Musicals: A modern twist on beloved fairy-tale characters

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on August 13, 2018.

Kai, AISM’s Year 11 student, was in charge of costume design and make-up for the musical.

Kiesha used a movie on Red Riding Hood and feedback from teachers to bring her character to life.

Lomani, who played Red Riding Hood in the matinee shows, was at first nervous on stage but is now set to take new roles in future. With her is Shafiq who played the cunning Wolf.

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The Australian International School Malaysia (AISM) recently presented a musical by American composer Stephen Sondheim, Into The Woods, to a sold-out crowd for three consecutive nights from July 19. The school also hosted the Chin Students Organisation (CSO) refugee school, homeschooling centres and local schools in separate matinee shows.

The musical was double-cast, which gave opportunities for more students to participate and benefit from being exposed to being in a large-scale musical, in line with the school’s inclusive education philosophy.

“Every child has equal opportunities to excel. Students who may not be exceptional at acting and singing, but have potential, are given a chance to be in the musical. We teach our students to have a go, to try and not be afraid to fail, which is what an Australian education is about,” said the head of Whole School Arts, Eryn Grady.

“The double-casting was no easy feat, since it meant we had to train twice as many students and double the amount of work for costumes, make-up and more. Being inclusive is important for the arts,” she added.

Kiesha Venga played the role of Red Riding Hood in the main cast and expressed the bewilderment, the joy and anguish of the character extremely well.  “At first, I studied the character of Red Riding Hood from the movie itself. Throughout our six months of rehearsing, our teachers constantly gave us feedback on how to improve and perfect our roles, which made it much easier for us to bring our characters to life”, she said.

Lomani Ritchie, who also played Red Riding Hood during the matinee shows, shared how she enjoyed being part of the production. “I was always nervous about performing on stage, but this role has given me a boost of confidence, and now I would like to take on different roles in future,” said Lomani.

The musical tells the story of a childless baker and his wife who go on a quest to begin a family; how they interact with a witch who places a curse on them, and how other loved fairy-tale characters including Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Rapunzel and Little Red Riding Hood intersect with their journey.


Light-hearted humour

The play boasted beautiful songs and light-hearted humour which kept the audience enthralled until the very end. The stage set-up complete with giant trees and two towers, one of which was used by Rapunzel, cast an amazing backdrop for the musical.

Hollie Manders-Jones, who played the witch, gave an unforgettable performance with her evil laugh and high-pitched voice. “I loved playing this character because it is a somewhat comedic role, so I was able to go a little over-the-top with my actions and singing. Plus, it was the only transformational character which gave the musical a ‘wow’ factor in the end. Performing arts is not one of my strengths, but my interest in musical theatre has definitely heightened by being involved in this production,” said Hollie.

Another crowd favourite and memorable character was the Wolf, played by Syafiq Ibrahim. He was exceptional in his delivery of a quirky and cunning Wolf who tried to manipulate Red Riding Hood. “I have participated in two other productions of AISM, and enjoy the feeling of performing on stage, especially in this singing role. These experiences allowed me to work with my peers outside a classroom setting, which made it an overall great learning experience for all of us,” said Syafiq.  

But, apart from incredible acting and singing skills, the highlight of the musical had to be the beautiful costumes which were designed and created by Kai Morley, a Year 11 student of the school with the help of teachers and parent volunteers.

Since 2013, Kai has taken part in fashion shows and productions in Australia. She was one of the finalists in the Seams of New Era Charity Show, Hong Kong, with 19 pieces showcased during the opening of the show. Kai also has her own label “Kai Kavan” which she hopes to further develop when she completes her education. More recently, Kai has lent vast expertise to the school’s Performing Arts Department for various productions.

The school takes great pride in providing all students with diverse and holistic opportunities throughout their student life. The performing arts play a major part in learning in the school through drama lessons and co-curricular activities that students can opt for.

AISM has more than 650 students represented by over 37 nationalities.

The school was recently recognised as the first certified Visible Learning School in the world. Visible Learning is an evidence-based approach to teaching and learning researched and developed by Professor John Hattie of the University of Melbourne.