Antares takes a tentative nibble at Fancy Poultry’s first gig
Fancy Poultry is what they call themselves – four very yummy chicks and a couple of not-too-macho guys with delicious voices and a burning desire to entertain. Their debut at the Actors Studio was a one-night stand with a cutesy rhyming name: Strings and Tones from Multiple Zones. The evening’s fare: a couple of evergreens, a dash of bossa nova, a touch of gospel, a bit of song and dance, some recycled pop tunes done a capella, even a tribal chant and the 007 theme. A pretty eclectic mix – but that’s what they promised, and that’s exactly what they delivered.
They opened with a tongue-in-cheek a capella arrangement of Michael Jackson’s Thriller – complete with slinky choreography – which nicely established the tone of the program. We knew we could lean back in our seats, relax, and be amused and amazed by some truly promising up-and-coming musical talents in our midst.
No need to get overly critical or nitpick – after all, a good proportion of the audience happened to be friends and relatives of the performers, so the atmosphere was friendly and receptive – but the whole show had the ambience of a very polished college glee club production. Perhaps the Actors Studio proved too formal and formidable a venue for Fancy Poultry’s first outing. The performers were understandably experiencing their share of opening-night anxiety, and the casual setting of a club – or a more intimate theatre space – would have better supported the mood.
Everything went without a hitch (apart from a falling guitar) and everyone worked through their paces with impeccable precision. The only elements missing were the extra sparkle, the supreme confidence, and the sheer verve we would remark as “star quality.” But it would be unreasonable to expect such from an amateur group taking their first bold steps towards “professional” showbiz. And, indeed, they have the potential to really shine in what they do. Playing a round of corporate dinner shows would be a great way for Fancy Poultry to up their voltage and learn to relax before a paying audience without worrying about making mistakes.
In the Fancy Poultry lineup were Nicole-Ann Thomas (mezzo soprano), Vivian Lessler (alto), Lilian Boo (soprano), Ha Wei Na (soprano), Azneal Azam (baritone/bass), and Ho Soon Yoon (tenor/baritone). Backing them up were Zalila Lee on guitars and percussion, and Gerral Khor on bongos and djembe.
This was part two of Viva Voce – a vocal series presented by SoundWorks whose trademark has been a high level of musicianship. Technically, the show was impressive: the arrangements were complex and elegant, requiring hours of practice to do right, and the back-up musicians totally disciplined and inspired.
Voice quality was generally superb and familiar numbers like The Boy From Ipanema, Summertime, Mr Bojangles, and Scarborough Fair sounded sweet and fresh. The balance between solo and ensemble items worked well, and it was obvious that a great deal of effort and thought had gone into the repertoire.
Gerral Khor’s percussive backing was tight and restrained to the point of reticence, while Zalila Lee’s sensitive guitarwork provided solid support to the vocalists. All they needed was to turn the exuberance level up a couple of notches and not appear so apologetic or demure on stage. After all, theirs is the sort of glee club act that works best in an atmosphere of freedom and fun – and being down-home Malaysian kids, I guess they’ll just have to reinstall the spontaneity factor systematically programmed out of our youth by an initiative-thwarting, killjoy political culture. One reason why an Aussie a capella ensemble like the Song Company is so watchable is that they successfully convey a nonchalant playfulness coupled with astonishing technique and self-discipline. Fancy Poultry already has the technical chops. Now they only need to do a few more gigs until they overcome their inherently Malaysian self-consciousness and learn to totally let themselves go as performers.
We also look forward to the prospect of their expanding their repertoire beyond middle-of-the-road fare to include some original works, especially some home-grown stuff. But as a debut outing, Strings and Tones from Multiple Zones was undoubtedly a triumph. One of these days, we’ll be seeing these well-dressed chickens and ducks turn into majestic eagles and swans. Let’s have another couple of encores, please!
17 November 2003