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The Star Online: Lifestyle: Arts & Fashion

Sinbad, the Musical: Looks good, sounds good, but feels like Aladdin

Posted: 22 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Sinbad, the Musical was a visual feast, but the storytelling wasn't plain sailing.

We know the story of Sinbad, the Sailor. We know his seven adventures and voyages. We know the villains he defeated and the monsters he faced. And who can forget the maidens he gets acquainted with on his journeys. So it was a surprise that director Joe Hasham's Sinbad, the Musical, written by Australian Mark Cleary, looked more like a production of Aladdin, the Arabian Thief.

There was the ruling Caliph, whose mind is controlled by an evil vizier, much like how Ja'far enslaved the Sultan in Aladdin. The vizier attempts to marry the Caliph's daughter to seal his power, much like what Ja'far tried to do with Princess Jasmine. Along the way, Aladdin... sorry, Sinbad and the pretty maiden fall in love (sans magical carpet ride ballad), and with the help of a mischievous Hajji (erm, pet monkey Abu?), Sinbad and his crew thwart the vizier's evil plot.

And, yes, there was a genie, too.

Just because one tale is based on another doesn't make it bad. Sinbad's stories are based on Homer's The Odyssey. But this musical, with 18 songs and a cast of 40, struggled to find solid ground.

Still, Mikey Hart in the titular role was a delight. The Australian actor exuded so much charisma on stage, it was infectious. He had the right mix of enigma and mischief to bring his character to life, and no one can deny his singing. More than that, the chemistry he shared with the cast was amazing. He looked at ease with the Malaysian cast and, when required, let the others shine.

Siena Elchaar, 15, as the impish Hajji, was another captivating talent to watch. She commanded the stage and mesmerised the audience. Even the elaborate set was unable to drown the little actor, who previously played Annie in Annie, the Musical.

But imagine a ship, bracing itself against a storm. The captain and crew are prepared for violent winds and deadly waves. But at the height of it all, nothing happens.

In Sinbad, the evil vizier could've been defeated by any man on the street. Yes, the fate of a town and its people were threatened, and someone almost killed themself, but these elements weren't terribly compelling. And there wasn't much of Sinbad on stage either. For a musical named after him, he had less stage time than some of the supporting cast.

Thankfully, the stage set and some catchy tunes made this journey smoother.

> "Sinbad, the Musical" will run at KL Performing Arts Centre, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, KL until April 27, before heading to Penang PAC from May 2-11. Tickets are RM80 to RM150, with special rates for seniors, students, the disabled and The Actors Studio cardholders. Visit www.sinbadthemusical.com, www.theactorsstudio.com.my, www.klpac.org or call (03) 4047 9000 for details.

'Hamlet' deconstructed by Shakespeare Demystified

Posted: 21 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

A group of Shakespeare enthusiasts ponder, preach and parody Hamlet.

They have rubbed shoulders with the Merry Wives of Windsor, traded tales with The Merchant of Venice, and ruled Rome with Julius Caesar. Now, Shakespeare Demystified is taking on Hamlet, the play with the troubled son of a dead king who has the famous "to be or not to be" soliloquy to his name. Presented as a performance-lecture, the actors will take on selected scenes from the play, then take them apart, in easy bite-sizes.

"Our previous three productions were more plot-driven. We used narration as a chronological glue to tie one scene with another. This time, we focus more on the analyses of themes and characters," says Lim Kien Lee (he co-directs with Qahar Aqilah), who takes on several scenes in Hamlet.

The team had a run in Penang prior to its staging in KL, and received enthusiastic reviews. Kien Lee pointed out that Shakespeare's syntax poses a challenge to many of today's actors and audiences. "Sometimes it sounds like Yoda-speak," he said.

But he added that the works are not meant to be read as literature alone – which is often the case – but they are meant to be performed and listened to. "When dealing with the text, we must bear in mind that the words and phrases Shakespeare uses are not only for conveying the meaning, but their sounds and rhythms play an important part in charting the character's internal journey."

Marina Tan (left) and Lim Kien Lee in Shakespeare Demystified's Hamlet, a performance-lecture that presents selected scenes from the play followed by an analysis of the themes and characters.

Marina Tan and Lim Kien Lee in Shakespeare Demystified's 'Hamlet'.

It's stuff like this – and so much more – that the five actors (Kien Lee, Lim Soon Heng, Anne James, Marina Tan, David H Lim) take on with gusto. The lecture serves to provide the contexts of the play and scenes, as well as the themes. Although this isn't Hamlet the play in its entirety, the performance-lecture aims to provide a foundation for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare, and Hamlet in particular.

"The more I engage with Shakespeare's language, the more I am convinced that his writing can be a model for our students," said Soon Heng. "He writes with concreteness that makes the intangible palpable. We can breathe in the described scents and taste the described flavours. We can run our fingers over the textures of his words; we see in our mind's eye the pictures painted with words; we hear the musicality of his language as sibilants hiss out disapproval or when hard consonants clash and clank out a cacophony."

Reminiscing that he fell in love with the play ever since he read it for the first time when he was 12, Soon Heng shared, "I was hooked. Not to say that I understood it then, but that ("to be or not to be") soliloquy sucked me in and I memorised it and kept it in my 12-year-old heart."

This soliloquy doesn't move the plot; it's a philosophical contemplation of a young man dealing with something of great weight in his life. "The thought that his father was murdered by his uncle who is now married to his mother. This calls for him to act ... but what are the consequences?" questioned Soon Heng.

While it's not difficult to imagine him being quite at home on stage while feigning madness and contemplating suicide, he's quick to point out that he has much to live up to. "This is a tough soliloquy (to perform) because so many people know it, and consequently have their own interpretation of how it is to be done. So the actor on stage is dealing with expectations."

It certainly doesn't take any pressure off the actors, knowing that there are more than 50 films based on Shakespeare's Hamlet and many famous actors who have played this character. But they take it in stride. As Kien Lee added, "I feel a great weight playing Hamlet because of the line of great actors in history that have tackled this role. It is hard to find something that has not been done before. For me it is like having top-notch advice from various masters, but in the end I have to pick what works and resonates with me."

"Besides, what's there to not like about this well-written play?" he asked. "It is a ghost story, a revenge story, there are lies, deceptions, double-crosses, a swordfight. There are deaths by the sword, deaths by poison, death by water."

Oh, the drama.

> "Hamlet" is on at KLPAC, Sentul Park, Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, KL, April 23-26, 8.30pm, with 3pm matinees on April 26 and 27. Call (03) 4047 9000 or visit www.klpac.org and www.facebook.com/ShakespeareDemystified for details. Tickets are RM30.

Sitar star Kumar Karthigesu wants music fans on his string voyage

Posted: 21 Apr 2014 09:00 AM PDT

Pravaasa by the Temple of Fine Arts is a concept show by award-winning musician Kumar Karthigesu that will take listeners on a sitar journey.

Thanks to the late Indian sitar maestro Ravi Shankar who connected the world to classical Indian music, the beloved string instrument has traversed many continents and continues to play a prominent role in the field of fusion music. In a celebration of the instrument, sitar player/academic Kumar Karthigesu and friends will present a one-night performance called Pravaasa – A Sitar's Journey at the Temple of Fine Arts (TFA) in KL on April 27.

It tells the story of the sitar from its ancient existence in the form of the majestic rudra veena, created by Lord Shiva, to its present, lithe form. Pravaasa, which means migration in Sanskrit, also chronicles the story of a musician with traditional and orthodox roots, and how he has been influenced by Malaysia's rich, cultural, social and musical heritages.

Kumar will collaborate with 12 musicians, all of whom he has worked with previously. The musicians, utilising a wide range of instruments, are Prakash Kandasamy (tabla), Ravindra Parchure (dhrupad vocals), Praashekh Borkar (sarod), Achyutan Sashidaran Nair (violin), Sivabalan Shanmuga Sundram (mridangam), Hariraam Tingyuan Lam (gambus), Ng Siu Yee (Chinese drums), Kamrul Bahri Hussein (gendang and rebana), Jamie Wilson (steel/nylon guitar), Eric Li (jazz piano), Badar Ben Taleb (djembe/cajon) and Surjit Singh (harmonium).

"I prefer to call it a concept show, not fusion," says Kumar in a recent interview. "Back in those days, the sitar was used to accompany dhrupad singing (a vocal genre in Hindustani classical music) and only later, became a solo instrument."

The first segment will feature north Indian music while the second segment will showcase the sitar's diversity alongside other carnatic (classical south Indian music) instruments. The carnatic segment will feature the song Nagumomu Kanaleni in Abheri raga, a popular composition by prolific composer Tyagaraja.

Other musicians in the show include Achyutan Sashidaran Nair (violin), Hariraam Tingyuan Lam (gambus) and Kamrul Bahri Hussein.

Deasoned players in the show include Achyutan Sashidaran Nair (violin), Hariraam Tingyuan Lam (gambus) and Kamrul Bahri Hussein.

A raga, as Shankar once explained to his illustrious fans in the West, is "a scientific, precise, subtle and aesthetic melodic form with its own peculiar ascending and descending movement consisting of either a full seven-note octave, or a series of six or five notes in a rising or falling structure called the Arohana and Avarohana. It is the subtle difference in the order of notes, an omission of a dissonant note, an emphasis on a particular note, the slide from one note to the other ... that demarcates one raga from the other."

Then, the sitar continues to south Asia where it meets up with the likes of the gambus, gendang and rebana, before finally travelling west. "Eric (Li), Jamie (Wilson) and me have played in AkashA so we'll be improvising a couple of the tunes from the group. Eventually, the sitar makes friends with other instruments from all over the world and the music becomes one," says Kumar, who is also a sitar lecturer at TFA.

Based in Malaysia, AkashA is a multi-ethnic fusion act, that has built a name for itself in the music festival circuit abroad. But back to Pravaasa – A Sitar's Journey, the finale will see the musicians coming together in a medley – the sitar shows its versatility by blending with Latin music, jazz, blues and a bit of gypsy music. Each musician will also showcase his individual skills here.

"The reasons for the show is simple," says Kumar. "It is who I am and it is my journey thus far. I studied the orthodox form of the sitar in India and started teaching after I returned home. Inevitably, I got to meet so many other musicians and have done collaborations. This is what I've discovered so far and I'm trying to put it all together."

Since the group comprises independent, professional musicians, finding time to rehearse together was virtually impossible. Instead, Kumar recorded the pieces and distributed the basic tracks to them to listen. Improvisation looks set for a major role this show.

"This is the first time I'm working with so many musicians. I chose this group because we're all friends and have a good energy level. Pravaasa is also a story about friendship – of the all-pervading beauty that exists in all forms of music, breaking through religious and racial divides. Our natural inclination is towards unity and acceptance."

The audience can expect an eye-opening set list from the two-hour show. "We promise not to tire you out!" quipped Kumar before concluding this interview and going back to practice on his sitar.

> "Pravaasa – A Sitar's Journey" will be held at the Shantanand Auditorium, Temple of Fine Arts, KL on April 27. Doors open at 7pm. For invitation and information, call The Temple of Fine Arts at (03) 2274 3709 or e-mail admin@tfa.org.my.

Kredit: www.thestar.com.my

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