Index Creative Village's second attempt as a musical producer with Mae Bia: The Erotic Art Musical marks an impressive comeback, after the company's debut show last year failed to leave audiences with a memorable impression.
A dramatic scene between Mekhala and the guardian cobra.
Mae Bia, the 1987 erotic novel penned by SEA Write-laureate Wanich Jarungkitanan, proves to be the perfect choice for Index Creative Village as the story allows the producer, more widely known as a leading event organiser, to flaunt its strength: multi-media production.
This musical version may not be as erotic as its title suggests, but it is definitely a romantic, thrilling and enjoyable remake of the famous book.
Veteran theatre actor Marut Sarowat deserves a big hand for doing such a treasured piece of Thai literature justice, from putting together a suitable cast and crafting a well written script to the stage production and the musical composition.
Recently causing a stir in the erotic film Jan Dara, Ratha Pho-ngarm leads the cast as Mekhala, a seductive woman who owns a mysterious ancient wooden house in Suphan Buri _ a testament to the actress's high tide in showbiz.
Special effects are used to great effect in this death scene.
As a former pop star, her vocalisation shines among other performers, while at the end of the show it's evident that acting is her hidden talent, which has been polished through the course of the musical. Her graceful gestures _ heightened by beautiful bare-shoulder traditional Thai attire _ were truly eye-pleasing, and I believe that's enough to define "erotic" for some.
Thapanat Sattayanurak plays Chanachol, the married hunk from Bangkok _ Mekhala's love interest _ and he may have been outshone by the female lead. Thapanat seemed a tad nervous, which is understandable considering this is his first performance as an actor. Nevertheless, the young man gave the audience some good moments, especially when he appeared shirtless in satin pants.
And the guardian cobra _ the story's most important character and dominant symbol _ is witnessed in different forms. We hear the hissing sound of the snake, or sometimes see it as a moving image on a big screen screen, or a robotic version when it confronts other characters. The show succeeds in creating a dark, frightening ambience from the light and sound which helped convince the audience of the existence of the guardian serpent.
Marut has constructed the storyline around the character of Uncle Tim, Mekhala's old relative who takes care of the house _ a role taken by 80s pop star Charas Feungarom. Marut, however, adapted the story in a way that allows viewers to get to know each main character with Uncle Tim as storyteller. Actress Primrata Dechudom convinces us as Maikaew, the unfortunate housewife who fights to win her husband back from Mekhala. Unfortunately her co-star who plays Waisang, Maikaew's gay best friend, steals the show every time he shares the stage.
There's a surprising performance delivered by teen idol Taechin Chayuti as Poj, a crooked young politician who's in love with Mekhala. His singing and dancing will definitely impress his fans, as well as giving him a chance to gain more admirers.
The one who deserves more credit is the person in charge of the musical composition. My favourite number is the solo sung by Ratha. It possesses beautiful lyrics. The song illuminates the romantic scene between the loving couple, and once rendered in the dramatic act, it suddenly turns into a heart-wrenching tearjerker of a tune.
It is, however, the singing that seems to be the weakest element of the show. While each character is impressively well performed, even the ensemble, when it comes to singing, had some off-key moments. Many of the songs are duets, and it is understandable that this is a tough challenge. Unfortunately, there are quite a number of scenes with duets, and I believe even professional singers would find it hard to perform duet numbers in this show without slipping a little bit.
One thing I have noticed regarding the complexity of vocal rendition in Thai musicals is that the Thai language is actually very melodic _ or tonal. While English and other European languages are toneless and can be articulated in different tones and pitches with their meaning remaining the same, you can never do that with Thai as a slight change in pitch can result in a completely different meaning. Therefore, Thai musicals demand well-trained vocalists in order to handle this difficulty.
The nicely crafted movable backdrops, impressive three-dimensional films and perfect lighting play a major role in making this show worthy of our time and money. We are treated to a number of unforgettable scenes, including lovemaking on a vertical bed, a kissing and caressing scene under the water, a scene where Chanachol drowns and one where Poj gets killed by a snake. It shows how much the producers paid attention to the details, and all of their hard work is truly appreciated. It's going to set a new standard for Thai musical productions.
From left, Poj (Taechin Chayuti), Mekhala (Ratha Pho-ngarm) and Chanachol (Thapanat Sattayanurak).
About the author
- Writer: Yanapon Musiket
Position: Life Writer