Thursday, June 19, 2008

Thailand's musical revival

There was a time in the Thai film industry when most of the directors and actors came from the theater, rather than television.

And it's heartening to know that a few of those folks are still around, and are actually working.

Among them is Euthana Mukdasanit, director of such classic 1980s Thai films as The Story of Nam Poo and Butterfly and Flowers. He also worked in theater, and back in the day one of his big productions was a Thai-language adaptation of Man of La Mancha.

That acclaimed production has been revived, again with Euthana directing.

Chalee Intharawichit serves as musical director. Chalee was recently on hand at the Ratana Pestonji centennial celebration at the National Film Archive. From a solid background in theater, Chalee had the lead role in Ratana's Dark Heaven back in 1957. It was essentially a filmed version of a musical drama by celebrated playwright Suwat Woradilok.

For the past year or more, Bangkok has been in the midst of a musical theater revival, spearheaded by the opening of the Muang Thai Rachadalai Theatre at the Esplanade Cineplex on Ratchadaphisek Road. Among the acts that have passed through was the touring production of Cats, but there have been several Thai productions as well, mainly adaptations of TV series and variety shows.

Man of La Mancha opened at the theater last weekend. Daily Xpress drama critic Pawit Mahasarinand reviewed it. Here's an excerpt:

Euthana Mukdasanit's legendary film Nam Poo gave teens great memories that have lasted into their middle age, and his La Mancha belongs on the same page of history. It inspires us to stay true to what we believe in, to dream for the better and relentlessly fight for it, no matter what the outcome.

These messages are as relevant in Thailand today as they were 21 years ago when the musical was first presented at the National Theatre.

The thunderous applause on Wednesday night proved that theatregoers, after being spoon-fed visually extravagant but dramatically shallow soap operas and mindless comedies at this playhouse for more than a year, welcome quality musical theatre.

If your time and budget allow for only one grand-scale musical this year, Man of La Mancha is my highest recommendation.

James Roengsak Loyshusak and Ben Chalatid portray Don Quixote and Sancho. Always-watchable actress Patharawarin Timkul is Aldonza/Dulcinea. She's been seen burning up the screen in Jan Dara and Body #19. She was in the original Bangkok Dangerous too. And, she has a theatrical background, being the daughter of Patravadi Mejudhon.

Man of La Mancha is running until Sunday at the Rachadalai Theater.

Update: Two other upcoming musicals are Academy Fantasia the Musical: JoJoSang, adapted from Madame Butterfly, and the romantic drama Khang Lang Phap (ข้างหลังภาพ) -- Behind the Painting.

Adapted from the classic novel by Kulap Saipradit, Behind the Painting has been made as a film twice -- in the 1970s by Piak Poster, and in 2001 by Cherd Songsri. Cherd's version is probably the best known worldwide because it has been released on English-subtitled DVD.

(Via Bangkok of the Mind)


  1. You missed two upcoming ones: JoJoSang, based on an adaption of Madame Butterly, and Khang Lang Phap(ข้างหลังภาพ, or Behind the Painting), which was once a movie, and before that, a Thai novel.

    A report in the Thai language media said the budget for each was B50m, which sounds too much. Even if you half the figure, it is still a lot of money.

    Read more about it here at my blog:

  2. Incidentally, 'Roengsak Loyshusak' won't mean much to readers. He goes more commonly by the name of James.

  3. Thank you BD. I will update my post with that information.

    I wonder if the budget for those shows includes rent on the theatre, which surely must be high?

    But yeah, 50m baht seems a lot. They make movies for less than that.

  4. I reviewed ฟ้าจรดทราย Fa Charot Sai "Sky Meets Sand" on my blog a year ago, the Rachadalai's premiere show. It's still one of my most-read posts (it's the top Google hit for ฟ้าจรดทราย review--not many in English--and in the top fifteen or so results for ฟ้าจรดทราย).

    Anyway, for me it definitely falls into the "visually extravagant but dramatically shallow" category. My wife and I even tried reading the eponymous novel it's based on together, but we fizzled out some 50 pages into its 400-plus-page girth.

    I had hoped to see this La Mancha adaptation (the posters have been in the subway since at least March), but it coincides with my travels abroad. So it goes.

  5. 50 million baht seems kind of obscene, really. I guess previous productions must have done well. The best seats are as expensive as Broadway, after all.


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