Cherrie Lum as portrayed by Marina Tan. Image by Wong Horng Yih.
Cherrie Lum as portrayed by Marina Tan. Image by Wong Horng Yih.

The spotlight shines onto the stage. Cherrie Lum, all dressed up in her sequinned refinery sings “Coming to a crossroad, stop sign up ahead…” It is the first song of the night, “Don’t Start Dreaming” for Cheras, THE MUSICAL!

Cheras, THE MUSICAL! is veteran thespian Chee Sek Thim’s first directorial debut for a musical and he has a strong production team backing him. It is jointly produced by Marion D’Cruz, June Tan (who is also the writer) and Myra Mahyuddin with music provided by Adriane Palikat and choreography by Suhaili Micheline, all of them notable names in their own right.

When you think of musicals, you might imagine elaborate sets with many singers, in the style of Broadway productions. Cheras was the opposite of elaborate. With only six cast members and a stark, grey set that was split into two levels, it was minimal in set design. Instead, its subtle complexities are borne through Sek Thim’s carefully teased out characterisation of suburban relationships and individual desires.

Cherrie (Marina Tan) is a failed 80’s pop star with a one hit song named Love Jam and two children, Blossom Lum (played by Tan Yon Lynn) and Jackson Lum (played by Jayson Phuah). She is lost in the glory days of her past as she attempts to escape the humdrum of Cheras.

And what about Cheras itself? In June’s words, “Cheras represents a neighbourhood where the mundane rules: rows and rows of terrace houses, malls that try their best, and where not even the promise of good food would inspire us to get past its traffic jams”. What if we could get out of Cheras, be more and have more? These themes navigate the underbelly of the musical, where familial lines and relationships are gradually threatened when the characters put their own dreams ahead.

Jackson Lum as portrayed by Jayson Phuah. Image by Wong Horng Yih.
Jackson Lum as portrayed by Jayson Phuah. Image by Wong Horng Yih.

“We are not middle class enough to have doubts,” says Cherrie. That struggle to raise one’s family status and income, coupled by the continuous chase of a “better life” abroad is all too real for most families. The musical was no longer so much about Cheras as it was the will to succeed.

Each member of the cast was allowed their moment to shine. This might not have been achievable with a much larger cast. Though Cherrie was the lead character, we were also treated to several other memorable individual performances.

Vernon Adrian Emuang’s characters as both Uncle Chong and Mr Loong were a delight to watch as he dispensed sagely and sometimes humorous advice. Nisya Aziz was brilliant as Win-Win Loh. Brian Chan as Destinee the drag queen gave a convincing act too and prompted a lot of laughters throughout the night with his suave moves and cheeky retorts.

Mr Loong as portrayed by Vernon Adrian Emuang. Image by Wong Horng Yih.
Mr Loong as portrayed by Vernon Adrian Emuang. Image by Wong Horng Yih.

But a musical would not have worked as well without artfully composed songs. Adriane Palikat did an amazing job as music director and composer for Cheras.

Quirky numbers like “Just Call Me Uncle” and the ever catchy “Love Jam” were some of my favourites of the night and made me want to sing along. Others like “Mine To Keep” resonated deeply. As Cherrie sings, “Who decides where roads will turn?” We are reminded of the choices we made and things that have come to pass and cannot be undone.

One of the few flaws of the performance was the acoustic balance: there were numerous times where music from the live band seem to drown out the singing voices. These instances create an uncomfortable strain to the ears as it felt like both music and voices were competing for attention.

Cheras, THE MUSICAL might be small in scale but – like its characters – it is definitely not lacking in its dreams and accomplishments.

Cheras, THE MUSICAL runs at KuASH until 1 November. Find out more about the musical here.

Read this next: Uncovering Cheras

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