By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
King Rama VI, who is often referred to as “The Father of the Thai Stage Play”, was a great actor and stage director who demonstrated his literary talents in prose and poetry and in both Thai and English.
As all Thai school-children know, one of his best-known literary works was “Phra Ruang”.
Originally titled “Khom Dam Din”, the story was written in 1907 then adapted as a dance drama in 1912, this as time as a drama with dialogue under the new title of “Phra Ruang” and staged as a kind of operatic drama in 1924. Now it’s coming back as a musical to mark the centenary of its completion and the coronation of Thailand's King Rama X.
“I wanted to bring this literary work back to life and make it more interesting,” says Anawin Vipasawad, managing director of The Win Organiser and a strong supporter of the King Vajiravudh Memorial Foundation under Royal Patronage.
“Everything starts at zero, with only King Rama VI’s spoken drama in verse and prose. To make it more interesting for the audience, we updated the dialogue using modern language. The scriptwriter has put the words of some interesting poems to music and the musical also features such well-known songs as ‘Thai Ruam Kamlang’, the patriotic number made famous by big band Suntharaporn. Kaiwan Kulavadhanothai, a former member of Fongnam and the Suanplu Chorus, joined the team as composer.
“Phra Ruang isn’t based on historical fact but on fantasy. King Rama VI was inspired to write it when he visited Sukhothai and Uttaradit and heard stories about their legendary heroes.. The King wrote this literary piece to reflect a sense of ideology, patriotism, sacrifice, unity and women’s rights,” he adds.
Indeed, the monarch was known for using his literary works to reflect society and ingeniously convey his ideas about life and decency. With “Phra Ruang”, he was attempting to build a national myth about a legendary leader who battled Khmer rulers and eventually became king. Written as a patriotic poems, it conveyed a nationalistic message and displayed the virtues of Siamese kingship and national unity.
The 26-year-old organiser says that “Phra Ruang The Musical”, which will be performed at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre, from February 22 to March 4, is set in three main locations – Lavo (Lopburi), Cambodia and Sukhothai.
The musical is directed by Napadol Kampinthong and stars Jaron “Top” Sorat as Phra Ruang, Kornkan “Arm” Sutthikoses as Man Puenyao, Panadda Ruangwut as Jan, Arnuttaphol “R” Sirichomsaeng as Phraya Decho, Pacharapon “Wit” Jantieng as Nak Khum, Vivid “Tee” Bavornkiratikajorn as Nak Kaew, and Worachon “Tum” Kaewchinda as Nak Suwan.
“I selected the performers for their personalities, voices and ability to rise up to a challenge. Top Jaron has never performed in a musical. He is suitable for this main character because he looks smart and charming. When he’s dressed in Phra Ruang’s costume, he really looks the part. Arm Kornkan plays Man Puenyao, a role that was originally performed by King Rama VI. At first, I wanted to find someone serious, someone polite with a good background but later decided it didn’t need to be played the same way as King Rama VI performed it,” says Anawin.
“Taking part in the musical has been a real challenge as I have had to learn different aspects of performing – how to act as Phra Ruang and how to sing in a musical,” says Top Jaron.
“I play Nang Jan, Phra Ruang’s mother. She tries to encourage Phra Ruang during his reign as king and when he ordains as a monk,” says singer and actress Panadda Ruangwut.
The cast offered the media a brief foretaste of “Phra Ruang The Musical” during the press conference at Phaya Thai Palace, playing out four of the scenes and performing four of the songs, including “Tai Rom Phra Baramee”, which is sung by Panadda Ruangwut and Arm Kornkan when King Lavo dies and Phra Ruang become the new king. Arnuttaphol, Wit Pacharapon and Tum Worachon sang “Amnaj” reflecting the prosperity of the Khmer Empire while Top Jaron crooned “Kusalobai”, which he performs in the scene where Phra Ruang is planning to lead the Lavo people through the crisis. The last song was “Patiharn” performed by Arm Kornkan, which comes in the scene where the Lavo people declare their wish to become independent.
“We have written and arranged the songs with international musical instruments and added in a few traditional Thai sounds,” says Anawin, who picked Thossapol Kerdkaew, one of young designers at the 2015 edition of Elle Fashion Week 2015, to take charge of the costumes.
“Phra Ruang is a kind of fantasy, so I would like the audience to use their imagination.”
Tale of leadership
- “Phra Ruang The Musical” will be performed at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre at the Esplanade Ratchadaphisek from February 22 to March 4.
- Tickets cost from Bt1,000 to Bt3,500 at Thai Ticket Major counters and online at www.ThaiTicketMajor.com.
- Part of the proceeds will go to the King Vajiravudh Memorial Foundation under Royal Patronage.