A juicy se­cret

We spill the beans on a de­li­ciously campy home­grown mu­si­cal.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ARTS - By SHARMILLA GANE­SAN en­ter­tain­ment@thes­tar.com.my the

There’s some­thing so charm­ing about Malaysia in the 1960s – per­haps it was the form-fit­ting ke­bayas and flirty minidresses, or the bouf­fant hair­dos (for both women and men). Or per­haps it was that ir­re­sistible feel­ing of fun and op­ti­mism as the coun­try dis­cov­ered its iden­tity af­ter emerg­ing from Bri­tish rule.

It is right smack in this unique, east-meet­sWest era that Datin seri Tiara Jac­quelina’s lat­est of­fer­ing, The Se­cret Life Of Nora, is set, and the mu­si­cal cer­tainly rev­els in its campy, larger-than-life po­ten­tial. Pro­duced by Tiara’s en­finiti Vi­sion Me­dia and star­ring the ac­com­plished ac­tress as the tit­u­lar Nora, the show man­ages to bring the 60s to vivid life while telling a story that is pure, fluffy en­joy­ment.

Penned by ray­mond Mi­randa and helmed by West end di­rec­tor stephen Dex­ter, the mu­si­cal tells the tale of Nora, a prima donna night­club singer who dreams of mak­ing it big on the sil­ver screen. When she is cast as a fe­male spy in a movie by Bri­tish di­rec­tor roger Foss (ryan sil­ver­man) and lo­cal pro­ducer Farouk (Tony eu­soff), Nora thinks she’s about to make her big break.

What she doesn’t know is that Farouk is in fact a mem­ber of a se­cret spy or­gan­i­sa­tion, and that roger is an elite spy trainer. They are us­ing the movie as a front to train Nora and even­tu­ally re­cruit her as a spy. her mis­sion? To in­fil­trate the New World Cabaret owned by the mys­te­ri­ous J heart (Aznil Nawawi), where sus­pi­cious ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing women have been sighted.

It’s all very James Bond-meets-Moulin rouge-meets-emma Peel, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. The catch with at­tempt­ing a pro­duc­tion like this, though, is that, with all these fa­mil­iar el­e­ments, the show ei­ther has to pull it off bril­liantly, or fall flat in its at­tempt. Luck­ily, Nora mostly man­ages to pull it off. The first act is a to­tal joyride to the past, thanks to the ex­cel­lent pro­duc­tion val­ues and sparkling chem­istry be­tween the cast. The com­bi­na­tion of gor­geous sets and cos­tumes, en­er­getic danc­ing and catchy mu­sic pro­vide a great plat­form for the story to un­fold.

Un­for­tu­nately, the sec­ond act drops the ball. It lacks the spirit and en­ergy of the first half, and rushes through the story to­wards a cli­max that seems corny and con­vo­luted. I pre­ferred the charm­ingly retro vibe of the first act to the sup­pos­edly thrilling feel of the sec­ond, which seems rather forced.

For Tiara, who has been most vis­i­ble in re­cent years as the epony­mous princess in Pu­teri Gu­nung Ledang: The Mu­si­cal (PGL), the role of the sassy Nora is a to­tal de­par­ture. here, she gets to not just don glam­orous cos­tumes, but also kick a few bad­dies’ butts along the way.

In­ter­est­ing as she may be, how­ever, it is the sup­port­ing char­ac­ters that truly make Nora come alive. Of these, West end per­former sil­ver­man makes a great de­but on the Malaysian stage. ex­tremely like­able as Nora’s love in­ter­est roger, he nails the bal­ance be­tween be­ing suave and silly. he is also an im­pres­sive vo­cal­ist, ex­celling both in light­hearted numbers like Women Make Good Spies and more emo­tional ones such as Not Too Late To Start.

An­other stand­out per­for­mance is Adibah Noor as Khati­jah, Nora’s man­ager and best friend; her won­der­ful stage pres­ence and comic tim­ing lights up ev­ery scene she is in. Aaron Khaled, as J heart’s hench­man sharif, is also mem­o­rable for his abil­ity to blend com­edy and men­ace, and I loved his sleazy ren­di­tion of the tango-in­spired Si­apa Mahu Men­jadi Bin­tang.

stephanie Van Driesen, on the other hand, puts in a very good turn as Nora’s as­sis­tant Betty, but her char­ac­ter is rather short­changed in the sec­ond half. her solo Kau Yang Menulis is one of the best in the show, and I would have liked to see more of her. The char­ac­ter of J heart, too, is rather un­der­de­vel­oped, and the back­story pro­vided for him is un­con­vinc­ing. While Aznil is ob­vi­ously hav­ing a ball with this flam­boy­ant, campy vil­lain, a lit­tle more depth to the role would have been more ef­fec­tive.

But even the show’s weaker parts are saved by the sheer de­li­cious­ness of its candy-coloured vis­ual spec­ta­cle. No ex­pense or ef­fort seems to have been spared when it comes to the pro­duc­tion’s look, and it cer­tainly shows.

set de­sign by the UK-based Fran­cis O’Con­nor is stun­ning, whether it’s the campy night­club where Nora per­forms, the moun­tain­top where she and roger fall in love, or the ut­terly over-the-top vil­lain’s lair. The way each set tells a story and the clever way they trans­form into the next scene, is im­pres­sive yet fits seam­lessly into the pro­duc­tion as a whole.

Pro­vid­ing even more eye candy is the cos­tume de­sign by Moe Kasim and stylo, which cap­tures the look of the era while pro­vid­ing the glitz and glam of cabaret. I loved the at­ten­tion to de­tail, down to how each en­sem­ble mem­ber’s out­fit in each scene has some­thing new to look at.

Nora also boasts top-notch mu­sic and chore­og­ra­phy, thanks to com­poser san Weng Onn and chore­og­ra­pher Pat Ibrahim. Draw­ing on every­thing from tango to jazz and bal­lads, san’s com­po­si­tions are vi­brant and catchy. To­gether with lyri­cist Al­fian sa’at, san’s work on numbers such as Si­apa Mahu Men­jadi

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