A fresh musical take on the Bard’s sonnets

The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac)KUALA LUMPUR: The Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (KLPac) will present a new musical take on Shakespeare’s sonnets this month, featuring local indie singer-songwriters as well as poetry and spoken-word sensations.

“This will be a glimpse of the man’s genius, but with a twist,” production director and Actors Studio artistic director Joe Hasham told reporters at the production’s media preview recently.

“Even if you’re not a fan of the original sonnets, come for the music. We’re sneaking the original sonnets in between.”

The chosen sonnets, which are veritable commentaries on life, love and, yes, politics, will be reinterpreted into songs.

The production is part of The Actors’ Studio Seni Teater Rakyat’s “Shakespeare 400” season, which has to date sold out productions back to back.

A “festival version” of the production will be presented during the Yayasan Sime Darby Arts Festival on August 20 and 21. Admission is free. Tickets for the complete version, running from August 25 to 28, are priced at between RM35 and RM45.

Besides the best-known Sonnet 18 (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), which will receive much love in the production with rousing choruses from all performers, the other sonnets being featured include Sonnet 138, a commentary on love’s blindness to untruths, and Sonnet 71, a call for lovers to forget loss.

Each sonnet will feature the individual talents of all songwriters, with each songwriter giving it equal time.

The singer-songwriters include Endee Ahmad, sister duo Lydia and Lynell Tong, Ian Chow, Hannan Azlan and Bow Martin.

Endee Ahmad leads Malaysian singer-songwriter movement Feel Tu Penting (FTP), which has organised showcases throughout the Klang Valley and musical tours in Japan and Indonesia. His songwriting is mainly inspired by the struggles of homeless people and the problem of racism.

His interpretation of Shakespeare, with guitar accompaniment, is sung fully in Malay.

Lydia and Lynell Tong mix work and play. Lydia is a lawyer by day and a singer by night. Lynell is a medical student at Perdana University who has only recently started composing songs but has won awards at Malaysian songwriter competition Short+Sweet Song in 2015.

Ian Chow is an established name in the Malaysian music scene, having released two albums in the past decade, the first being “He Says, She Says”, a collaboration with fellow singer-songwriter Tracy Wong, and the second being his debut solo “Issues#01”.

Hannan Azlan is a rising name in the Southeast Asian comedy circuit, having presented her own brand of ukulele-based musical comedy at Comedy HK and TakeOut Comedy Club in Hong Kong, at the Malaysian festival Urbanscapes, on Malaysian comedy show KOMEDIRI, at the Singapore Comedy Fringe Festival and in theatrethreesixty’s bilingual play “How I Learnt To Accept Reality By Sleeping Through It (ANAK/BENIH)”.

Bow Martin is an Australian composer, musician and teacher who has been involved in a diverse variety of productions such as The Pirates of Penzance, Salad Days, Run For Your Wife, and The Jungle Book, as well as choral works such as Carl Orff’s cantata Carmina Burana, Handel’s Messiah, and David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus.

The only musician in the bunch who will not be singing is Malaysian cellist Joey Teoh. Also an established name in the local music scene, the classically-trained cellist has played in various orchestras in Malaysia, Thailand, and Taiwan. He has shared stages with artistes such as Siti Nurhaliza, Faizal Tahir, and Jaclyn Victor.

As for the actors, Christina Orow Shauki takes point as the group’s veteran, having admittedly taken “one matronly sister-widow-mother role after another” after her debut in television. She now regularly does voice-over gigs and produces live improvisational comedy show Actorlympics. Her theatrical portfolio most recently includes Marble Hearts and Shakespeare’s Women.

Ho Lee Ching is currently the Actor-in-Residence at the Actors Studio as well as co-coordinator and facilitator of T4YP, KLPac’s youth’s theatre programme. Ho has been nominated in the 13th BOH Cameronian Awards for her multiple characters in “Sisa-Sisa” in 2015. Her other works include “Dato’ Seri” in 2016, “The Taste of Water” and “Three Doors” in 2015.

Rosheen Fatima has an extensive history in the performing arts scene, having stage-managed a slew of productions such as David Lim’s “This Cannot, That Cannot” in 2011 and Joe Hasham’s “The Compleat Wrks of Wllm Shkspr” in 2012. She co-produced KLPac’s Open Day 2010, Layan Fest 2013 and the YSDAF Festival in 2014. She has acted in many productions, including Govin Ruben’s “Bas Sekolah” and Chris Ling’s “At Home At The Zoo” in 2014 and Joe Hasham’s “The Taste Of Water” in 2015.

Sheena Baharudin is the group’s resident spoken-word artist. Besides being a poet, educator, lifestyle writer, and events curator, she is the founder of local performing arts event “Numinous” and has performed at various events such as the Melaka Arts Festival, Urbanscapes, Incitement, Georgetown Literary Fest, and Lit Up Fest in Singapore. Her collection of poems, “Rhymes For Mending Hearts”, was published in 2013 and has been translated into French and Spanish.