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This time around, musical theatre is accorded its rightful place at the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.

Jewel of tibetMUSICAL theatre is more than just the sum of its parts. Putting a musical onstage is not just a matter of
bringing song, dance and acting together; rather, it is about blending these elements in exactly the right
way to create a whole new type of performance. Most of all, it is about using these varied elements to tell a stow that will connect with the audience.

Recognising this, the BOH Cameronian Arts Awards (BCAA) this May will, for the first time, honour musical theatre as an awards field on its own. Previously, musicals were judged under the theatre or music awards fields.

It is a move that has been largely welcomed by those in the industry, particularly with the burgeoning popularity of musical theatre in Malaysia.

Leading the pack with a record 14 nominations is Jewel of Tibet, The Musical, presented by Musical On
Stage Productions.Based on a true story,the musical tells the tale of Princess Wen Cheng, who under-
takes a three-year-long journey from China to Tibet to marry King Songsten Gampo and bridge their
countries' political divide.

Ismail,The Last Days, by KLPac, which traces the later years of former Deputy Prime Minister Tun
Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, also did well for itself, bagging 10 nominations. Broadway Parodies Lagilah! by
The Actors Studio, which used classic showtunes to parody various aspects of Malaysian life,racked up
six nominations. Also getting mentions were sci-fi musical No Limits (by Integrated Expressions)
and KL gu (by Sangg Fauziah Nawi).

Deserved recognition
In the runningSitting down with some of the nominees in this field provided an insightful look intolocal musical theatre and the challenges faced by practitioners.

Brian Mclntyre, who was nominated for Best Musical Direction and Best Director in Broadway Parodies
Lagilah!, called the establishment of a separate awards field a "good move".

"When we did the show the first time arbund (Broadway Parodies Lah in 2007), we discussed putting
ourselves up for consideration in either the music or theatre fields. But we couldn't decide. Tak bolehlah
go into either one, because it's both! "It's great to have musical theatre now recognised on its own, rather
than trying to shoehorn it into either music or theatre," explains the theatre veteran.

Imee Ooi, who was nominated for Best Original Music and Best Musical Direction for her work on Jewel of Tibet, The Musical further brought up that having a separate field allowed for higher visibility for each individual production. "Musical theatre is quite new locally, and when a production is competing against a bigger and (more diverse) group, perhaps people will not notice it. This way, it's a level playing field, and there is more interest in our work," says Ooi.

She is definitely speaking from experience-Jewel's 14 nominations, may not have been possible were it competing in either the theatre or music categories.

Notably, behind-the-scenes people like Best Choreographer nominee Michele Yong Soo Fon get the recognition they deserve for their unique efforts. Both Mclntyre and Ooi agree that it is great to have
the choreographer of a musical recognised.

"The choreographer is so important, and their work on musicals are very different from choreography
for a pure dance showcase," says Ooi. "In Jewel, for example, the choreographers had to imagine the
movement and body language of people 2,500 years ago in India. It's a lot of research!"

Yong, who was nominated for Jewel of Tibet together with Chan Soo Leng, says choreographing for
musical theatre requires a wide knowledge of various dance styles, as well as the ability to integrate
dance into a wider storyline.

"For Jewel, it was important to base the choreography on Tibetan dance, but even there, we had-to
include many elements of Chinese classical and folk dances. The Guan Yin dance, for example, is based on the Dun Huang dance, which is one of China's major dances," says Yong.

Still struggling
Gimme gimmeDespite the enormous success of local productions like Puteri Gunung Ledang: The Musical ( PGLM) and P.

Ramlee: The Musical, homegrown musicals are still struggling to pull in the crowds. The reason for this,
however, is not easy to pin down. Inadequate support, competition from foreign productions, and lack
of awareness among audiences, are some of the reasons that can be pointed to.

Ooi says sponsorship could go a long way in sustaining Malaysian musical theatre.

"There is a lot of talent in Malaysia, but they are not given a fair chance. Some hold day jobs to
make ends meet, and the issue of financing is a constant source of stress for the team," she says.

Ooi adds that competition from foreign musicals often places an unfair bias against local shows.
"There are many people who would rather go watch a foreign musical, simply to be seen. They don't have
any idea what the story is about, or even.if it's a good show, just aslong as it is 'international'.

"These same people will automatically dismiss a local production, assuming it can't be any good just
because it is made by local talents," she says.

Mcintyre suggests that exposing schools to the performing arts would be a good way to create
awareness about the local field. "As a kid growing up in Britain, I performed in shows in school. I
don't think that happens enough here. It is very vital to involve young people in the arts in order for the
field to survive long-term. We need to get theatre into schools, or schools into the theatre," he says.

The key component, of course, is the quality of the production itself. Ooi says that, at the end of the day,
a good production will speak for itself.

"If a musical is really good, it will attract audiences who will promote it by word of mouth. This is where
the local media can also help, by highlighting the efforts," she says.

"PGLM was a great Malaysian production, both in terms of the show itself andthe success it achieved," says Mclntyre. "P. Ramlee, too, was very good. These shows have raised the bar on audience
expectations, and it's up to us to match them."

As for the future of musical theatre in Malaysia, well, the recognition by BCAA is definitely a step in the
right direction.

"I hope to see people who want to enter the field, actually making a living out of it," says Mclntyre. "It's
slowly happening, and hopefully only gets better."

Ooi relates an experience her friend in Spain told her, where, a different musical would be great to
see that here; not just one musical at a time, but many of them running all over town!"

* The seventh BOH Cameronian Arts Awards, organised by online arts magazine kakiseni will be presented on May 3 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, Kuala Lumpur.

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