Review: The Phantom Of The Opera Live In Kuala Lumpur 2019 @ Istana Budaya, KL

It’s not often that we get an international theater production to play in Malaysia, so I was understandably excited when I got two tickets to watch The Phantom of the Opera live at Istana Budaya, Kuala Lumpur. The musical is based on the book by French writer Gaston Leroux, with music by world-renowned composer Andrew Lloyd Webber.

20190628_195700

The Ed and I got there early to beat Friday evening traffic and had dinner at Istana Budaya’s cafeteria, which is open til late on show nights. The lobby had been spruced up to fit the Phantom of the Opera theme, the central piece being a staircase with the Phantom’s iconic mask projected onto the steps. There was a long line queuing up to take photos so we gave that a skip. There was also a booth selling Phantom merchandise, although tbh these were overpriced.

Note: Do NOT; I repeat, DO NOT buy any snacks or drinks from the booth next to the entrance. They don’t tell you that you’re actually NOT ALLOWED to bring any food or drinks into the theater, so you’ll have to leave all of that at the entrance. They should at least put up a sign; but I guess they’re just happy to take your money.

20190628_202222

You are not allowed to take photos once the lights have dimmed, even if the show hasn’t started – we learnt this from the overzealous usher (unfortunately for us she was assigned to our section). We were also not allowed to scoot over a few seats despite those seats being empty, as she loudly and rudely told us to “RETURN TO YOUR SEATS”.

Once the music came on and the curtains were unfurled, though, it was a magical show from start to finish.

Photo via Base Entertainment

SYNOPSIS 

Young soprano Christine Daee gets her big break when Firmin and Andre, the new owners of the theatre, decide to cast her for the main role in a play to replace Carlotta, the resident primadonna. During Christine’s debut, her childhood friend Vicomte Raoul recognises her and delightedly asks her out backstage. Christine is torn, and as her friend Meg Giry comes to visit, Christine shares about how she owes her success to her ‘angel of music’, who has been teaching her behind the scenes. After Christine is left alone, the jealous Phantom appears in the mirror, leading her down to his secret lair underneath the opera house. As he composes music on his organ, a curious Christine rips his mask off and is horrified by his terribly disfigured face and runs off in fear. Initially furious, the Phantom doubles over in anguish, stating that he just wants to be loved. Christine takes pity on him and returns the mask, after which he escorts her back above ground.

The Phantom’s obsession with Christine escalates, and he makes more demands – to have Christine replace Carlotta in an upcoming show, for the new owners to keep Box 5 empty for him, and that Raoul stop seeing Christine – or else. Of course, they ignore this, to devastating consequences; as Carlotta’s voice becomes that of a toad during the show, and the stagehand, Joseph Buquet, is hanged from the catwalk. Christine escapes to the roof with Raoul and tells him the entire story, to which he promises to protect her. Unbeknownst to them, the Phantom has overheard everything and now vows vengeance for this ‘betrayal’.

Six months later, the Phantom appears at a Masquerade, announcing that he has written a new opera, and demands that Christine takes the lead role. Raoul wants to spring a trap to catch him, but Christine refuses, torn between her love for him and her awe for her teacher. Eventually, she takes up the lead role and in a scene, realises that the Phantom himself has come onto the stage to which she rips off his mask, exposing his face to the horrified public. He drags her down to his lair, pursued by Raoul and armed policemen. There, he catches Raoul in a noose and demands that Christine marry him or watch her lover die. Christine takes pity on his wretched existence and kisses him, showing him compassion for the very first time in his life.

The Phantom realizes that he cannot win Christine by force and sets them both free. The pair escape, and as the mob arrives in the chamber, the Phantom has disappeared, leaving only his mask.

VERDICT 

Photo by Base Entertainment

With a 37-strong cast, a 15-piece live orchestra and over 200 elaborate costumes and set pieces, the Phantom of the Opera is a truly wonderful spectacle not to be missed. I was blown away by the quality of the performances, especially from heroine Christine and the Phantom, who portrayed the melancholic, tortured soul of the character to great effect.

Not only was the singing and music excellent (although the lyrics were hard to discern at times as it usually is with opera), the costumes and sets were dazzling and very well executed. I loved how the chandelier soared up to the roof from the stage in the opening act, and the Masquerade scene, where the theatre members were dancing in full regalia on a wide sweeping staircase, was equally enchanting. Another great scene was the part where the Phantom brings Christine to his subterranean lair, and the boat ‘glided’ on the ‘water’ – achieved through clever use of props and stage lighting. Of course, you get to enjoy all the classics, such as the original Phantom of the Opera theme, All I Ask of You, Think of Me and The Music of the Night.

The Phantom of the Opera live in Kuala Lumpur did not disappoint, and is well worth the price for fans of opera and theatre. The Ed, who has watched the original 20 years ago at West End, said it was comparable to the quality of that show – so it’s definitely world class! They’re running until July 7, so there is still time to catch the show. Ticket bookings can be made at ticketcharge.com. 

Review: The Greatest Showman + Three Of My Favourite Songs From The Movie

Disclaimer: I am not a professional movie critic.

I feel like I have to say this coz there are just so many pretentious ‘reviews’ out there by critics so eager to show off their powerful vocab, they’re literally tripping over themselves to stuff words like ‘iconoclast’ and ‘flimflam’ into their articles. All style, and no substance.

Kind of like The Greatest Showman. 

Loosely based on the life of P.T Barnum, the movie follows Barnum (Hugh Jackman) and his meteoric rise from poor tailor’s boy into one of America’s most well-known personalities in 19th-century showbiz. The film starts off with young Barnum and childhood sweetheart Charity (Michelle Williams), the daughter of a wealthy family. Separated by class and circumstance, they meet again as adults and get married. The young newlyweds move into a small apartment, with Barnum working as a clerk for a shipping freight company. The couple have two beautiful daughters and are content, but Barnum dreams for more.

After being laid off by the company, Barnum swindles a loan out of the bank and opens a museum, which he fills with wax figures and curiosities. Business was poor, until an idea from his daughter prompted Barnum to recruit, for lack of a better word, ‘freaks’ for his show. Attendance soared, but although Barnum now had riches, he still craved more – acceptance by high society, who still viewed him as nothing more than a circus showman.

In what must be the mother of all cliche plots, he meets Swedish opera singer Jenny Lind – and in his quest to make her the next big thing, neglects his family and the crew who helped build his empire. After failing to see that Lind was falling for him, he spurns her feelings, prompting the singer to cancel her tour and leave Barnum in debt. To make matters worse, the scandal between the two is published in a newspaper, the circus burns down, and Charity has had enough of her husband’s bullshit, taking the girls with her to her parents’ place.

Of course, he then realises that he has lost sight of who he is, and that real happiness was there in front of him all along. He picks himself up, rebuilds the circus, and everyone lived happily ever after.

Verdict:

The Greatest Showman is exactly like its subject matter. You enter a circus tent to be wowed for several hours by song, dance and performances. The film delivers that, and nothing more. Its attempts to convey messages of empowerment or acceptance are flimsy, and the movie misses numerous chances to expand the plot into a more meaningful one. The cast of ‘freaks’ are there to tell Barnum’s show, and glorify his existence as their saviour. At the end of the day, the audience never really finds out who they are. Who is the Dogboy? Why is the Tattooed man covered in tattoos? Even characters with more screen time, like the bearded lady Lettie, are passed off as props to telling Barnum’s ‘grand’ story. The only other story arc, that of the love story between Zac Efron’s Philip Carlyle and Zendaya’s trapeze artist Anne Wheeler, is cheesy and predictable.

That being said, the acting is solid, especially on the part of Hugh Jackman. Man is truly the greatest showman, captivating the audience in every frame, as he prances and sings his way across the stage. Performances by the rest of the cast is stellar as well, and the set is beautifully designed. The best part of the film, however, is the music and choreography. Three songs, in particular, have captivated me, and I’ve been humming them for several days lol. If you view/listen to them separate from the film, the message behind them is positive and uplifting. Here they are, in no particular order:

“This Is Me”

When Barnum’s crew gets the door slammed in their faces by the boss who was supposed to be looking out for them, they come to a realisation that to him and everyone else, they will always be ‘freaks’. Lettie the bearded lady has had enough of it and leads the group outside, bravely putting on a show despite the booing and jeering, before they finish up on stage. It’s a splendid ‘fuck you’ statement.

“Never Enough” 

A powerful and emotional performance by Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Jenny Lind. She did the lip syncing so well that I didn’t realise it was a dubbed song, originally sang by Loren Allred (of The Voice fame). To me, the song embodied the protagonist, who was never satisfied with what he had, and was always craving for more. Also, the look Jackman gives her when she’s ‘singing’ is Oscar-worthy.

“Rewrite the Stars” 

Typical song about star-crossed lovers – one idealistic, the other reminding him of reality. It’s very poppy and kitsch but gahddamn why is it so catchy

TGS is fun to watch, and has good songs. But is it a good movie? I wouldn’t lump it in the same category as what constitutes good movies in my book. It is a nice watch nonetheless, and keeps you entertained for the duration of the movie.

So sit back, relax and just enjoy the show.

Score: 6/10 

 

Love Story the Musical : Live in KL @ the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre

 

Hey guys! So I was recently invited to the opening night of Love Story: The Musical, happening from now til 18 June at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre. Not my first time at a musical, but I thought it’d be a good idea to bring B along since he’s never been to one before! 🙂 I’ve also never been to KLPAC, even though I know it’s like THE place for the performing arts in Malaysia.

B and I got to the place early. Located in Sentul within a gated and guarded park area, the centre was opened in 2005 – but the building itself has impressive history dating back to the 1800s, formerly housing a wood-crafting workshop, a sawmill, a railway depot and workshop. At the end of WWII it was bombed but rebuilt and made into a golf clubhouse before being abandoned in the 1990s.Today, the remodeled building houses glass windows on the front.

Entering the spacious, high-ceilinged interior, we were greeted by an open space with stairs on the right leading up to the second floor. Posters of plays, dance performances and music shows were plastered on the pillars, and at the back was a mini library with a space for ongoing art exhibitions. Under the staircase area was a chic cafe called Espressolab, where B and I had some drinks since the show wasn’t due to start in an hour.

Posters of ongoing and upcoming shows on the notice board.

Show that we watched that night!

I’m sure everyone has either seen or heard of this movie from 1970, based on the acclaimed novel by Erich Segal. Even if you haven’t, you would know the popular song “Where Do I Begin”, the film’s instrumental theme (which also seemed to be a favourite tune of music boxes lol). The story was then adapted into a musical in 2010, with the script written by Stephen Clark and music by Howard Goodall. It enjoyed successful runs in UK and the US, and now, luckily for us, has been brought to Malaysia for the very first time!

View from the staircase.

Mini library with books donated from the public.


At 8.30PM, we entered the theatre, which looked like an auditorium with colourful seats. There was a small screen at the top which ran subtitles.

As photography wasn’t allowed during the show, I only took two photos of the before and during the intermission.

The play tells of a rich, spoiled boy, Oliver Barrett, and poor music student Jennifer Cavilleri, whose paths cross in the most unlikely way. They eventually marry against Oliver’s family’s wishes, and Jennifer gives up her lifelong dream of a scholarship in Paris in order to put Oliver through law school. He eventually graduates, lands himself a job and the happy couple move to New York to start their new life together. But as usual, fate has other plans…

(SPOILER) As far as it goes, it was a great play and I enjoyed it, although personally I don’t like watching sad plays or movies :/

The actors were good at conveying their emotions, especially Joshua Gui, the lead actor who plays Oliver Barrett, and Michelle Tan, who plays Jennifer Cavelleri. Both had awesome stamina; having to run around the stage, dance, sing and also convey emotion is no mean feat. I really admire the production crew and the speed in which they changed the sets around – basically after every scene, they had to rush out and spin/move the huge sets around and have them in place within seconds. The songs were also really great with nice melodies and meaningful lyrics, from the upbeat ‘Pasta’ and ‘Summer’s Day‘ to the haunting What Can You Say. 

The play is produced by Dama Asia, which has a long history of staging theatrical shows and musicals in Malaysia.

Showtimes:

  • 16 June – 8.30PM
  • 17 June – 3PM & 8.30PM
  • 18 June – 3PM

Ticket prices start from RM65 on Friday evening and Saturday Matinee, and RM85 for Saturday evening and Sunday Matinee.

More info on http://www.dama.asia, or call 03-4047 9000 (KLPAC) / 03 7880 7999 (Ticketpro).

Mud the Musical: The Story of Kuala Lumpur

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I went for the Escape the Fate concert in KL? Well, I was stuck in evening traffic in front of the old Panggung Bandaraya for a good half an hour, so there was plenty of time to look at the big MUD The Musical: The Story of Kuala Lumpur signs they had plastered all over the building. Turns out, the place houses the longest running musical in KL, which has been on for the past two years! How the actors don’t go crazy, singing the same songs every day, is beyond me. 😀

20161113_144539-tile

Evelyn and I went to check it out over the weekend. The theatre is just next to the Sultan Abdul Samad Building facing Merdeka Square. Even if you’re not coming here for the musical, the building is a nice place to take photos. Opened in 1901 (making it well over a hundred years old!), its Mughal-inspired look features a unique carved facade, with brown bricks, white framed windows and a copper dome. Before it was converted into a performing arts centre, it was the first official administration office for the Kuala Lumpur Sanitary Board. 

20161113_144904-tile

The inside retains a European-colonial heritage, from the opulent chandelier to marble tiled floors ,  but with a distinctly local flavour. The stained glass windows, for example, have figures of Malay and Indian characters rather than the usual angels or saints. 
20161113_144928-tile 20161113_144959-tile

Tickets are priced at RM50 for Malaysians, and RM80 for foreigners.

The theater is big and can easily seat up to 200 people. Sadly, during our visit, there were only 11 people .__.

Did a short video. Unlike other musicals, which prohibit photography and videography, they encourage it here so feel free to snap and take lots of pictures and vids! 🙂 (PS: 2021 edit: Apparently things have changed – my video on Youtube got a copyright strike from Enfiniti, the company that owns the production. Kind of a bummer that they said it was okay to film and upload, but then changed their policy later. Would have been nice to receive a message coz I would have taken it down, instead of getting a copyright strike immediately.) 

20161113_150622-tile

The story is set in the 1880s, when Kuala Lumpur was nothing more than a small village. If you’re wondering about the title Mud, that’s because KL stands for ‘muddy confluence’ in Malay, being the central point where two rivers – Sungai Gombak and Sungai Klang – converge together. Immigrant populations from all over Asia came with the promise of tin riches, and this is reflected in the diverse cast of characters.

20161113_151620-tile

Mamat, Meng and Muthiah are the three central characters and childhood friends who came to KL in search of a better life. Through their tale, the audience is introduced to a host of other personalities, each with their own enduring stories. Mamat, newly married and expecting his first child, is the mail boy for the British administration, while Meng and Muthiah, who recently arrived from their villages, are searching for jobs. Muthiah, who was promised a job building the railway, searches in vain for ‘relatives’ whom he has paid a price for passage to KL.

20161113_152230-tile

Meng, on the other hand, lands a job at the Ampang tin mine, run by a wealthy Chinese tycoon. But work is hard and troubles are afoot. The mines are dangerous, and they are raided often by rival factions as the Chinese triads in KL fight for power and influence.

20161113_152951-tile

Meng and Mamat meet up again at the marketplace, where they find a disheveled looking Muthiah, adamant that his relatives will come to his rescue. Unable to face his friends, he runs away. Leaving him to cool his heels, Meng and Mamat adjourn to the village to celebrate the birth of Mamat’s child.

20161113_153524-tile

The ‘kenduri’ scene, where all the characters gather for the celebration, gets points for audience interaction 🙂 They roped Evelyn and another member onto stage to ‘help’ out – Evelyn was given the task of stirring the communal wok 😀

20161113_154317-tile

Meanwhile, Muthiah finds solace at a nearby temple. The backdrop, which first showed a stone statue of a goddess, eventually transformed into a real person and Muthiah starts dancing, seeking for spiritual guidance. This was one of my favourite parts of the show. Contemporary dance is difficult, but the actor who played Muthiah delivered it extremely well – fluid and full of expression. One could feel the character’s hopelessness and desperation in every movement.

20161113_154826-tile

Tragedy strikes with The Great Fire of KL in 1881, where the entire town and its wooden houses was razed to the ground.

20161113_154905-tile

Despondent villagers, resigned to their fate that they have lost their homes and belongings, the life they tried so hard to build.

20161113_155334-tile

As if that wasn’t enough, later that same year, torrential rains caused a massive flooding in KL, resulting in more damage to property and crops.

The flooding scene (which I, unfortunately, didn’t manage to capture on video!) had a huge ‘wave’ crashing down onto the audience members – made from a large cloth tapestry that ran over the seats from one end of the hall to another. The effect was really good!

20161113_160244-tile

At their wits end, the villagers almost pack up and leave… but of course, if they had, we wouldn’t have KL today, would we? 🙂 Persevering, they vow to continue rebuilding the town they have come to call home.

Credited with improving Kuala Lumpur is the British Resident, Frank Swettenham (Malaysia/then Malaya was under British rule, so the different states had an assigned BR, who oversaw stuff). After the flood and fire, he began the clean up of the streets, and stipulated that buildings should be made from brick and tile to make them less flammable. He also ordered wider streets to be built. This programme took about five years. The rich Chinese tycoon, Kapitan Yap Ah Loy, set up a brick industry to help rebuild KL, and the buildings were subsequently replaced with proper brick and tiles, but with Chinese carpentry and influences. This is why you’ll only find the eclectic ‘colonial shophouse’ architecture in Malaysia and Singapore.

15050155_10154321075204864_2110566827_n

The final scene had the cast performing a very uplifting number dubbed Tomorrow Begins Today – dressed in costumes from all the different ethnic groups in Malaysia. They even had all of us go up on stage and dance the final number, before we took a group picture! 🙂

It was truly a fun and eye-opening experience, and I’m glad I went to check MUD out. The cast is excellent: from the way they perform, and how much heart and soul they put into it, you’d never guess this was probably their 502837 time performing. 🙂 The songs are good, although at times ,the dialogue and the Malaysian accent shines through, so some parts may be difficult to understand for foreign audiences not used to our local slang.

The props are also well done, like the cardboard ‘kampung house’ during the Kenduri scene, the umbrellas during the flooding scene, etc. Costumes are elaborately done and accurate.

It’s pretty sad that more people didn’t turn up for the show,despite it being a weekend. I bet there are some days where they only had one or two audience members (!) Such talent and quality should not be wasted. They really should look into better marketing, because prior to stumbling on the site while driving in KL, I had never heard of Mud KL.

The show runs twice daily at 3PM and 8.30PM. More info at mudkl.com

MUD KL : The Story of Kuala Lumpur

Panggung Bandaraya, Jalan Raja, Dataran Merdeka, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

Phone: +603 2602 3335

Getting There 

By LRT: via Ampang or Kelana Jaya LRT line. Get off at Masjid Jamek station. The theatre is a 5min walk away.

Hop On Hop Off: Stop 17 at Dataran Merdeka

Driving: Parking at Dataran Merdeka Underground.