PETALING JAYA: More than just gifts under a tree, Christmas is synonymous with a classic story: a young woman named Mary falls pregnant through divine means; shepherds in a field encounter an angel bearing good news; and three men travel from afar to witness a heavenly promise fulfilled.
Next month, local theatre company theatrethreesixty presents its take on this story with the 12th-anniversary staging of the award-winning musical production “Follow the Light” by local composer Nick Choo.
With the tagline “there’s MORE to this story”, the show aims to highlight the human emotions and relationships behind this timeless tale. How did Mary react to finding herself pregnant? Did Joseph doubt his betrothed? What compelled the wise men to travel the distance?
All these and more are masterfully told through Choo’s creative compositions – more than 20 of them!
Choo is the recipient of the inaugural Mercedes-Benz Malaysia Creative Excellence Award for his previous participation in Short+Sweet Musical Malaysia. He is also a BOH Cameronian Arts Awards winner and multiple nominee, as well as the book writer for the musical.
“One of the ways I make the various characters distinct is to give them individual music styles. For example, most of the songs by the shepherds are very rock-driven, while the wise men, whom I imagined to be very slick, will be belting out hip-hop and R&B tunes,” Choo, 42, told FMT.
He was only 16 when he first composed one of the songs, “Be it Unto Me”. The beautiful ballad, which depicts Mary’s response to her divine calling, can easily leave one in tears and linger in the mind long after it ends.
In the following years, he developed the show into a full-length musical, inspired by Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”.
“I wrote ‘Follow the Light’ for the masses, rather than for a specific audience,” he said. “In an ideal world, it would be enjoyed by one and all, regardless of background or belief.”
In 2005, “Follow the Light” made its debut in Choo’s alma mater, Murdoch University in Western Australia. It bagged a Special Adjudicators’ Certificate for Overall Achievement (for construction, music and writing), and second place for Best Musical in WA’s Finley Awards for Independent Theatre.
The show then made its Malaysian premiere in 2010, directed by veteran actor-director Colin Kirton, and, in 2015, was produced and directed as a concert performance by actor-singer Cheryl Tan.
This year, the audience can look forward to hearing the multitalented Choo on the keyboard, alongside Ryan Lee Bhaskaran on drums, Isaac Ravi (electric guitar), and Nathanael Simon (bass guitar).
Choo has also jazzed up the mix by including a cello and viola to the line-up, played by Chan Yit Fei and ‘Aizat Adli, respectively, because “having live string instruments in hip-hop, R&B, and heavy-rock songs creates a really interesting mash of styles and layers in the music”.
“Overall, I think it’s a funny and very entertaining show, and I hope it helps the audience end the year on a high note.”
For director and designer Christopher Ling, 48, the play is accessible, universal, and relevant. “Nick has written very real, very human characters that are successfully expressed through the songs, which I believe is the power behind this musical,” he shared.
“Follow the Light” marks Ling’s third staging of Choo’s musicals, after the 10th-anniversary production of the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards-winning “The Edge” in 2018, and “Lost/Found” in 2019, which was presented in Kuching, Johor Bahru, and Kuala Lumpur.
Yet another interesting element to this production is how Ling has reduced the number of performers from about 15 to seven – certainly not an easy feat! The ensemble features Brian Cheong, Gabriel Tham, Kirthana Kuhendran, Marco George, Nave VJ, Natalie Makulin, and Rachel Liu.
Ling, a multiple BOH Cameronian Arts Awards nominee, is also the co-founder and artistic director of theatrethreesixty. Created in 2014, the theatre company was one of the few in Malaysia that kept productions going despite the pandemic.
This was achieved through online shows and live stagings when permitted, such as for “Orang Bulan” and “A Christmas Carol”, both of which Ling directed. After presenting the latter, he felt “Follow the Light” would be a great way to continue staging productions that convey a message of optimism.
“It’s a very important story and, with the tumultuous times we are living through, now is the time to tell it. I believe people need to be reminded that there is hope, and that the future is whatever you make it to be.”
‘Follow the Light’
Date: Dec 8-11
Venue: Nero Event Space, Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre (PJPAC) @1Utama Shopping Centre
Showtimes: 8.30pm Thursday-Sunday; extra shows at 3pm Saturday & Sunday
Early bird tickets: RM68 (now until Nov 28)
Regular ticket prices: RM88
For bookings, click here.