Stages of her life

Malaysian ac­tress Ch­eryl Tan takes on a ma­jor role in Sin­ga­porean pro­duc­tion For­bid­den City: Por­trait Of An Em­press.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Arts - By ANN MARIE CHANDY star2@thes­tar.com.my

YOU might have heard of Ch­eryl Tan if you’ve been an ar­dent fol­lower of the lo­cal theatre and live mu­sic scene. Now 28, and al­ter­nately based in Sin­ga­pore and Kuala Lumpur, Tan is star­ring in Sin­ga­pore Reper­tory Theatre’s For­bid­den City: Por­trait Of An Em­press, which was first com­mis­sioned by the Es­planade and pro­duced for its open­ing in 2002. The mu­si­cal went on to be­come one of the most suc­cess­ful made-in-Sin­ga­pore mu­si­cals pro­duced with over 100,000 tick­ets sold.

The show is about Em­press Dowa­ger CiXi, of the Manchu Ye­henara clan, who ruled China for nearly 50 years right at the end of the Qing dy­nasty, and just be­fore China stopped be­ing a monar­chy.

“The role of the Em­press is played by three ac­tresses at dif­fer­ent stages of her life and I play her at the youngest stage (Ye­henara),” Tan shares in an email in­ter­view.

For­bid­den City: Por­trait Of An Em­press is cur­rently show­ing at the Es­planade in Sin­ga­pore un­til Aug 27.

“This is def­i­nitely a great ex­pe­ri­ence for me. Last year I played Juliet (in Romeo & Juliet) for Sin­ga­pore Reper­tory Theatre’s Shake­speare in the Park and it was this amaz­ing, huge out­door space ... this time it’s the Es­planade Theatre which is a su­per beau­ti­ful, and a very fa­mous theatre.”

Tan says that she’s al­ways wanted to per­form at the Es­planade, and she’s glad that her “first time” is set to be with such a great role.

“It’s also won­der­ful that this show was orig­i­nally the first mu­si­cal to ever be played on that stage; so it’s a sort of home­com­ing for the show.”

Tan’s body of work in­cludes play­ing the lead role of Ivy Chan in the mu­si­cal Beauty World, and Swee Choo in the short film Part­ing byBoo Jun­feng a cou­ple of years ago.

She’s only just be­gun to ex­plore the world of tele­vi­sion, hav­ing worked in mu­sic and theatre from a young age. Most re­cently she made her TV de­but as Sylvia Soo in the Me­di­a­corp 20-part se­ries The Fac­ulty.

“My par­ents are from Me­laka,” she shares. “But I grew up in Kuala Lumpur. I was en­rolled in He­len O’Grady’s Speech and Drama Academy as a child, and at­tended Sri Cem­paka (now Cem­paka In­ter­na­tional School), where I was given a lot of op­por­tu­ni­ties to act and sing.”

Tan re­mem­bers be­ing forced, like many oth­ers, to learn pi­ano as a child.

“I frus­trated so many teach­ers that my par­ents gave up af­ter a while! I went back and did my Grades 5 and 8 as a teenager, and of course it was eas­ier when I had cho­sen to do it,” she says, adding that she joined the lo­cal choir out­fit Young KL Singers when she was 14, and started get­ting out­side ex­po­sure from there on.

“My pro­fes­sional de­but was at age 15, and I acted in and out of school through­out the rest of my SPM years.”

In 2004, Tan shared the ti­tle role of Gard­ner and Wife’s Lit­tle Vi­o­let AndTheAn­gel with Inessa Ir­dayanty.

“Lit­tle Vi­o­let was a re­ally ex­cit­ing ex­pe­ri­ence for me. I got to work with Mano Ma­niam, Joanna Bessey and San­dra Sodhy, and I loved ev­ery minute of it. Some­times, theatre folks in KL still men­tion it to me, which means it was quite spe­cial for them too!”

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing with a dou­ble ma­jor in Mu­sic and Theatre from Wes­leyan Uni­ver­sity in 2011, Tan lived in Brook­lyn for a year where she pur­sued play­ing taiko (Ja­panese drums) and work­ing at a jazz venue. She then re­turned to Malaysia, where she spent about a year and a half do­ing al­most ex­clu­sively jazz in KL.

“I worked with John Thomas, Michael Veer­apen, Mokhtar Samba and a host of other amaz­ing mu­si­cians,” she adds, sadly not­ing that once she started work­ing in Sin­ga­pore, a lot of that was di­alled down be­cause the jazz scene there, in Tan’s words, is just not as vi­brant.

“The mu­si­cians are fan­tas­tic but there’s no pub­lic de­mand,” she of­fers.

So is she more ac­tress than mu­si­cian/singer these days?

“I’d say that I’m an ac­tor (who sings) first, a teacher sec­ond and a jazz vo­cal­ist last these days.”

Tan feels that all dif­fer­ent art forms feed one’s soul in dif­fer­ent ways, and that she has tried to do all of them as much as she could so as not to get jaded.

“The en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is also gen­er­ally such that you must di­ver­sify your skill set when­ever you can,” she says. “That said, mu­si­cal theatre was def­i­nitely my first love grow­ing up.”

How did she end up in Sin­ga­pore? “When I was do­ing jazz in KL, I was head­hunted to au­di­tion for a film in Sin­ga­pore. The movie even­tu­ally got put on hold, but the direc­tor told me that she thought I should be work­ing here. So I just started au­di­tion­ing, and I quickly landed my first lead and it’s just grown since then.

“I don’t live in Sin­ga­pore longterm but I’d say I spend most of my time there, and the main body of my work is there. I’d love to start work­ing in TV and film in Malaysia, though.”

But for now, it’s Ye­henara’s robes that she will don un­til Aug 27.

In For­bid­den City, Tan is joined by a cast of in­ter­na­tional and Sin­ga­pore stars, in­clud­ing Kit Chan, Se­bas­tian Tan, Ben­jamin Chow, West End’s Earl Car­pen­ter and Broad­way star St­ef­fanie Leigh.

The mu­si­cal – di­rected by Steven Dex­ter – has all the ingredients of a true epic, with a young con­cu­bine in love, a dy­ing Em­peror, a heart­less traitor, an ide­al­is­tic artist and an Em­pire that stands to fall.

Told through the eyes of Kate Carl who is com­mis­sioned to paint the Em­press’s por­trait, the mu­si­cal re­counts Cixi’s tri­als and tribu­la­tions from in­ge­nious con­cu­bine to ruth­less ruler.

Tan says: “The role it­self is quite de­mand­ing emo­tion­ally, there is a big jour­ney that I have to go through from be­ing a young woman want­ing the love of a man, to a mother who has to fight for her own sur­vival, as well as that of her son.

“To do this Cixi had to learn to nav­i­gate po­lit­i­cal spheres and learn a lot of dif­fi­cult lessons about life and the world. It’s like Game Of Thrones, re­ally!”

Catch the young chanteuse in ac­tion as she brings to life the glo­ri­ous Dick Lee/Stephen Clark songs in­clud­ing Start­ing With The Eyes, My Only Chance, I Need Him and Sum­mer Palace. For a sneak peek at what’s in store, go to https://tinyurl. com/cheryl­tan.

For­bid­den City: Por­trait Of An Em­press is play­ing at the Es­planade in Sin­ga­pore till Aug 27. Tick­ets are avail­able through www.sis­tic.com.sg. More in­for­ma­tion: www.es­planade. com/for­bid­dencity.

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