New singers, oldest band

The Suntaraporn Foundation keeps on going, with another entertaining performance

Photos courtesy of Suntaraporn Foundation

The Suntaraporn Foundation has been staging musicals for seven years, and I finally made the time to go see one this past Sunday. Theatre critics in Bangkok are very aware of their annual productions, but we have largely ignored it. Perhaps it has to do with our limited definition of "contemporary theatre", and our tendency to turn our noses up at anything that feels traditional and conservative.

But Suntaraporn is Thailand's oldest band, cofounded in 1941 by Euah "Kru Euah" Suntornsanan, a Thai composer and pioneer of pleng Thai sakon (international-style Thai music), which blends traditional elements of Thai music with Western instruments and notation. The band continues to recruit new singers to keep its music alive.

Baan Ruen Kiang Kan: Suntaraporn the Musical NATTHANAPHON

Suntaraporn and its musicals seem to be as much about conserving the legacy of Kru Euah's music as modernising it. When I went to see Baan Ruen Kiang Kan: Suntaraporn The Musical, the foundation's seventh musical, on Sunday, I saw a theatregoing crowd I had never seen before. The fan base of Suntaraporn's jukebox musicals remains largely those who grew up listening to the band. But these elderly audience members don't seem to mind, though, that the songs they grew up with have been adapted for the musical theatre or that the story is about young love or that the show is peppered with product placements, some more shameless than others.

Directed by Watchara Paniam, Baan Ruen Kiang Kan tells a Romeo And Juliet-like story, sans the tragedy, in which the sons and daughters of two neighbouring families (one wealthy, another one less so) fall in love with each other despite their families' long history of animosity.

Baan Ruen Kiang Kan: Suntaraporn the Musical I'M PETER

If you leave your cynical and snobby side at home, then there's really no reason to dislike or hate the musical. The book, by Watchara Waewwuthinan, seems to understand the Suntaraporn musical brand and its audience intimately. The transitions are jumpy, and there were unnecessarily long scenes inserted just for laughs and extra musical numbers, but for the most part, the show is quite entertaining. The star-studded cast is solid. Thank heavens everyone can sing well. The choreography doesn't dazzle but is smart enough to make everyone look competent.

On that Election Day afternoon, the audience roared with laughter at election jokes, which the actors dropped throughout the three-hour show. I wonder what the jokes will be like this weekend, one week after the election. The older audience members seemed to treat the show like watching TV at home, commenting and repeating lines they liked out loud. Delighted applause broke out at the start of almost every song. A woman next to me sang along softly to some of the more romantic numbers, leaning against her companion, their arms linked.

The last two performances of Baan Ruen Kiang Kan: Suntaraporn The Musical are on March 30 and 31 at 2pm, at M Theatre. Tickets are 1,500, 2,000, and 2,500 baht, and can be purchased from Thai Ticket Major (