Follow the Light Christmas musical
Reinvention and the Christmas story seem to go hand-in-hand, at least in the performing arts.
THIS year-end, a diverse cast of performers will present their Malaysian take on one of the most famous stories in the world.
Directed by Colin Kirton, Follow The Light is touted as an original Malaysian musical with script, music and lyrics by Nick Choo.
The play which opens this Thursday at Jaya One, Petaling Jaya, Selangor, retells the story of Christmas through genres ranging from pop to rock, funk, R&B, hip hop, jazz, gospel and emotive ballad.
The actors comprise established performing artistes as well as newcomers, with award-winning singer Juwita Suwito playing Mary.
Singer-musician Aaron Khaled, a rising personality in the performing arts scene, plays Joe, the carpenter who will take the blame for Mary’s unexpected pregnancy.
Breaking the news to them is Angel Gabe, played by American stage director and performer Tim Howe.
The shepherds will be played by singer/ vocal coach Zalina Lee, former Malaysian Idol finalist Rydee Anna Abdul and newcomer Adrien Zaffri. The wise men (the ones bearing the prophetic words on Mary and Joe’s child) comprise AIM award-winning R&B artiste Liang, stage and TV actor Xavier Wong, and singer-songwriter Tony Leo Selvaraj. The Angels are established musical theatre performers Suzan Manen, Anrie Too, Song-fan Seah and Nicole Ann Thomas.
The production team is also boosted by the efforts of lighting designer Ee Chee Wei ( Siddharta The Musical, Cuckoo Birds), costume designer Dominique Devorsine ( Ismail – The Last Days, Animal Farm) and set designer Fang Chyi (Okiku).
Follow The Light is produced by Kirton and Choo’s newly-established production companies, Kirton Call Productions and Nick Knack Productions, respectively, and is supported by Tupperware Brands.
While still a student in Perth, Australia, Choo staged an earlier version of the play in 2005 as a university-level production. On his return to Malaysia the following year, he approached Kirton to direct the local production.
“It’s taken us over four years to get here, so this is quite a historic event for us,” said Kirton in a press release. On and off over the past few years, Kirton provided feedback to Choo, who worked tirelessly on tightening the script, as well as writing entirely new songs. Compared to the 2005 material, this year’s version promises to be significantly improved.
Though based on Christmas, Choo and Kirton gave the assurance that this is not yet another “church production”. Choo said that the show will neither be preachy nor evangelistic. To that end, creative licence has been employed to recontextualise the characters and plot, and to incorporate “a lot of fun and self-deprecating humour”. Audiences expecting a sambal belacan-flavoured Christmas musical should be pretty pleased. Some of this creative licence includes providing background stories to the Shepherds and the Wise Men.
“Our shepherds are three disgruntled siblings – two bossy older sisters and a younger brother – who crave more to life than the monotony of watching sheep,” Choo says.
“The Wise Men are three best friends who have grown up impoverished in the ghettos, and they’ve decided that it’s finally time for them to find their way and claim some fame and prosperity for themselves.
“It’s something that they’ve always been fighting over – which one among them is going to be the greatest – but through this experience they learn that it’s not about them – and that giving is far more rewarding than getting,’’ said Choo.
Kirton adds: “Really, above and beyond the Christmas story, it’s a story about relationships. What happens when a young couple suddenly has to cope with having a baby in their lives and deal with social stigma at the same time?
“How do you deal with sibling rivalry, or competition between best friends? Then there are the themes of significance, about trying to find your place in life and realising there might be a bigger purpose out there.”
Cognisant of the less-than-rosy reality of Malaysia’s social landscape, Choo and Kirton hope that Follow The Light would be able to illuminate the dark and twisted corners surrounding religion in this country.
To this end, the cast and crew have set a very high bar for themselves: to make a powerful statement that Malaysians of all backgrounds can still come together to appreciate values such as love, compassion, forgiveness – the common thread that binds us all together.
Nick Choo (in white) and Colin Kirton assert that FollowTheLight will not be preachy or evangelistic in any way. (Inset) Aaron Khaled.