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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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TOUGH ACT TO FOLLOW!


Antares mulls over the enduring and endearing appeal of The Fantasticks

The death of a king is a pretty tough act to follow. Music Theatre’s restaging of THE FANTASTICKS was set to open on November 22nd (2001). But it was canceled in respect of the royal passing. It was a somewhat subdued turnout the next evening, but cast and orchestra pulled through like troopers. Indeed, the chemistry was pretty much right.

Why THE FANTASTICKS twice in Kuala Lumpur within months? What makes it the world’s longest running musical (more than 18,000 performances since May 1960)?

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Schmidt & Jones, aliens disguised as a Jewish songwriting team?

Tom Jones (book and lyrics) and Harvey Schmidt (music) got their inspiration from Les Romanesques by Edmond Rostand (of Cyrano de Bergerac fame). The title was rendered in English as The Fantasticks and the name stuck.

El Gallo

It’s a deceptively simple allegory of life and love: a boy and a girl, Matt and Luisa (or Romeo and Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, Candide and Cunegund, Adam and Eve); their manipulative fathers, Hucklebee and Bellomy, both avid gardeners; a Wall (portrayed by a whitefaced mute, doubling as prop-mover); a pair of buffoons in the tradition of commedia dell’arte or Laurel and Hardy; and a mysterious narrator/chorus/bandit named El Gallo (which means, in Spanish, The Cock).

This eclectic and magical mix of theatrical idioms forms a melodious and harmonious whole that weaves a wise and whimsical web of metaphors. Apart from Try To Remember, Schmidt’s tunes aren’t particularly memorable, but they’re catchy and vivacious – and Jones has a gift with rhymes (dependable and befriendable, children and bewilderin’). The storyline blends light and dark, gladness and sorrow, poetic irony and slapstick comedy, to highly agreeable effect.

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Philip Chai with
a cup of chai

As a callow youth in 1968 I caught THE FANTASTICKS in New York. It was truly… well, fantastick! In the 1970s I saw it again in Kuala Lumpur but the production left much to be desired. Now along comes Philip Chai, the Selangor Phil’s veteran wunderkind and co-founder of Music Theatrejust the right person to direct a credible version of this modest classic using local talent. His Hucklebee was smoothly accomplished and enacted with grand gusto; a perfect ploy for Liau Siau Suan’s lovable and believable Bellomy.

Alex Koh’s rich singing voice made his stage debut as Matt a marvelous success, although he could do with some loosening up as an actor. Luisa was perkily played by the pretty and petite Maria Gomez, a professional songstress, also making her debut in local theater. She did extremely well, I thought, for someone who is unaccustomed to singing without a mike (she sometimes had to struggle against the orchestra).

Sharizan Borhan

The same problem with recording artiste Sharizan Borhan, whose El Gallo might have been much more masterful had his voice been more audible, his moustache less detachable, and his shirt less shiny; but on the whole his performance was laudable, even if his youth proved a slight handicap in this demanding rôle.

Choreographer and champion figure-skater Peter Choo was impeccable as the multi-purpose Mute, elegant agent of Fate and efficient shifter of scenes and props. His remarkable focus physically anchored the action even as it helped raise the drama to the required heights of imaginative fancy. It was a sheer pleasure to watch him at work.

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The irrepressible
Sham Sunder Binwani

As Mortimer and Henry (the Ancient Actor), Lim Soon Heng and Sham Sunder Binwani very nearly stole the show. Both turned in priceless performances and brought the house down with their vaudeville antics. Their clever use of vernacular accents added an entirely new dimension to the boisterous hilarity of their scenes.

One particular sequence did not fully satisfy: when Matt turns his back on “virtue” to explore the sensual possibilities of “vice” – only to find demons flailing at his mortal flesh – his pain comes across as no more than a Punch & Judy act. Somehow the effect wasn’t quite right. The darkness held no terror, there was no edge to Matt’s agony, no sense of diabolical dread.

Nonetheless I gratefully surrendered to the quintessentially theatrical magic of THE FANTASTICKS as resurrected yet once more by the energetic and talented Philip Chai. A special round of applause to the orchestra consisting of Tay Tai Wee on piano, Joseph Arnesto on double bass, and Karen Ng on percussion. The original score called for a harp, but it wasn’t badly missed – though that certainly would have been a heavenly treat.

25 November 2001

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