LOM HAICHAI the MUSICAL: Boyd in the Skeletal Form

The flawed script leaves Boyd Kosiyabong's songs a ghost of a chance.

The success of jukebox musicals lies first and foremost in the script, or how the already famous songs are tied together in a plausible and entertaining, if not also thought-provoking, dramatic plot.

And when the musical book writer(s), due to a lack of either time or creativity, fails to reinterpret—and the music director to rearrange—these familiar tunes, the show becomes merely a revue or a concert. Such is the case with Lom Haichai (“Breath”) the Musical, based on the songbook of Boyd Kosiyabong, and heavily inspired by a few Hollywood movies like “Always” and “Ghost”.

Although the ads may suggest otherwise, the show is not directed by Boy Thakonkiet, but Thailand-born, Singapore-bred and based Ekachai Uekrongtham, who’s best known for his multi-award winning film “The Beautiful Boxer”.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t use the creative team from Singapore’s Action Theatre, where he’s the artistic director. Lom Haichai looks, sounds and feels just like another formulaic--and hence forgettable--Boy's musical.

One unmemorable scene, supposedly romantic, interprets the hit tune “Dokmai” (“Flower”) with an amateurish dance you might have seen at the Royal Flora botanical show in Chiang Mai a few years ago. Is this because the play is set in Chiang Mai? That’s one of the few references to the Northern capital anyway, and in the end, I just can’t believe this scene is really in a production helmed by Ekachai, whose stage works in Singapore have been critically acclaimed.

Ekachai’s direction falls prey to a script from Scenario’s team that’s stocked with one-dimension characters, cheesy lines and predictable twists. It’s as though they assumed that viewers leave their brains at the door, so everything needs to be explained, repeatedly.

Frequently throughout this musical, the “more is best”, instead of “less is more”, attitude kills the mood. When our hero Pad gets down on his knees and sings the first line of another hit “Lom Haichai” to his girlfriend Fon, the entire audience is moved. But when a few moments later, his friends--almost twenty chorus members--join in, the ballad becomes an anthem.

As in other Scenario musicals, the actors often face the audience rather than their scene partners, like in a concert. Meanwhile spectacular lighting effects prevent us from empathising with the characters and their dramatic situations.

Patiparn Pataweekarn’s performance is never credible as an architect who can’t commit to marriage before his untimely death, and then as a godlike spirit from the afterlife who returns to solve his friends’ troubles. He’s still in character from the hit movie “Kling Wai Kon Phor Son Wai” almost two decades ago and, as in “Fah Charod Sai”, his singing skills fall short and we cannot help thinking of those professional singers who croon these Boyd’s songs more efficiently.

Nicole Theriault has a superior voice, but when she’s not singing, she adopts the young and innocent image that made her famous more than a decade ago.

With the shortcomings of the two leads, Pongsak Rattanapong steals the show in his theatre debut. His portrayal of Tor, Pad’s younger friend who has a secret crush on Fon, is filled with much sincerity that it is both credible and heartfelt.

Rudklao Amratisha, in the meatiest stage role since her college days, is another audience favourite, so much so that we wish her character Chan found new love and got married in the last scene, instead of having that godlike spirit reappear to sum up the story for us. Radklao can both sing and act effortlessly, and when she sings she does so in character.

By contrast, Witchayanee Pearklin is two different characters on stage. When she sings, she’s the powerful Kam the Star we know, and yet when she acts, she’s, not quite believably, the dependent little sister who can’t forget and live without his big brother’s love and care.

A commendable component is the set design which is smart and practical enough to make the play flows smoothly from one scene to another. However, this is often jinxed by the over-designed lighting and video projections.

Successful long-running jukebox musicals in West End and Broadway, like “MAMMA MIA!” and “The Jersey Boys” are based on the songbook of music artists whom the audience can no longer see live on stage. In Lom Haichai’s programme booklet, there’s a full-page ad for a concert of Boyd’s and Dee’s, two kings of pop, songs, as if hinting to us that for better renditions, go to Khao Yai in early December.

Lom Haichai teaches us what we already realize—that we should let go of, not forget, what and who we love that we’ve lost, and continue to live on. Well, I lost Bt 20 for parking fee, two hours in traffic, three hours in the playhouse, and a chance to have a good dinner with my family. I was lucky enough that I didn’t have to pay for a ticket—it’s a press preview. But sorry, I can’t let go of the fondest memory of "Million Ways to Love" concert at the Impact Arena many years ago, and now I'm reloading Boyd's CDs into my car, and the "The Beautiful Boxer" into my DVD player.

Lom Haichai the Musical opened last night (October 28) and is now scheduled to run until November 22 (extension is very likely) at Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre. Wednesdays to Sundays at 7:30pm, with additional 2pm matinees on Saturdays and Sundays (with English surtitles on some days). Tickets are from Bt 500 to Bt 2,800 (sorry, no discounts and promotions), available at Thaiticketmajor. For more, visit www.rachadalai.com.

written by Pawit Mahasarinand

published in DAILY XPRESS on Thursday, October 29, 009

photos courtesy of Scenario

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