Uniquely Malaysian but for the diction
Writer: Dominic Luk
Published: Fri, 03 Aug 2012
Paper Crane the musical opened its doors to the public on July 27 at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre, and will continue to run until Aug 19. The cast includes some well-known performers like Patrick Teoh and Colin Kirton, who are joined by Roax Tan who plays the aspiring young singer who wants to be part of the Cantonese opera troupe. Other members of the cast include Ho Soon Yoon, Amelia Tan, Kimmy Kiew, and Lee Elaine.
The show is directed by Joe Hasham, with Datuk Faridah Merican as the executive producer. The book and music were written by Lim Chuang Yik and Teng Ky-Gan, with music direction by Mervyn Peters and Lex Lakshman Balakrishnan as chereographer.
As a musical that was both in Cantonese and English, it wasn’t easy to follow the whole story entirely even with the synopsis included. Without surtitles, a lot of witty punchlines were only understood by the Cantonese-speaking members of the audience, leaving the rest guessing what the joke was all about. However, this multi-lingual aspect of the musical is probably what makes it unique and worth exploring further.
Personally, I feel that the musical would have been stronger if it were entirely in Cantonese. This is because even when some of the songs were sung in English, it was difficult to understand every word. Diction in English was one of the main problems, except for a few like Kirton and Ho who were able to sing in English better than the rest of the cast.
One actor that stood out for me was Amelia Tan, who played Ah Mah, the mother of Ah Kit (played by Roax Tan).
Her portrayal of the mother was very convincing, and she really invested a lot into her character. Even though she was not in every scene, her appearance made her stand out better than many of the others.
The musical was very ensemble-driven, so the ensemble did play a huge part in the musical. It seemed like there was a lot of anticipation in the ensemble – as if they knew what was going to happen and were only waiting to react. It felt unnatural and did bother me somewhat.
As usual, there were some members of the ensemble who were stronger than others. I actually loved how the ensemble worked well together; just that the energy levels should have been more balanced to create better effects throughout the show.
While some of the songs were well written and were clearly meant to be part of the climax of the musical, the singing for some reason did not do justice to the music. It is unfortunate that the lead role is played by an actor who isn’t exactly a singer.
Tan who played Ah Kit was often struggling to sing his songs, which made the emotional sections of the song sound anti-climatic. Perhaps the strongest singers were Ho and Lee Elaine; a better balance of well-trained singers in the main cast would have made a big difference to the production as a whole.
Special mention about the music arrangements should be made. Music arranger Loh Ui Li did a great job at capturing the ‘west meets east’ essence of the music. There were a lot of pleasant surprises in the arrangements with interesting choices of instruments and sounds used at unexpected places. I was actually more drawn to the live music than the singing. Sadly, I could only imagine what the songs should have sounded like with stronger voices, something which was absent in this production of Paper Crane.
Overall. It was a pleasant experience, especially with the Malaysian-ness of the musical (being in Cantonese and English with a bit of Malay). I would have loved the story to be developed even further with more dialogues and conversations, though.
It seemed that there was a new song every few minutes, without having time to let the previous song sink in and allow myself to learn a bit more about the characters. But that’s just what I would prefer.
Be sure to catch Paper Crane before it ends its run. Tickets can be bought through the klpac website at www.klpac.orgBuy Ticket