Thursday 19 January 2012

Malaysian Girls - how ugly can it get?

I managed to catch Malaysian Girls while it was showing at Penangpac last Sunday.

Blurb from the KLPac site:
MALAYSIAN GIRLS lures you into the exciting world of a beauty pageant. The heady mix of glamour and talent is enticing in itself. Throw in the drama that unfolds when there is such a coveted title to be won and such differing notions of beauty together with Mark Beau de Silva’s humorous writing, you are in for an absolute treat.
The musical pits two camps against each other. On one side you have Serenity Billion – the person who started the Malaysian Girls pageant to seek and define a uniquely Malaysian ideal of beauty. On the other side you have the flashy Ray Sanjay and the go-getting Jasmin Hibiscus who have bigger and bolder ideas. Just how ugly can it get?

[Hmm, now I know what's missing from the programme book. The storyline. I mean, like the detailed storyline, not the promotional blurb/writeup that's on the webpage and the flyers.]

The story:
The musical started with a slowish scene "The Runway Funeral" - where Serenity Billion (Tabitha Kong) and the girls mourn the death of the founder of Malaysian Girls, Cikgu Samsara (I think that's how it's spelt? Because it doesn't appear anywhere). Okay - straight off, this wasn't the brilliantest of ideas. Most musicals start with a fast number because you really want to capture your audience and dazzle them before they get restless. If you need to start with a slow one, it has to be something that really packs a punch. So the girls mourn the Cikgu's death, you have a sad scene, touching really, but it doesn't grip you because you don't know who the heck anyone is yet and why this matters. Then the Cikgu's brother, Ray (Aanantha), turns up along with his go-getter PA, Jasmin (Siti Farrah), and her two sidekicks, Gucci Lim (Freddy Tan) and Bata Tan (Alvin Looi). Ray and Jasmin offer to buy over Malaysian Girls from Serenity, and she refuses to sell. Conflict #1.
Serenity rouses herself and continues to train the girls.. Ray and Jasmin (more of Jasmin, really), trying to impose her idea onto the whole thing, imports in an Australian to train the girls. Sydney Belle (Zoe Taylor) is the quintessential supremist white chick, as evidenced by her song (in a later scene), "If Your Mama Ain't White". She does impress with her aria, "O Mio Babbino Caro", though. The girls soon split into two groups - Serenity's "Malaysians, remember your traditions" group and Jasmin's "you must try to be white" group. Conflict #2.
The competition heats up and Serenity's main supporter, Lin Lin (Anrie Too), switches camp all of a sudden. There was totally no build up to this, or if there was, it was just too unnoticeable. Actually, the divide of the girls into the two camps was rather fuzzy as well. You don't see it happening until suddenly they are led off in two different directions.
There's a hilarious Q&A scene, Serenity gets into another upset (she's always just upset, isn't she?) and berates everybody. The story ends with everyone declaring how Malaysian they are and everybody is reconciled with everybody else. (Okay, I glossed over some parts, but then again, if they ever stage this show again or sell the DVD, you don't want to know all the details, right?)

Other notes:
- Gucci sings this really ridiculous Hokkien/English rap-song thing, "My Name is Gucci" in Scene 5, "Here to Stay". Well, I found it funny even if I didn't quite understand everything he said - I couldn't help wondering how this caught on with the KL audience whose Hokkien knowledge is generally even more non-existent than mine (as pointed out by Yuin-Y). The problem with this was - it didn't really lead anywhere. You would expect a slightly bigger role in the plot to be played by Gucci, since he has this song all to himself, but he doesn't do much anywhere else. It felt as if this song was put in specifically to garner local Malaysian crowd support (hey, give them something really local) in a Namewee-type copy/parody.
- The little love-scene thing in "The 7th Day" with the song "What is this feeling" was also a little put on. There hadn't been any chemistry between Serenity and Ray before that - Ray was always just flashily flirting with all the girls or being led around by Jasmin and Serenity was almost always upset/angry at something - so it seemed rather cheesy to put in this love scene. It felt like a prerequisite scene, just because you HAVE to have a love scene. At least there was a semi-resolution to this in the end.
- Thumbs up to the Jai Ho sequence. That was pretty. :)
- It was great that they used songs written by local singer/songwriters. The music was nice, but it wasn't quite catchy or memorable enough to get stuck in your head. Also, some of the lyrics were just a little confusing. None of us really got what Lin Lin was trying to sing in "Beautiful to me" right before she jumped ship - we had the feeling that she was actually trying to console Serenity, but then right after that, she betrays her. It also felt as if the songs were picked for musical, rather than being written for it, if you get what I mean.
- I suppose it was partially intentional, but the constant switch between  Malaysian English and more formal English (in sentence structures as well as accents) was a little annoying.(Gah, too many Yasmin Ahmad wannabes? Just because it works in her films doesn't mean it works everywhere else)
-Siti Farrah did an awesome job as Jasmin. She was the most real character (and consistent) in the whole musical. Alvin's Bata Tan was one of the attention-grabbing ones as well, though I'm not too sure if it was for a good reason!

I kind of get where they were going with this musical, what with all this I Am Malaysian sentiment going around and I liked it. The ending was really touching. I could've cried. It just felt that little bit too disjointed, between the beginning and the end. 

But overall a great effort all around. Despite all my gripings, I did enjoy the show.

Read Yuin-Y's review here