The kitchen Musical song and dance around food
Get ready for a gastronomic experience as Singaporean musical TV serial The Kitchenmusical reaches
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.