that we are not alone, as healthcare workers, the frontliners ... This is quite humbling actually, that you’re not alone. There are people out there who are working with you at that level, at that part,” she said.