We’re not middle class enough for doubts.
FIVE Arts Centre‘s Cheras, The Musical concluded its run last weekend, after a successful two weeks at Theatre KuAsh. Many nights saw seats filled with relative ease, giving the impression that this is one of 2015’s bigger stage hits.
The performance starred Marina Tan as Cherrie Lum, a woman still hung up over her past success as her family copes under the pressure of trying to succeed. Cherrie has a son, Jackson (Jayson Phuah), and a daughter, Blossom (Tan Yon Lynn), who each have their own aspirations and methods of coping with their zealous mother.
Supporting the cast were Vernon Adrian Emuang as Uncle Chong/Ah Loong, Brian Chan as Destinee/Derrick, and Nisya Aziz as Victory/Win-Win.
Reviews from media houses were positive — Poskod.my for example called Cheras, The Musical “small in scale but […] definitely not lacking in its dreams and accomplishments”. Terence Toh in Star 2 deemed it “quirky, fun-filled and relevant”, having been “won over completely” by the performance.
Unfortunately, upon attending and having witnessed for ourselves what the fuss is all about, we weren’t completely sold.
We chose to attend last Thursday night’s showing and was surprised by the auditory aspect of the performance. For a musical, the vocal performances came across as subpar, hampered by mixing issues. Drumbeats drowned out syllables, resulting in indecipherable lyrics. A downright shame, given that there seemed to be well-written songs here driving the story.
It’s highly problematic when a musical’s cast have trouble with pitch and vocal control — we’re hoping Thursday’s performance was merely a slump and that these actors sang far more satisfactorily during other showings. With the exception of Tan Yon Lynn and Nisya Aziz, all other cast members could have spent more time rehearsing their songs, to put things bluntly.
It was disappointing, but not devastating. We’d still deem the vocal quality on display overall slightly better than musicals by independent troupes such as Revolution Stage. For a Five Arts Centre production however, we expected a whole lot more.
Aside from the singing, technical difficulties detracted from the night’s experience. A bright light high above the performing space flashed intermittently for a good minute or two midway through the first act, while a projection sequence which was supposed to play before the finale cut off within seconds, resulting in a longer-than-intended blackout.
It just wasn’t our night, we guess.
The writing meanwhile invoked ambivalence from our camp.
June Tan included a number of delightful one-liners throughout the play, showcasing a sense of humour that was localised, highly accessible, and sharp. As a result, Cheras, The Musical was speckled with plenty of hilarious quips and clever lines.
On the other hand, we had trouble buying into the story, which came across like an episode of a sitcom. A family desperately tries to get out of mundanity by convincing the daughter to participate in a reality TV singing competition. The mother and son eventually sign unfair contracts and learn to cope with their decisions as well as with one another.
June’s characters are simple, driven individuals painted in broad strokes. They’re not at all complex beings — each character’s motivation is clear to the point of predictability.
It also felt as if the Cheras tag was forced onto a rather universal story for a marketing boost. This could have been Subang, The Musical or Jinjang, The Musical; like the quick glimpses of Cheras Leisure Mall in its psychedelic projection sequence, June’s references to the suburb felt like throwaway mentions.
As for sure positives, Chee Sek Thim‘s campy direction added to the total entertainment value of the show. As the video of a butterfly breaking out of its coccoon played behind the male Lum heir as he sang in drag, we giggled and cringed. Coupled with Suhaili Micheline‘s oft-amusing choreography, the cast hammed it up and did their best to entertain.
Of note were Marina Tan and Jayson Phuah, who excelled in their role as mother and son consumed with desire for fame. Also effective were Vernon Adrian Emuang as the mysterious, lovable uncle, and Brian Chan as the nerdy Derrick.
Tan Yon Lynn and Nisya Aziz, while great performers in their own right, came across as grating from their character’s defining traits. Win-Win’s shrill laugh was heard several times too many, while Blossom’s expressive hesitance grew tiresome soon enough.
Our biggest praise for the production had to go towards its songs.
Adriane Palikat‘s excellent compositions were the driving force behind the production, keeping audiences joyful as the show progressed. Days after leaving the theatre we found ourselves still singing along to one-hit-wonder Cherrie Lum’s “Love Jam”.
“Love Jam” is an absolute monster and it deserves a proper release — we wouldn’t mind seeing Marina, Adriane and June at #1 on the MET10.
Thursday night’s house was almost packed, with perhaps more than ninety percent of seats filled. Also in attendance were Tiwin Estella Aji, editor at The Brunei Times, as well as hlive!‘s Syazwan Zakariah.
Cheras, The Musical ran from 22 October to 1 November at Theatre Kuash at 8:30pm, with 3:00pm shows on Sundays. All photos are taken by Wong Horngyih and reused with permission from Five Arts Centre.