Sing to the Dawn
Music by Dick Lee; Book by Minfong Ho and Stephen Clark; Lyrics by Stephen Clark; Based on the book Sing To The Dawn by Minfong Ho
The frustrations, hardships and political injustices of everyday life in a village in Southeast Asia are dramatically revealed in the story of Dawan, a young Thai girl who seeks the opportunity to continue her education at a city high school by competing against her for a scholarship award. When she wins she faces the disapproval of her father, who accuses her of betraying her brother and forbids her to accept the scholarship. A touching story of reconciliation and acceptance, with a beautiful score by Dick Lee.
The story is set in and around a rural village in Thailand. As the first glimmer of light begins to spread across the sky we see a family sleeping beneath their mosquito nets in a small house. Taking care not to wake her father (Somchai), her mother (Somsri) and her grandmother (Rachanee) a young girl, Dawan, quietly gets up. She then looks over to her brother, Kwai. He too is waking up and together they creep out of the house and then run across the fields to a small bridge. As they sit side by side on the bridge the sun begins to rise and Dawan, as she does every morning, sings to the dawn.
Kwai and Dawan talk excitedly about what is about to happen that day. It is the day that the winner of the annual scholarship is announced. Whoever wins the scholarship goes to the city school to continue their studies. Kwai has been top of his class for the last three years and everyone knows he will win. Dawan is thrilled for him and as they walk to school they talk about what he will do when he's in the city. On the way they meet other children on their way to school, including Vichai who is clearly jealous of Kwai's immanent victory.
At the schoolroom, before he announces the result, the teacher, Chalardchai, talks to the class about the responsibility that comes with winning the scholarship. He sees it as a way of giving someone the education and status that will help them to do something about the injustices he sees around the village — the high rents, the loan sharks and the poor standard of health care. Kwai is very keen to try to change all these things. It is something he and Dawan have always talked about on their bridge. And then Chalardchai announces the result. And the winner is . . . Dawan. Everyone, including Dawan, is stunned. A girl has never won the scholarship before. Kwai, bitterly disappointed and humiliated, runs out of the classroom.
Back at the house Somchai, Somsri and Rachanee are anxiously waiting for the children to come home so they can hear the result. Somchai is very proud of his son and is already excited about what rewards Kwai's scholarship will bring to the whole family. Somsri has heard that Vichai is very interested in Dawan and is looking forward to seeing her daughter settle down and raise a family of her own. Somsri has already invited Vichai and his parents around for a meal so that the families can get to know each other better. Somchai is delighted by the prospect of Dawan marrying Vichai as his family are the richest- in the village.
Dawan comes home alone. She tells them the news. Somchai is appalled. He is furious with her for betraying her brother and forbids her to accept the scholarship. Somsri feels it is pointless for a girl to have such ambitions and tells her to stop dreaming and accept her place, as a wife, in the village. Only Rachanee says how proud she is and encourages Dawan to make her own choices.
Meanwhile Vichai and some other village boys are teasing Kwai about what has happened. Not only did he not win, but he was beaten by his own sister! Kwai is desperate, his dreams are shattered, and he doesn't know what to do. Then the teasing becomes more serious and they point out to him that if Dawan is allowed to go then it will give their sisters ideas and before they know it the girls will be in charge and the boys will be left with the housework. Vichai tells Kwai to do something about it, and that he could start by finding out how he did in the exam himself.
Back at the house Somsri, Rachanee and Dawan are preparing the dinner for Vichai's family. Somsri is still adamant that Dawan is wasting her time dreaming about going to the city school despite Rachanee's attempts to get her to change her mind. Finally Somsri tells Dawan another reason why she shouldn't go. Somchai and Somsri, when they were first married, had gone to the city to earn enough to build their house. Having been there herself Somsri believes that a city is no place for a girl.
Kwai is sitting on the bridge, still trying to come to terms with what has happened. Dawan arrives and they talk for the first time since the announcement of the result. Kwai is still very bitter and tells Dawan that he has found out from the teacher that he came second. Dawan is very thrown by the implications of this. However she tells him that although she didn't ever think she would win, she now wants to make the most of her opportunity. It is the first time they have ever fallen out but neither of them will accept the other's view.
That evening Vichai and his family arrive for dinner. It is disastrous. Vichai's parents are extremely smug about their wealth and Vichai reveals himself to be a very spoilt young man. During the meal Somsri comes to see what Dawan's life will be like if she does stay in the village and settle down with Vichai. At the end of the evening, Kwai, goaded on by Vichai, tells Somchai that he came second in the exam. Somchai is thrilled. Oblivious to what is happening around him he declares that now Dawan can be married and Kwai can take her place at the city school. Dawan, distraught at all that has happened, runs out of the house. She cannot believe what is happening to her. Finally Somsri finds Dawan and suggests that if she wants someone to help her persuade Somchai to let her go, she could go and see the Abbot.
The village market place. Again it is early morning and the market is beginning to come to life. Bao, Vichai's sister, works at a stall selling Lotus flowers and freeing birds from their cages to earn her customers merit. Dawan arrives and meets Bao, who immediately congratulates Dawan on her success. The other market girls join in the celebrations until Dawan tells them that her father won't let her go to the city school. They are shaken by the news as Dawan's success has given them all hope for their own futures. However, Dawan tells them she has one last chance. She is going to see the Abbot to see if he will talk to her father. As she goes they wish her well and give her all she needs to visit the temple.
The Abbot is very kind to Dawan, but after hearing all she has to say, he tells her that he cannot help her - not because she is a girl, but because he doesn't believe that anyone should go to the city school. Dawan is devastated. Her last hope has gone. However, when Bao and the other market girls see her they succeed in making her see that she has to carry on fighting. Just like the birds in Bao's cages, she cannot be locked up forever. Dawan begins to feel a lot more determined and to celebrate she lets a bird go free.
Vichai sees this and reprimands Bao for not charging Dawan any money. In the ensuing argument Dawan lets it slip that she has been to see the Abbot. Vichai is furious, feeling she is not only being arrogant by thinking she can go to the city, but also that she is turning her back on him. Bao speaks up for Dawan and Vichai hits her. Kwai arrives and restrains Vichai. Vichai leaves threatening to tell Dawan's father that she has gone behind his back by going to see the Abbot. Bao then turns on Kwai, telling him that by trying to stop Dawan from taking her opportunity, he is no better than Vichai. In his desperation Kwai goes to hit Bao but Dawan stands in the way and in the confusion Kwai pushes Dawan onto the bird cages. She is cut badly but she is hurt more by his actions than by her injury. It begins to rain. Bao bandages Dawan's leg and gives her an umbrella. Dawan limps home.
Back at home Somchai tells Somsri and Rachanee that Vichai has told him how Dawan went to see the Abbot. He is livid. Somsri admits that it was her idea and Somchai is amazed. Somsri explains that she now believes Dawan should be allowed to take her chance but Somchai refuses to listen. Somsri tries to persuade him that Dawan is growing up and that they can't hold on to her forever.
Kwai is sitting on the bridge, still very shocked at what he has done to Dawan. Dawan arrives and they begin to talk. Kwai doesn't know what to do. He is torn between his own future and his love for his sister. She leaves him to think it over, giving him the umbrella as she goes. Kwai, moved by her gesture, thinks about all that has happened.
Kwai finally sees that it is wrong of him to stand in his sister's way and tells her so. He resolves to support her in persuading Somchai to let her go. They walk home together, sharing the umbrella.
Somchai is waiting for them back home. He tells them that Dawan must forget her dreams and marry Vichai and that Kwai must begin to pack for the city. Kwai says that he doesn't want to go and that even if he is forced to go he will deliberately fail his exams. Somchai becomes extremely angry and forbids either of them to go. But then Dawan speaks. For the first time she is calm and clear and very articulate. She says:"You are right, father. I am not going to the city school. I am not going because girls from this village have never gone to that school. That is how it's always been and it will never change. I am not going to the school because then other girls will want to go and learn to make choices about their own lives. I am not going to the school because the city is a dangerous place and will corrupt an innocent girl like me. I am not going to the school because the world is only an illusion and all I'll ever need to know is here. I am not going to the school because education is wasted on girls and when I come back no one will listen to what I have to say. I am not going to the school because you want me to marry a boy I don't like, or respect. And I am not going to the school because like all girls I will never be able to speak up for myself or say how I feel. Instead I must live my life like a bird, locked up in a cage ..."
Everyone is amazed and moved by her words. Finally Somchai, seeing his daughter in a new light, and still with Somsri's pleading in his mind, relents and gives her his blessing.
Two weeks later, the day she is due to go, she gets up early to sing her Morning Song to the sunrise once more. But this time Kwai is not with her. When she gets to the bridge she finds he is already there, unable to face the crowds that are beginning to gather to send her off. Although he had decided to support her, he is now feeling hurt and alone. Not only does he feel the pain of giving up his dreams but he also knows how much he will miss his sister. Dawan tells him she will always be thinking of him and that whenever he wants to feel close to her, all he has to do is sing the Morning Song for her. But Kwai refuses to say good-bye to her and their relationship seems irrevocably damaged. As the sun rises Dawan begins to sing the Morning Song but breaks down. It is too painful for her. She begins to leave. But as she's nearing home and the crowds that are waiting for her, she hears Kwai begin to sing. She turns round and he is standing on the bridge, singing to the dawn.
- First beginnings - Company
- Morning Song - Dawan
- If I Win - Kwai, Dawan, company
- My Child - Somchai, Somsri, Rachanee
- Where Do You Run? - Kwai
- `Cos Men Are Men - Vichai, Village Boys
- The City - Somsri - Company
- When All the Tears Have Dried - Dawan
- Market Beginnings - Bao, Company
- All You Need To Know - The Abbot, Dawan
- It Just Flies - Bao, Dawan, Company
- A Time To Choose - Somsri
- All the Tears Have Dried (reprise). Kwai, Dawan, Company
- Morning Song (reprise) - Dawan, Kwai, Company
3 female, 4 male
- Dawan - (young girl)
- Kwai - (her brother)
- Somsri (her mother)
- Somchai (her father)
- Rachanee (her grandmother)
- Chialardchai (teacher)
- Vichai - (pupil)