Polished. Engaging. Beautiful.
If there were three words to describe the Malaysian musical – Encore, the aforementioned would be apt. Produced by Lew Chee Seong, directed by Chee Sek Thim and presented by the Five Arts Centre, Encore is an eclectic ensemble of musicals, of origins we can only claim as truly Malaysian.
Held at the beautiful Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPAC), Encore features piano skills from singer-songwriter Shanon Shah, singers Alex Koh, Chee Sek Thim, Ida Mariana, Sukania Venugopal and Tony Eusoff.
Encore showcases music from Gerald Toh – “The Reluctant Saint”, Hari ‘Haze’ Krish Menon – “Hip-Hopera”, Imee Ooi – “Above Full Moon” and “Siddharta”, Johan Othman – “Oh, Brickfields!” & “Reunion”, Saidah Rastam – “The Storyteller & M! The Opera”, Sunetra Fernando & Adrian Lee – Opera Uda dan Dara.
My friend Poh Lin, who happens to be a prolific writer, animal activist and performing arts lover, raved about the production and highly recommended me to watch it. Another reason to catch it was, of course, in support of performing friend, actor/singer Tony Eusoff. Tony has always had a good singing voice, and we were eager to catch him on stage for the first time. The last time I attended a theatrical production in support of a friend was a Shakespearen spoof at the Instant Cafe Theatre, starring Alvin Wong (who happens to be Tony’s sidekick in Misadventures of Tony & Alvin!).
So there we were at KLPAC, 10 minutes before showtime – my soulmate Addie, my boo Jannster, Poh Lin and I, after a brief dim sum dinner at Jalan Ipoh. Poh Lin, like a star, knew everyone as if she worked there. Some familiar faces lingered and flashed past – the talented Jit Murad, arts activists Marion D’Cruz and Faridah Merican; also actor/writer/producer Gavin Yap, though a brief glimpse.
The show started five minutes late, but none complained. Encore kicked off with Does It Matter Anymore? a piece from the 1997 musical The Reluctant Saint. The polished and well-blended voices backed by the brilliant piano accompaniment promised an entertainment. And it didn’t disappoint.
Encore grew better as it wore on, from stories of lost homes, lost lands to lost loves. The hilarious Cun-Kan Aku! sung by Ida and Sukania was brilliantly delivered and got my tummy in stitches. Ida has got to be the highlight of the show, voice subtly husky, melodic, silky, pitch-perfect and full of soul. Every time her vocals filled the hall, I was silent. I just stopped breathing, shut my eyes and opened my ears to absorb the barrage of aural beauty that just filled me and felt right, so right. The rest were no less brilliant, of course. Individualistic yet complementary, silky smooth coordination was especially obvious in numbers like It’s Anarchy and Porcupine. Porcupine curry anyone? Thought not.
We were treated to some numbers in Mandarin after a 15 minute intermission. Mandarin, is not a language Addie and I understand well (Addie almost none at all in fact!) but music, as they say, transcends language and religion. Defies logic too, most of the time! Tony was in his element, coupling with Alex on a duet, then later Sukania. Lifted from Siddartha, the Chinese numbers were melancholic and sad, but beautiful nonetheless.
I think the highlight and the best bits were numbers from Huzir Sulaiman’s Hip-Hopera. Ida blew me away with her rendition of Love Goes. Chee had everyone in stitches with Donno Don Tok, a Manglish-Ah Beng-style number. Totally hilarious!
I also loved the duets. Tony and Sukania did a lovely Beginilah, from Opera Uda dan Dara.
We met Tony after the show to congratulate him. He said to me, “You are the first guy friend to come see my show!”. I said, of course, I am cultured! Hahaha. We told him he was going to make us all broke since he has two other productions coming up – The Girl From Ipoh, also starring Carmen Soo and Electronic City, starring also the brilliant Edwin Sumun. Told him I will be becoming a Tony Eusoff groupy and a fan club is in the works. Heh.
It will be a broke month I tell you. Will also be catching Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion later in the month. A big “adoi” to the wallet. The price you pay to be cultured I tell you!