CHERAS The Musical is a sassy, if a little ramshackle, show.
The script, written by June Tan, handles Malaysian middleclass issues in this tale revolving around an aging singer, Cherrie Lum (played by Marina Tan), her son Jackson (Jayson Phuah) and daughter Blossom (Tan Yon Lynn) who hope a reality singing show can change their destinies.
Cherrie can’t let go of her faded fame, while Jackson is stuck in a no-end job and Blossom can’t focus on any of her money-making schemes.
Wrapped around these characters are debt woes driven by loan sharks, helpful “uncles” (respectively Loong and Uncle Chong, played by Vernon Adrian Emuang), drag queen pride — or not — (played by Brian Chan), geeky Internet people (also played by Chan) and scheming business people (WinWin Loh, played by Nisya Aziz, who also took on the role of backup singer Victory).
The Lum family want out of Cheras, in the hope of a better life. A vision shared by many Malaysian families today. The lengths people go to in the achievement of their dreams are showed by the alacrity in signing contracts without reading the fine print, among other humane failings, as the case of Cherrie and Jackson in the show.
What Cheras The Musical represents is more important that the show itself, with its impressive layered story. The one drawback was the one-too-many songs. Not everything needs to be sung in a musical, as anyone who has seen any musical will know. Maybe it was a parody of a musical, by theatre collective Five Arts Centre?
Having the band perform live, beneath the upper stage was an interesting idea, although the action on stage rarely allowed attention to meander to the band behind the screen.
For, when it came to dramatic acting, the cast was untouchable. The tension during the conversational bits, the emotions offered as the family members disembowelled their skeletons, were palpable.
Lead actress Marina Tan evocatively conveyed her feelings through the strength of her facial expressions.
When it came to singing, Phuah and Nisya impressed with their vocal chops.
When it came to the music, Adriane Palikat delivered sterling melodies some of which were ready for the radio, YouTube, iTunes or an album.
As for Tan, who also wrote the song lyrics, there were four outstanding numbers — Time to Shine sung by Phuah, Branded, Waiting For Me, sung by Marina Tan, and Paper Talk, sung by Nyisa. The songs lingered for their insights into the ticking of today’s urban families.
The show was not a sophisticated musical but the story was a necessary one. It reminded people that what you have at home is as important as your aspirations. Is the grass all that greener when you lose your soul and all you love?
In the end, Cheras The Musical was an interesting expansion of Five Arts Centre’s 30-year resume. It should be restaged — out of Kuala Lumpur — after some tweaking including fewer songs. It is an Everyman story, and homegrown to boot! — By Subhadra Devan
NB. The musical was held in October 2015. An edited version of this review has appeared in the New Straits Times.