By PAWIT MAHASARINAND
THE NEW YEAR gets off to a good start with the launch of new theatre company Bangkok Studio 41. The brainchild of young producer and director Chavatvit Muangkeo, it takes its name from his cosy studio and restaurant on Rama IX Soi 41.
Making good on his premise that “Entertainment in Bangkok can be sophisticated and funky at the same time”, Chavatvit is staging a new musical adaptation of national artist Krissana Asoksin’s novel “Mia Luang” – “The Wife” in English – on which he’s been working diligently with his musical loving friends for the past two years.
“I was finishing my master’s degree in India when my former classmate Malinda Pamornsuwan contacted me about this project,” says Kiattipoom Nantanukul, musical writer, composer, self-confessed musical enthusiast and one of Chavatvit’s collaborators.
“She had turned the 800-plus page novel into a musical book and Chavatvit was already on board as the director. And so I further worked on the book and asked other lyricists and composers to come on board. First staged in October 2013, it was a graduation project for a group of theatre students at Suan Sunandha Rajabhat University. We were determined that given the amount of effort we had put in, this wasn’t going to be simply a university production. Even then, we were challenging the student actors with the sophistication of the music and lyrics. We certainly had no intention of dumbing it down because it’s a school work.”
“After discussions with Chavatvit and Malinda, we agreed that this was not going to be staged in the all-too-familiar proscenium stage configuration. In short, it wouldn’t be fun. So we did it in a traverse stage set up with two groups of audience members directly facing each other. And that decision strongly affected the narrative of my musical book,” he explains.
“We got many positive comments, most memorably from the national artist herself.
Noting that we had managed to retain the heart of the story while being concise, she was very open-minded to our interpretation. We had to leave out many characters for this stage adaptation – for example, we kept only one male character Anirut, who, despite his limited stage time, caused a lot of trouble for others – and really focused on the protagonist Wikanda, the other women who came into her life and what they did to one another.”
And in comparison with many TV soap adaptations, he notes, “The audience, without judging who’s right or wrong, sees there’s more to the story than the fights between Anirut’s women.”
After the first production, the creative team kept working on “The Wife”, adding some new songs, cutting others and inviting some cast members to try them out to see how they worked. A Korean expat music director has also come onboard and, Kiattipoom notes, his limited command of Thai has been a plus for the creative process as he can listen to the music and lyrics from a fresh new perspective.
Having frequented musical play productions in New York for many years as well as taken musical book writing and composition classes at New York University, he also notes that most Off-Broadway and Off-Off-Broadway works are traditionally not staged in proscenium settings.
“The audience is closer to the stage action, hearing the real voices of the actors who’re not on microphones, and the director can do much more with his staging. In Thailand, where the number of musical theatre fans keeps growing, I think the audience needs a new experience and so for this professional production, we’ll do it in an arena stage. With about 300 audience members in the theatre, we’re taking this as something like an Off-Broadway production with a piano and a violin and some percussion.”
Kanda “Net” Witthayanuparpyuenyong, highly commended for her title roles in “Miss Saigon” and “Cixi Taihou”, takes the female lead. Another magnet is Nansinee “Nooknick AF6” Namwong, as On In.
And unusually for a musical, “The Wife” will have English surtitles for all dialogue and lyrics, making sure that expat audiences can also get into the vibe of Thailand’s blossoming musical theatre scene.
MISTRESSES AND SONG
- “The Wife: A New Musical” runs from January 21 to 23 and January 28 to 30 at 7.30 nightly and 2pm on Saturdays at the Sodsai Pantoomkomol Centre for Dramatic Arts. It’s in Thai with English surtitles. The venue is on Henri Dunant Road, a 10-minute walk from BTS Siam, Exit 6.
- Tickets are Bt800 (Bt600 for four or more; Bt300 for students). Call (094) 931 3434 or visit www.BangkokStudio41.com.