Thai-spiced revival
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Thai-spiced revival

Local talent shines in unique adaptation of Chicago by Bangkok University Theatre Company

Thai-spiced revival
Chicago. (Photos courtesy of BU Theatre Company)

In a sizzling display of talent and creativity, Bangkok University Theatre Company's students and alumni bring the razzle-dazzle of Chicago to life in a Thai adaptation that tackles themes of violence, adultery and murder. With bold performances and innovative staging, this university production is a testament to the capabilities of young artists.

In the 150-minute full-scale performance, the university production cherry-picks the best elements of both the 2002 Hollywood film and the Broadway theatrical to create a multi-dimensional and diverse experience.

While staying faithful to the musical by Fred Ebb and John Kander and creative choreography and direction by Bob Fosse, the script, masterfully translated by Rattanachai Lueangwongngam, incorporates distinct Thai flavours. Obtaining the official copyright from Concord Theatricals from the US, the translated production doesn't feel out of place because the delivery and humour are well-executed.

Using a translation method called dynamic or functional equivalence, the Thai libretto focuses on conveying the thought or meaning of the original text rather than adhering strictly to its literal form or word-for-word accuracy. The newly translated script prioritises the message and ensures that the translation is natural in the target language. And it works!

From original songs All That Jazz to Seet-Saat (Spicy Sassy), Mister Cellophane to Maa Huaa Naao (Overlooked Outcast) and Class to Huay (Suck!), the well-thought translation matches, or even surpasses, the original in quality. According to Rattanachai, this interpretation is the result of two decades of passionate work since his high school years. Thai script has been used restrictively within university performances, including Burapha University and Bangkok University.

Though still set in Chicago in 1926, the translation incorporates elements of Thai sensibilities with references to local foods and vernacular language, making the story more relatable and engaging.

The well-synced intonation and word choices allow characters to deliver lyrics tailored to Thais, while ensuring that the witty and satirical elements of the original are preserved.

This full revival by BU Theatre Company gives the classic a new breeze of fresh air. Inspired by both movie and stage versions, the use of space goes beyond the main stage with playful inclusion of aisles and pathways and enhancement by live music, making the theatrical experience more dynamic and immersive.

In major scenes like Cellblock Tango and Courtroom Capers, the lighting design acts almost like an additional performer enhancing the spectacle. However, at times it could have been better harmonised with the rest of the performance. There were issues such as lights not coming on at the right moment or being incongruous with the scene. These problems might be attributed to it being the first week of the show.

The cast -- varying from experienced alumni who are now professional artists to students who are learning -- are highly talented, with standout performances across the board.

Tanyapat Jinjantarawong depicted Velma Kelly with charm and brilliant dancing skills. Her portrayal is fiercely competitive and her sassy demeanour masks a ruthless and resilient personality. Adding more of her unapologetically self-assured attitude to this cunning and manipulative character would further enhance her performance with a strong sense of ambition and determination.

Peeraya Rojanarak as Roxie Hart is particularly noteworthy, delivering a stunning performance with a beautiful and enchanting voice. Her command of the stage and ability to engage with space is also impressive. Despite her wardrobe mishaps, she maintains her calm as the show must go on.

The show stealer, however, is Patreeya Payom portraying Mama Morton. She exudes confidence and shrewdness, captivating the audience with her powerhouse singing and ball-of-fire presence every time she emerges on- and off-stage.

Meanwhile, outstanding among the troupe is Varintorn Yaroojjanont as suave lawyer Billy Flynn. He brings good looks with a strong voice and self-assured performance. The impressive depiction of Amos Hart by Weeracheat Kantisa cannot be overlooked either.

Clearly the ensemble is the heart and soul of the show. They perform their hearts out demonstrating a high level of training cultivated by the Faculty of Communication Arts. Their energy and dedication bring the show to life and the ensemble's seamless coordination with characters and passionate performances are crucial in maintaining the flow of the musical.

Recognition should be given to teacher-cum-director Punnasak Suklee, who has dedicated himself to nurturing new talent. In the director's notes, he also observes that this musical resonates with the socio-political elements of contemporary Thailand. In line with the original musical, it mirrors the media frenzy over human stories, fame seekers and social injustice. A remark at the end of the performance mockingly raises questions about whether we should still have faith and trust in our country.

Bangkok University Theatre Company's revival of Chicago is fresh and the dedication and talent of the cast and crew are evident throughout the production, making it a must-see. This production not only showcases the artistic capabilities of the students and alumni, but also highlights the potential of local adaptations.

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