Tag Archives: T4YP

PenTAS Exclusive: A Chat with Christopher Ling of Marrying Me

*This is the first of a three-part feature about Marrying Me by Yasmin Bathamanathan. Read the second part here and the third part here.

Being the theatre newbie that I am, I asked Christopher Ling, in quiet earnestness, what had attracted him to adapting Marrying Me into a musical. You see, I took the “Book by Mark Beau De Silva” part quite literally. So, Chris, being the awesome friend that he is, proceeded to school me in the ways of musical theatrics. “A book in a musical means the entire story and script. It does not mean a pre-existing “book” that has been adapted into a musical,” chided a well-meaning Chris over Facebook chat.

Say what? A book that is not a book but is the story and script? Sounds quite like a “book” to me. Okay, since I was aware by then that I knew next to nothing when it comes to musical theatre, I turned to my best friend – the almighty Wikipedia.

“Musical theatre is a form of theatre that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting, and dance … yada yada yada … book musicals …”

Wait a minute. Book musicals? What in fresh hell is that? This is how darling Wikipedia explains it:

“Since the 20th century, the “book musical” has been defined as a musical play where songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that is able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter.”

Hey, that’s my definition of musicals (re: not Bollywood) also! Looks like I am heading in the right direction after all. Upon further reading, Wikipedia starts filling up my musical gaps. There are three components to a book musical – the music, the lyrics and the book. Once again, the book here denotes

“… script of a musical refers to the story, character development, and dramatic structure, including the spoken dialogue and stage directions, but it can also refer to the dialogue and lyrics together, which are sometimes referred to as the libretto …”

Got it, children? Right. Now let’s move on to the musical in discussion here; Marrying Me.

The two musicals of yours that I have watched are The Last Five Years and Kiss of the Spider Woman. Why did you choose Marrying Me this time?

I wanted to direct something Malaysian in nature, something that Malaysians would connect with. It is a script that was written specifically for this show.

Did Mark already write it or did you approach him with the idea?

I invited him to write the book for my musical, which I had commissioned Onn San to write for me in April. We had just finished working on Ruby Moon in March (if you remember, Onn worked on the soundscape for that production). The idea was conceived by Onn and Mark. EllaRose Chary was brought in after a few initial meetings. The three of them worked on everything before handing over to me in late September.

Why was Ella approached? Have any of you worked with her before this?

Onn and Ella were classmates at NYU.

Ah, that makes sense. In terms of visual aesthetics, the heroine of Marrying Me does not look like the conventional one – she sports cropped hair and in the poster, she looks quite androgynous. From this I gather that Marrying Me is a musical that, in many ways, defies social conventions. This is after all a tale of a woman who refuses to lose her autonomy and independence.

You hit the nail on its head. In fact, allow me to go one step further to say that with everyone around Stephanie trying desperately to change her, she remains steadfast in what she believes is right. In doing so, she becomes the catalyst for change in everyone around her. Quite an interesting reversal of circumstances, don’t you think?

In terms of casting, what is it that you saw in Stephanie Van Driesen that told you she was the STEPHANIE? Did she crop her hair for the part? Did you “make” her do it?

No, the cropped hair was on her part. She cut her hair much earlier in late September. Stephanie has charisma and presence as an actor. The musical is technically her journey, and thus it was important for the actor to be able to ground the show. Stephanie (the character) knows what she wants. And she tenaciously sets out to get it.

And that includes escaping getting married? Or do we have to watch it to find out?

The question should be more: getting married to whom?

Oh.

The getting married happens, but the “to whom” part is the interesting thing.

Nice. If you were asked to describe Marrying Me in 3 sentences, how would you describe it?

Marrying Me is pure unadulterated musical comedy at its best. But what makes it more appealing is its distinct Malaysian flavour contained in Mark’s characters and scenarios. It is very much like the quintessential Mark Beau De  Silva play musicalised – NOT a play with music BUT a MUSICAL in its own right.

I obviously know nothing about directing a musical. Is there anything particularly tricky about it?

The balancing act between all the many departments and people I need to engage with creatively. There’s music. There’s set. There’re props. There’re costumes. There’re actors. There’re musicians. There’s follows spots … AND the buck stops with ME!

Yikes. So, as a director, which do you find trickier to direct: plays or musicals?

Musicals are definitely more challenging. So many things could go wrong at any one time. I am always kept on the edge of my seat with worry. Plays are considerably easier. All the elements are more controllable. A musical must speak to you – not only through the dialogue but through the music – sung and played by the band. The choreography must lift the production and the story we are all trying to tell. If not, it is just clutter.

I bet. Someone once explained to me how complicated the process of coming up with a 10-minute musical for Short+Sweet is. No wonder you’re all stressed and whatnot.

YUP! But Marrying is 2 hours long (with a 15 minutes interval). 1 hour for Act 1, 45 minutes for Act 2.

What was it like working with this set of cast for Marrying Me?

Marrying Me features a cast of ten actors that come from two distinct camps – experienced musical theatre performers and young actors. For Muhaimin, this is his 2nd show with me; he did Spiderwoman last year. Yi Qing, Ho Lee Ching and Aaron Lo are all from T4YP.

It is a joy to work with people like Stephanie, Sandra Sodhy, Chang Fang Chyi and Tony Leo. They bring a wealth of experience to their characters. So do Benjamin Lin and Joel Wong in the supporting roles that they are playing.

Lastly, why should people come watch Marrying Me?

A musical has the ability to move an audience like no other live performance can with its three-way combo of Drama, Song and Dance.

Thank you, Chris for sharing your time with me. All the best with Marrying Me and I’ll see you when you get here.

You’re welcome.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 - 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

Marrying Me takes place at stage 2, penangpac @ Straits Quay (3H-3A-1, Straits Quay, Jalan Seri Tanjung Pinang, Tanjung Tokong, 10470 Penang) from 5 – 7 December 2013 @ 8.30pm and 8 December 2013 @ 3pm. For information on ticketing, check out penangpac.

Review of T4YP’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’

Romeo & Juliet: Sublime, Impeccable And Yet…

By Khoo Wei Cyn

Images courtesy of ShiPng.com

Romeo and Juliet is a tale which stretches back to antiquity. For eons, the concept of forbidden love was deemed the epitome of all romance stories. Produced by the Theatre For Young People (T4YP) ensemble which is based in Kuala Lumpur and directed by Christopher Ling, the performance of Romeo & Juliet at the Penang Performing Arts Centre (penangpac) on the 21st of September 2013 at Stage 2 was a play to beholdThe play was presented in an easy-to-relate adaptation of the original by William Shakespeare.

Welcome to SMK Damansara Verona
Welcome to SMK Damansara Verona

The concept in which this play was presented made the theatrical experience so fresh and enjoyable for laypersons such that the Shakespearean lingo did little to deter the audience from enjoying the play. Romeo & Juliet revolves around a group of Form Six students doing a moved reading of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”, and in the process they find themselves indulging in their characters so much that they build a new world around them, a world where reality runs parallel with art. This world would end with the ring of the bell, and every new day begins with the students going into their routine — marching into class and breaking into dance, where the actors are completely in character as Form Six students which they portray. But once the moved reading starts, their transition into their Romeo & Juliet world is immediate.

... every new day begins with the students going into their routine — marching into class and breaking into dance...
… every new day begins with the students going into their routine — marching into class and breaking into dance…

Actors Tan Yi Qing, Tan Boon Kit, Arief Hamizan and Aaron Lo portrayed their characters well. In the scene where Lady Capulet swore to cast Juliet out of the house should Juliet resist her arranged marriage with Count Paris, the lines of Capulet and Lady Capulet were reversed. Hence, in Romeo & Juliet Arief (Capulet/Benvolio) was performing the lines of Lady Capulet of the Shakespearean text whereas Yi Qing took the lines of Capulet. This was a good decision as she captivated the audience with her powerful performance during this scene, which left a lasting impression on me.

Qi Ying as Capulet captivating the audience with her powerful performance
Qi Ying as Capulet captivating the audience with her powerful performance

One of the most memorable scenes of the entire play was when Boon Kit (Mercutio/Montague) recited the lines “… I conjure thee by Rosaline’s bright eyes/By her high forehead and her scarlet lip/By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh…” and groped Arief to illustrate his description. The sheer bewilderment of Arief’s expression during this scene elicited laughter from the audience and I think he deserves an award for brilliant acting just for this part. Boon Kit was also expressive and amusing in his portrayal of Mercutio and Montague.

Boon Kit and Arief eliciting laughter
Boon Kit and Arief eliciting laughter

My favourite character of the whole play is Friar Laurence who falls under the jurisdiction of Aaron. He somehow adds a personal touch to the character, making Friar Laurence a cute mixture of dramatic, nerdy, awkward yet wise and fatherly-friarly towards Romeo. His acting was perfect during Act 2, Scene 3 while smelling and licking a paper doily in his hands.

Aaron as the Friar and his paper doily
Aaron as the Friar and his paper doily

Unfortunately, Romeo and Juliet (Joshua Aeria and Nadin Norzuhdy) didn’t stand out like some members of the cast. Perhaps they were very much into character as the students they play, and the students can’t fully relate to Romeo and Juliet. Or perhaps it is because Romeo and Juliet have lines which are quite limited in the range of emotions they could have.

Joshua and Nadin immersed in the all-consuming love of their characters
Joshua and Nadin immersed in the all-consuming love of their characters

The choreography for the dance scenes were well-coordinated and served an underlying message for the scenes they were featured in. A memorable dance scene in the play was when Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio sneaked into the Capulet ball which began like a 21st century style couple dance, but soon morphed into a comedic routine. Fighting scenes were so realistic that some members of the audience gasped when Arief was thrown to the ground.

Some members of the audience gasped when Arief was thrown to the ground!
Some members of the audience gasped when Arief was thrown to the ground!

As for props, the plastic chairs and tables prove to be very versatile, crafting all the scenes with just some assembly. The lighting serves as clues to the audience as to the transition from the play itself to the play-within-the-play.

Romeo, oh Romeo... look at the props!
Romeo, oh Romeo… look at the props!

Christopher Ling’s Romeo & Juliet is an absolutely splendid adaptation of the concept which makes Shakespeare’s version easy to understand for those unfamiliar with his work. It is certainly a masterpiece borne of painstaking effort and meticulous preparation by all means.

Kudos T4YP for a wonderful production of a classic.
Kudos T4YP for a wonderful production of a classic.

*A neophyte to theatre, Khoo Wei Cyn has just survived a thespian’s adventure at Short+Sweet Theatre Malaysia 2013 in Penang. She enjoys writing, reading and appreciating art in all forms.