>KA-RA-YOU-OK? by ACTION Theatre

>reviewed by Arthur kok

>date: 28 july 1998
>time: 8pm
>venue: the victoria theatre
>rating: ***

>tired already? go home then
>review junkie? whitney, give them this click to sniff

>look, we know that you need to know that we, as responsible reviewers, have some quantifiable categories to rate productions, and are not just relying on some undefinable instinct or gut feeling. So to put your mind at ease, we will give you a logical rating system based on the practitioner's vision / and the reviewer's response of a particular production. Here it is then: ***** : Transcendent / Rapturous. ****: Crystal / Appreciative. ***: Transmitted / Thoughtful. **:Vague / Unsatisfied. * : Uncommunicated / Mystified. Yet in the end, you will feel that this is (1) a cheap attempt to justify the subjective arbitrariness of our rating system (2) buttressed by an interest in the logical (and inevitable) categorisation of such productions, which is (3) undermined by the cheapness of the attempt, and (4) confused by the creeping feeling you are getting that we are dead serious in our feeling that this rating system is an accurate description of the content, intent and quality of the production. Oh please -- does it even matter now? Look, at least we tried.


It stared straight at you: a huge fertile sphere housing a nine-cell screen, as if daring you to enter the heady recesses of that karaoke nucleus. Little wonder then that it was a woman - the Electric Geisha (Denise Tan) no less - who propositioned the audience with a potent mix of mincing behaviour and bustiered lawlessness. "Come enter my world of KTV fantasy!" she seemed to say.

This season's KA-RA-YOU-OK? is ACTION Theatre's third staging of what was a wildly popular musical. Written by Ming Wong and directed by Ekachai Uekrongtham, KA-RA-YOU-OK? explores the lives of colourful nobodies who jostle for 3-minute fame atop the karaoke platform. To prevent repetition, this present incarnation of KA-RA-YOU-OK? is altered to work in contemporary issues: from the boy-band phenomena, the looming National Day patriotism to familial fragility. KA-RA-YOU-OK? once again triumphs because of broadly identifiable themes.

>>'KA-RA-YOU-OK? once again triumphs because of broadly identifiable themes.'

A key technique was to juxtapose scenes of the acceptable mainstream (professional and club culture) with the muskier environs of the May Sing Lounge. KA-RA-YOU-OK? thus throws up the disparities between the "then" and the "now". The Echo Boys is the embodiment of what works at present - an abomination of commercial excess - gyrating and hot-stepping to cover versions of more recognised boy-bands. Notably an attempt by ACTION Theatre to create a boy-band worthy of this side of the antipodes, the Echo Boys, however, came up a tad limp. The choreography was contrived (okay, so all boy-bands have contrived movements) and stiffly executed, at times even out of synch. Thankfully, composer Ken Low granted them a comeback with the highly marketable song "Escape". Another hit for Ken, who unveils yet again an uncanny ear for music genres.

Meanwhile, the regulars at May Sing Lounge effortlessly enter the audience's heart through good old fashioned camp. Sam D'Costa (Wilson David) buttock-cheek-tweaked his way to a convincing Tom Jones dead ringer. Similarly, Charlie (Wee Tze Lin) carried the Elvis Presley fan cum lounge owner competently. However, my heart goes out to Boh Gay (Benjamin Ng), who for all his coarseness, has a most unaffected Hokkien abandonment. Despite their sincerity, the likeable denizens of the KTV joint become increasingly aware of their own obsolescence.

As the musical is sympathetic to the karaoke ethos, the ideas of progress and change are subverted by the overarching commonality of music as the panacea for personal angst, regardless of "race, language and religion". Ultimately, even the anti-establishment individual escapes through karaoke. At the Golden Microphone Karaoke Contest, the screen becomes literally fertilised by a ring of snaking sperm-like microphones, suggesting the conception of a new entity, the birth of self-actualisation. Set designer Chan Man Loon successfully employs gargantuan imagery with clean modern geometry to underscore thematic epochs. On such a stage, redolent with wit and camp, the stuffy high brow academician struts alongside the queer, each confident at last of him or herself. The Contest spotlights a sensational drag Diana Ross (Sebastian Tan) who wowed the audience with sultry vocals and synthetic glamour. Sebastian's almost off-hand mastery of the heartthrob DJ slash transvestite soul-queen could easily have made him the best "woman" for the night, had it not been for another:

Powerhouse Deborah Png soars as Gigi, the flawed facsimile of Teresa Teng, sending the audience into hysterical fits with her comic genius. At the contest, her horrendous singing gives way to a sensitive rendition of Teng's "The Moon Represents My Heart", resplendent with melodramatic gestures. Deborah realises this meaty character to perfection, bringing out the pathos of a woman abandoned by husband first and later by her beloved son. Her 10 years of stage experience, spanning over some 30 productions, SHOWS. D is for Deborah. D is for Diva.

Ostensibly, the original cast and story of KA-RA-YOU-OK? shone even more brilliantly on Thursday night, prompting a suspicion that the musical's previous seasons were probably better. The latest incarnation of KA-RA-YOU-OK? seems bogged down by distracting (even uninteresting) digressions: namely teenage narcissistic preoccupation with originality and true love. Thankfully, the brilliance of the original script ensured the twinkle in this 1998 version. It was worth abandoning my anti-karaoke sentiments: KA-RA-YOU-OK? projects its aural dynamism full heaving chest forward and leaves everyone yelping along.