“How do you make a 2,000-year-old Buddhist scripture relevant and acceptable to modern society? This was the major challenge for the creative team,” says Yang Wei Han.
IT has taken the multi-talented Yang a year to stage the 13-chapter “Sutra of The Great Vow of DiZang” as DiZang – The Musical set to open on April 19 at the Damansara Performing Arts Centre.
“The ‘physical’ preparation of the production took close to a year. However, creativity is the sum of life’s experiences.
“I’m inquisitive and passionate about self-learning. As a result, I’m able to take on all aspects of the creative process — single-handedly working on directing, writing, lyric-writing, composing, arranging, recording, audio-visual designing, stage-design, etc.”
While Yang found it hard to break with tradition to stage the musical, it was also the easiest thing to do. “Free from restrictive rules, the creative energy becomes rich with boundless possibilities,” says the Perak-born artiste.
Many may remember Yang, 47, as a pop singer, from his debut album entitled Loving you Is Actually Perilous (1997). Some may know him for his songwriting talent which won his awards including Chinese AIM The Best Song Arrangement and The Song Of The Year (2001, 2002). Or, just as that cute ntv7 and Astro host .
These days, it’s mostly about musical theatre, since his appearance in 1999 as the lead role of Prince Siddhartha and Buddha in the Siddhartha The Musical. But, “I’ve not completely abandoned writing pop music,” he assures.
Yang’s last original musical theatre production was Xuan Zang: Journey to the West – The Musical, in 2014. That story is about the adventures of Buddhist monk Xuan Zang on his pilgrimage from China to the “Western Regions” (India) to obtain sacred scriptures.
This latest musical is about the monk of DiZang’s vow to save the evil beings, especially the unrepentant. “It covers filial piety and reincarnation. Bodhisattva DiZang’s vow is an extremely difficult task.
“This musical attempts to showcase this great love and the selflessness of his spirit. I’ve used ‘modern’ theatre techniques to stage the contents of 13 chapters. So, the characters and set are all modern. Hopefully it enables the audience to relate to the musical.”
Yang has again worked with Tay Cher Siang on the music for the show at the Damasara Performing Arts Centre.
“I’m seldom in front of a piano when I compose my music and songs. Instead, it’s when I’m walking, having a shower, waiting for the lift, driving… i.e. it’s a constant process, the creative mode goes on all the time.
“Also, because of my many roles in the production, I have a fuller understanding of the creative direction of the entire musical, which probably cuts up the preparation time.
“Due to the budget and expenses, we cannot afford a live orchestra for the show. However, for that reason, I approached my compositions in different directions; exploiting orchestration and special synthesizer sounds for expression. These effects, after all, are not easily reproduced by a live orchestra.”
However, the cast will sing live on stage. Says Yang: “My only demand from the cast is for them to revert to nature. To play a role well, it really depends on how deeply the individual actor feels for the character.”
DiZang – The Musical
*English surtitles are provided throughout the performance.
When: April 19-22, 8.30pm, with 3pm matinees
Where: Damansara Performing Arts Centre (DPAC), Empire Damansara,
Tickets from RM88. Call +60 3 4065 0001/0002
## pix courtesy of DPAC
** an abbreviated version of this articles appeared in the New Straits Times