A dra­matic por­trait

Lo­cal singer and ac­tress Ch­eryl Tan takes on the role of the fa­bled Dragon Lady in the mu­si­cal For­bid­den City: Por­trait Of An Em­press, writes Aref Omar

New Straits Times - - Groove -

IF you’re into easy-lis­ten­ing live mu­sic, chances are you’ve heard her flex­ing her jazzy vo­cal chords in joints like No Black Tie or via her mu­sic col­lab­o­ra­tions, such as with fin­ger­style gui­tarist Az Sa­mad. Lo­cal English the­atre­go­ers would have caught some of her work as well. She even di­rected Nick Choo’s mu­si­cal in 2015. But the petite 20-some­thing from Me­laka has been mak­ing a name for her­self across the Cause­way too.

Ch­eryl Tan has en­ter­tained chil­dren and fam­i­lies there in fairy­tale mu­si­cals for chil­dren, such as (2013), (2014) and (2015).

No stranger to dra­matic pe­riod works, she’s starred in the mu­si­cal, by Sin­ga­porean play­wright Michael Chi­ang in 2015, set dur­ing the Lion City’s over-the-top cabaret scene of the swing­ing 1960s. Last year, she took on the tit­u­lar role of the tragic hero­ine in Shake­speare’s as part of the Shake­speare In The Park se­ries of out­door pro­duc­tions. The busy lass had also made her TV de­but this year on the new Chan­nel 5 drama,

Tan, who ap­peared in her first play at age 15, grad­u­ated from Wes­leyan Univer­sity in the US af­ter com­plet­ing a dou­ble ma­jor in mu­sic and theatre. Af­ter com­plet­ing a vo­cal teacher train­ing course in New York, the tal­ented artiste also started her own teach­ing stu­dio, Voice KL, in 2015, both in Malaysia and Sin­ga­pore.

Con­tin­u­ing her on­go­ing streak of cre­ative ex­pres­sion, she is set to star in

which runs from Aug 8 to 27 in the is­land repub­lic. Pre­sented by the Sin­ga­pore Reper­tory Theatre and Es­planade — The­atres on the Bay, the mu­si­cal, writ­ten by play­wright Dick Lee in 2002, is an epic pro­duc­tion fol­low­ing three sold-out runs and over 100,000 tick­ets sold.

Be­low, Tan, the youngest daugh­ter of a stock­bro­ker and a teacher, talks about the up­com­ing show and what to ex­pect from her in the near fu­ture.

TELL US ABOUT YOUR CHAR­AC­TER IN FOR­BID­DEN CITY: POR­TRAIT OF AN EM­PRESS.

The story is about Dowa­ger Em­press CiXi, who ruled China for about 50 years. It’s her jour­ney from the con­cu­bine, Ye­henara, to the pow­er­ful Em­press Dowa­ger — a fas­ci­nat­ing jour­ney of love, be­trayal and power.

The role of the Em­press is split be­tween my­self, (Sin­ga­porean singer and ac­tress) Kit Chan and (Filipino stage star) Sheila Fran­cisco, who has done this mu­si­cal three times be­fore.

We each por­tray the char­ac­ter at dif­fer­ent stages of her life. I play her at her youngest, from her time as a con­cu­bine un­til she takes power. (The cast also in­cludes West End and Broad­way star Earl Car­pen­ter, of

fame, and Broad­way star St­ef­fanie Leigh, from

WHAT WAS IN­TER­EST­ING ABOUT THE CHAR­AC­TER YOU PLAYED?

There’s a very big, very sud­den in­tense change to the char­ac­ter. She starts out be­ing an obe­di­ent con­cu­bine, some­one who is just in love. Just like in she learns how dan­ger­ous the world re­ally is. And she has to change in or­der to sur­vive.

WHAT ARE THE MAIN CHAL­LENGES YOU FACED?

I’m play­ing the role for the first half of the show and my ap­pear­ances are im­pact­ful but sparse. They hap­pen in these bursts, so there’s a lot of fill­ing in that I have to do off stage. So that’s one of them. It’s also the first time some­one other than Kit has sung the role, since the show has been mounted a few times be­fore, so there’s quite a bit of pres­sure there.

WHAT IS IT ABOUT THIS MU­SI­CAL AND YOUR ROLE THAT YOU THINK WILL RES­ONATE WITH THE­ATRE­GO­ERS IN THE RE­GION?

I think that it’s spe­cial that this is an Asian story told by Asian sto­ry­tellers in a medium that is gen­er­ally con­sid­ered to be very West­ern. It con­nects us to a deeper his­tory that we can all share.

WHY DID YOU GET INTO ACT­ING AND SINGING?

I was a lonely child, not very good at so­cial­is­ing for a very long time. I spent my child­hood with books and sto­ries all the time, even now. When I was sent to speech and drama classes as a child, some­thing just clicked. I’ve ex­plored a lot of other things as well, but when life brought me back to mu­si­cal theatre, I felt like I was home again. I think it was al­ways go­ing to be this way.

WHAT OTHER PROJECTS DO YOU HAVE NEXT?

I’m di­rect­ing some­thing for Short + Sweet Theatre Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur but I’d love to break into the TV/film world in our coun­try. I’ll also be the young ro­man­tic lead in

by W!LD Rice, open­ing in Novem­ber in Sin­ga­pore.

Next year on­wards, I’ll be shift­ing my fo­cus to screen work in both Sin­ga­pore and Malaysia.

Tan en­joyed speech and drama classes as a child.

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