The kitchen Mu­si­cal song and dance around food

Get ready for a gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ence as Sin­ga­porean mu­si­cal TV se­rial The Kitchen­mu­si­cal reaches

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FRONT PAGE - By SHEELA CHAN­DRAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­

our shores.

AT the launch of mu­si­cal TV drama se­ries The Kitchen Mu­si­cal (TKM) in Sin­ga­pore re­cently, di­rec­tor Cheek an­nounced that his lat­est of­fer­ing was ded­i­cated to Asians. He said: “To the foodie in all of us, the lover of drama and the ones who have bust a move whilst singing in the shower, this one’s for you.”

Although his can­did state­ment had the crowd in stitches, it didn’t sound sur­pris­ing as Asians are, af­ter all, pas­sion­ate about food. And what bet­ter way to pay trib­ute to our love of food than through a gas­tromonic and tempt­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, that is – TKM.

The mu­si­cal TV se­ries, pro­duced by Sin­ga­porean pro­duc­tion house The Group En­ter­tain­ment (TGE), was cre­ated based on the idea of a mu­si­cal TV se­ries that homes in on Asia’s pas­sion for food. The epi­curean mu­si­cal ex­trav­a­ganza is the brain­child of Pe­nang-born Cheek, whose real name is Cheah Chee Keong.

“I was born in Pe­nang and have an affin­ity for its hawker food. TKM is a cul­mi­na­tion of my creative jour­ney and ob­ses­sion with food. I wanted to cre­ate a fresh and orig­i­nal con­cept that is iden­ti­fi­able within the re­gion.

“We wrote a sto­ry­line that you can sink your teeth into, flavoured it with tal­ented per­form­ers, sprin­kled with amaz­ing songs and slith­ered it with dance moves – stew­ing in its own juices and erupt­ing in a mas­ter­piece chock-full of cre­ativ­ity and en­ter­tain­ment,” said Cheek, TGE’s ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent and creative di­rec­tor.

Song and dance about food

While Cheek’s lat­est of­fer­ing com­bines food, drama and mu­sic, it does make one won­der if he is jump­ing onto the band­wagon to join in the mu­si­cal TV drama craze af­ter suc­cess­ful Emmy award-win­ing Glee.

“Even though there are sim­i­lar­i­ties to Glee, to my knowl­edge, this is the first time in the world some­thing like this is be­ing done. TKM fuses food, song, dance and drama.

“The idea has been brew­ing in my mind for over 10 years but I wasn’t pre­pared at the point in my life to di­rect a drama se­ries of this sort.

“In early 2000, I was busy with work com­mit­ments (Cheek was MTV Ja­pan’s creative di­rec­tor) and film­ing my de­but fea­ture movie, Chicken Rice Wars. It was only re­cently that it dawned upon me to con­cen­trate on this project,” said Cheek, whose film had gar­nered in­ter­na­tional hon­ours, in­clud­ing the Dis­cov­ery Award at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val in 2001.

TKM is a multi-mil­lion pro­duc­tion, fea­tur­ing a blend of drama, pop­u­lar songs (dat­ing from the 1980s till present), siz­zling dance se­quences and mouth-wa­ter­ing recipes.

Re­volv­ing around the ex­cit­ing world of culi­nary arts, it is about rich, young Mad­die Avilon (Karylle Tat­long­hari), who is fresh out of culi­nary school in Paris. She em­barks on a jour­ney of self-dis­cov­ery when she starts work­ing for The Avilon – her fa­ther’s pres­ti­gious restau­rant. How­ever, she learns that she can­not al­ways get her way by be­ing Daddy’s girl, es­pe­cially when work­ing with head chef Alex Mar­cus (Stephen Rah­man Hughes), no­to­ri­ously known for his ruth­less pur­suit of per­fec­tion.

Also head­lin­ing the 13-episode TV se­ries are Filipino singer/ac­tor Chris­tian Bautista (play­ing sous chef and Mad­die’s best friend Daniel Ray), Hong Kong model Rose­mary Van­den­broucke (Se­lena Ar­gon, The Avilon’s sexy som­me­lier) and New York-based Filipino ac­tor Arthur Acuna (Harry Shaw, The Avilon’s gen­eral man­ager).

In se­lect­ing the cast, Cheek wanted an in­ter­na­tional team com­pris­ing Asians, Cau­ca­cians and blacks. As such, his cast­ing went out around the Asian re­gion and as far as North Amer­ica and Aus­tralia.

“I wanted a spe­cific look so view­ers wouldn’t know its coun­try of ori­gin. When I showed the test pi­lot over­seas, many thought it was shot in Latin Amer­ica. The cast mem­bers look like they can be from any part of the world. This is, af­ter all, how Asian kitchens and restau­rants oper­ate these days (with in­ter­na­tional staff),” said 40-some­thing Cheek.

But ac­cord­ing to him, it took a fair bit of con­vinc­ing to rope in most of these in­de­mand ac­tors.

“It was a hur­dle to find triple threat ac­tors – act­ing, singing and danc­ing – in one pack­age. It was equally chal­leng­ing to con­vince them to join our pro­duc­tion due to their busy sched­ules in their re­spec­tive coun­tries. Luck­ily, they agreed to be part of it af­ter watch­ing the test pi­lot.

“The cast­ing has been close to per­fect. Ev­ery­one has strong voices and their act­ing is of high stan­dard, too. It is so cool to see what each ac­tor brings to the ta­ble. They all have a lot of ad­mi­ra­tion for each other,” said Cheek, adding that film­ing com­menced mid­dle of the year.

Stephen felt com­pelled to work on the project as it en­abled him to show­case his act­ing, singing and danc­ing tal­ents.

“I couldn’t stop think­ing about how great it would be to do a TV show with all the ex­pe­ri­ence I’ve gained in the dif­fer­ent skills over the years. Glee paved the way for us, no doubt, but there have been many mu­si­cal shows over the years, such as Fame.

“TKM is dif­fer­ent from Glee though. The set­ting and sub­ject mat­ter is un­usual for a start and the for­mat has a very dif­fer­ent flavour (pun in­tended).

“Cook­ing is the cen­tral sub­ject of the show with danc­ing, singing and the drama of a high pres­sured kitchen and restau­rant. It is in­tense.

“Sto­ry­telling with songs is an age-old con­cept, so great TV mixed with fan­tas­tic songs that are al­ready big hits, is a sure way to at­tract view­ers,” said Stephen, who has ap­peared in nu­mer­ous lead­ing roles in mu­si­cals such as Pu­teri Gu­nung Ledang The Mu­si­cal, Bom­bay Dreams, West Side Story, The Mer­chant Of Venice and KRU Stu­dio’s Hikayat Merong Ma­hawangsa.

Last June, Cheek sent the cast to a three-week boot camp to im­merse them­selves in the world of culi­nary arts.

“It was im­por­tant to en­sure they know what they are do­ing. In the kitchen, they have the same ingredients as on the sta­tion so they are go­ing through the mo­tion and this is very im­por­tant when record­ing. I also worked with culi­nary con­sul­tant and chef Bertrand Cheo in cre­at­ing recipes for the se­ries,” said Cheek, adding that Sin­ga­pore Reper­tory The­atre will adapt the se­ries into a mu­si­cal in Septem­ber next year.

“Dur­ing boot­camp, ac­tors learnt ba­sic cook­ing skills so we knew what we were do­ing on screen. It is very im­por­tant as ev­ery­one needed to un­der­stand their role. Thank­fully, ev­ery­one still has all their fin­gers in­tact and no burns,” said Stephen, a trained classical dancer and vo­cal­ist in opera group Teatro.

The mu­si­cal pro­duc­tion fea­tures a tal­ented pro­duc­tion team, in­clud­ing Aus­tralian chore­og­ra­pher and judge of Aus­tralia’s So You Think You Can Dance Ja­son Cole­man, Filipino mu­sic di­rec­tor Ger­ard Sa­longa and in­ter­na­tional make-up artist Mas­si­m­il­iano Della Maggesa, whose cre­den­tials in­clude work­ing with fash­ion de­sign­ers Alexan­der Mc­Queen, Donna Karan and Chloé.

Cole­man said work­ing with Cheek has been a joy due to his pro­fes­sion­al­ism and ded­i­ca­tion.

“I have worked with many di­rec­tors and what sets him apart is he is fo­cused, ded­i­cated and knows what he wants on screen. As a chore­og­ra­pher, I am a trans­la­tor, giv­ing di­rec­tors what they need through dance.

“Cheek selects the mu­sic and scenes and my job is to come up with the en­tire vo­cab­u­lary as to how it should be in­ter­preted,” said Cole­man, adding that the se­ries fea­tures his chore­og­ra­phy cre­ative­ness in song gen­res, in­clud­ing pop, rock and R&B. n TheK­itchen­Mu­si­cal pre­mieres tonight (8.30pm) on Ntv7. It will air on AXN (Astro Ch 701) on Oct 15 (8pm).

Stephen rah­man Hughes is head chef alex Mar­cus who is known for his ruth­less pur­suit of per­fec­tion.

Kitchen capers: Tal­ented cast mem­bers (from left) rose­mary Van­den­broucke, chris­tian bautista, Stephen rah­man Hughes, Karylle Tat­long­hari and arthur acuna in TheK­itchen­Mu­si­cal.

Pe­nang­born cheek’s ob­ses­sion with food fu­elled the in­spi­ra­tion to cre­ate TheK­itchen Mu­si­cal.

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