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Ah, Sweet Nostalgia!

ClubAgoGo

The Horfield Theatre Company’s October 2015 staging of A Slice of Saturday Night

Antares relives his teen years at A SLICE OF SATURDAY NIGHT

Some things you never forget. Like learning to French-kiss and finding yourself on Cloud Nine with a sore tongue and simply adoring the sensation. At 15 I was in the habit of “borrowing” my dad’s car and going to parties where some of the couples danced joined at the loins through the night. Never mind the discomfort of heavy petting in bucket seats of small cars parked in dark nooks or the buzz of mosquitoes in the syrupy night air dripping with pheromones.

Sharizan

Sharizan Borizan

I was pretty glad to have caught Music Theatre’s replay of A Slice of Saturday Night on a Saturday night, but disappointed to find the house only half full. Doing theater in the Klang Valley is no picnic, it would appear. Give them musical comedy, light’n’easy, do it with gumption and gusto… and still they stay away. Right after the show I found myself SMSing half the contacts in my phonecard, telling them to go see the last matinee performance on Sunday, and I’m glad at least a few heeded my advice and went. Like me, they loved the show!

Perhaps I’m really just a conservative when it comes to theater, because this 1989 rock’n’roll musical by the Heather Brothers (whoever they are) is about as middle-of-the-road and mainstream as you can get.  And retro 1960s to boot.  In the end it’s not WHAT you do but HOW you do it that matters. The genre is irrelevant – as long as there’s zest and zing in the effort.

Liau Siau Suan.jpg

Liau Siau Suan

Zest and zing abounded in this repeat performance (with a slightly different cast from the 1998 version) directed by Andy Cranshaw.  It’s a rare treat to find a show with no weak links. Every member of the cast – including the live 4-piece band and the barman (admirably played by Liau Siau Suan who also managed front of house duties, don’t ask me how he did it) – was very good indeed, though a few were particularly outstanding (but more about individual performances later).

The set was simple but utterly right: I stepped into the the Actors Studio Theater in Bangsar and found myself sitting in the Club A-Go-Go, magically transported back to the mid-1960s as soon as the band struck the opening chord. Okay, so the plot was basically Jack and Jill went on the pill, and started a sexual revolution. The songs – all 28 of them! – were parodies of 1960s pop hits by the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Eric Burdon and the Animals, the Dave Clark 5, Helen Shapiro, Cliff Richard and the Shadows, and Cilla Black. But they were good parodies, slickly executed by a totally pro band led by Helen Yap on keyboards, Mohd Yusoff Ibrahim aka Chobib on lead guitar, David Yee on bass, and Soegito Buno on drums.

Nell-Ng

Nell Ng

Nell Ng played the peroxide blonde bombshell Penny and the very pregnant Shirl, and choreographed all the slinky moves. I’ll say it again: this girl is simply too amazing! Llewellyn Marsh made a superb Eddie, all awkward and gangly but perfectly lovable all the same.  Radhi Khalid was the supreme cad as Gary and quite funny as Terry the prototype hippie.  It’s hard to picture anyone but Derrick T as Eric “Rubber Legs” Devine, former rocker and owner of Club A-Go-Go. In the original UK production, “Rubber Legs” had a different surname (DeVere) but that’s quite irrelevant. Devine was fine with me, even if his stagey guffaw was rather diabolical – Mr T tossed off his lines and rocked through his solo numbers with inimitable flair and style.

radhi=khalid

Radhi Khalid

Sharizan Borhan (a recording artist by day) was a marvelous Rick and it was a sheer delight to hear him sing. It was especially wonderful to see the chemistry between him and Sharon, exquisitely played by Samantha Lee (who’s married to Sharizan in real life).

Mary George has always turned in a solid performance and, as Gary’s long-suffering girlfriend Sue, she was totally convincing.  Newcomer Jaime Gooi was only slightly stiff as Frigid Bridget the ice queen, but I suppose that was in keeping with her stage character. A large part of the plot involves Eddie’s reckless boast to the guys that by the end of the night he’d succeed in getting Bridget to touch his crotch – and going on looks alone, most of the men in the audience wouldn’t have objected too strenuously if Ms Gooi had done exactly that to them.

A Slice of Saturday Night may be no more than an excuse for a highly entertaining evening of song and dance, but song and dance are Music Theater’s forte after all. I’d gladly see it again, preferably in the company of a nubile 18-year-old, but even an old flame will do.

25 July 2002

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HOLY PAP! BURLESQUE NUNS!

L-R: Cheah Siew Oui, Zoë Christian, Shanthini Venugopal, Suzan Manen, Mary George

Antares the renunciate tackles the moral ambiguities of NUNSENSE 

There’s a website where you can answer a few questions and determine precisely what your belief system is. I got 100% for Neo-Paganism, 91% for Unitarian Universalism, 78% for Hinduism, and only 8% for Roman Catholicism.

Gardner and Wife Productions claim they debated the theological correctness of NUNSENSE with prominent Catholics before deciding to Malaysianize and stage this runaway hit musical in Kuala Lumpur. Perhaps they forgot to consult the Neo-Pagans who are bound to find this cutesy apology for old-style Papism effete and irrelevant, if not actually offensive. (Neo-pagans rarely get offended in any case; they merely go ho-hum and shake their gnostic heads at the way passive consumers continue to be bamboozled by the pap industry even in the new millennium).

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Dan Goggin,
laughing all the way…

Dan Goggin, creator of the off-Broadway hit musical comedy, NUNSENSE, was schooled by nuns and subsequently became a seminarian himself. After the colossal failure of his 1970s Broadway musical, LEGEND, Goggin aided his own financial recuperation by producing corporate extravaganzas. He also came up with a popular series of greeting cards featuring mildly risque nunnish humor and this eventually evolved into the award-winning NUNSENSE, which has since become a multimillion dollar industry with a whole series of sequels.

It figures. Jesus is sandwiched between two Marys: a “virgin” and a “prostitute.” Combine the archetypal polarities and you get a “bawdy nun.” Put five high-kicking, glue-sniffing, pun-spinning, dancing-and-singing nuns on stage and you’ve got yourself a moneyspinner. They don’t even have to be particularly attractive or talented, since the whole thing is presented as fundraiser to bury four other “blue” nuns whose dead bodies happen to be in cold storage until enough money is collected for their funerals.

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Shanthini Venugopal,
tried & tested trooper

But as luck (or showbiz savvy) would have it, Gardner & Wife found themselves the perfect cast. Shanthini Venugopal is a tried and tested trooper in the vaudeville tradition and she’s a fantastic jazz singer and actress to boot.

As Sister Mary Regina, Mother Superior of the Little Sisters of Kampong Pandan, Shanthini’s well-honed talent shines through like a lighthouse. Her earthy professionalism and stage presence anchored the entire production firmly in the realm of the watchable (I particularly enjoyed her Pope impression in a chef’s hat). She was ably aided by feisty dancer-singer Suzan Manen as Sister Mary Hubert and vibrantly abetted by winsome stage veteran Mary George as Sister Robert Anne.

Cheah Siew Oui was in fine voice

Add to that the mellifluous mezzo-soprano voice of Cheah Siew Oui as Sister Mary Amnesia and the tantalizing appeal of terpsichorean Zoë Christian as Sister Mary Leo – and even the hardest-core neo-pagan in the audience cannot help but be charmed and somewhat entertained – despite opening night problems with the radio mikes that gave me the sensation I was watching it all from the other side of the sound barrier.

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Holland Jancaitis,
musical director

An important member of the cast was musical director Holland Jancaitis (a youthful and diminutive Methodist imported all the way from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) whose fluency with the score and keyboard skills gave the production a bigger sound than two musicians might be expected to generate (he was efficiently accompanied by percussionist Clarence Ewe).

Goggin’s songs go down easy but aren’t particularly memorable and his script is an impressive catalog of classic nun jokes (What do you call a sleepwalking nun? A Roamin’ Catholic. Why don’t nuns take drugs? They already have a habit.) The house went wild every time the nuns formed a chorus line or got into a bit of burlesque. It’s really quite bewildering. If a stand-up comic told the same jokes he or she would be dismissed as a bore; but don a habit and you’re applauded as “funky.”

The impish Suzan Manen

Regardless of what I may have to say about commercial crassness (whether applied to religion or theater), the marks will keep lining up at the pearly gates (and some will even fork out RM80 in the hope that they might catch a bonus glimpse of nuns’ knickers!)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Goggin’s inspiration for NUNSENSE arrived in the form of a nocturnal visit from the Vatican’s Men In Black – who silently handed him a fat envelope with encrypted instructions to write a hit musical comedy that will help regain a mass audience for the Pope. After all, any religion (or theatrical offering) with a ribald sense of humor can’t be all bad.

28 August 2001

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