Friday 13 September 2013

by Chua Zi, Class of 2014, Form 4 Science 1

Photo credit: Khairul Fazli B. Abdul Razak
For students across the world, summer holidays are the time of  the year where they can kick back, bathe in leisure and be free from writing essays or solving equations. However, for Cempakans, the summer of 2013 was the time to go back.

Cempaka Voices In Concert is an annual event organized by our performing arts teachers which features performances specially curated to exhibit the standard of talent in Cempaka. I still remember when it used to be just the junior and senior Cempaka Voices members performing songs and the only dancing we got was back-up dancers to complement the voices. Although the name has stuck, CVIC has evolved over time to encompass not only singing but theatre and dance as well.

Cempaka is a school renowned for many things but one of them is the fine level of performing arts education—one that for many years now has moulded young, shy amateurs into confident performers. And like wine of quality, our talent gets better with age. So this year, ex-Cempakans were invited back to the stage where they undoubtedly spent a significant amount of their school time creating memories that would last their lifetime.

The show was opened by jazz artist Cheryl Tan and her band. Those of us who were around since way back in 2004 may recognize her as Nala from the first official Cempaka Box Office Production (CBOP) Simba. Tonight she stepped out onto the stage, a large red flower tucked behind her ear, lightheartedly introduced herself and the members of her band and as one would expect, joked about how long it’s been since she last stepped on this stage. A brief look into her background would tell you that she is an accomplished jazz musician who seems to have a strong presence in the Malaysian jazz scene. Her training really showed in the performance and her unique voice made her one of my favourites. I would have given her Billie Holiday rendition a standing ovation were I not wearing heels for the first time in my life.

Cheryl Tan Yin Yi | Photo credit: Syariz B. Amir Sharji
Our second performer, Teh Gao Jye played the part of the prince in Cempaka’s 2010 Beauty & The Beast production. Before his recent graduation, he was an assembly favourite, making everyone in the hall swoon every time he got on stage. Now he’s back with his distinct gravelly voice and the age-old formula of being sat on a stool with a guitar, but this time with a few originally composed songs of his own. While it was not my type of music, the row of middle-aged women behind me seemed to really enjoy his performance.

Teh Gao Jye | Photo credit: Syariz B. Amir Sharji
One of the more well-known performers is Annatasha Saifol, who has been involved in many CBOPs including Witches of Oz, We Will Rock You, West Side Story and Fame. Outside Cempaka, she has made a name for herself using her many talents: she is a culinary arts graduate and uses her presence on Tumblr to sell homemade products which include macarons and her trademark starfish hair clips. Her social media popularity and photography work has also gotten her in the pages and on the cover of several teen magazines in Malaysia. Tonight she showcased another one of her talents, stepping out with her bubble-gum purple hair and delivering a sentimental rendition of Katy Perry’s ‘Not Like The Movies’.

Annatasha Saifol | Photo credit: Anis Nadirah Yasmin
Other CBOP veterans who performed include Jes Ebrahim, Abdul Muhaimin and Gabriel Tham, not forgetting Teoh Jun Vinh, who was another one of my favourites. He performed Michael Buble’s ‘I Just Haven’t Met You Yet’ really well, engaging the audience. I most remember him as the Wizard from Witches of Oz, a role he earned when he was only in Form 1. He has since lost the glasses, but still brings a kind of awkward yet really entertaining presence to the stage that gets everyone up and laughing.

Jun Vinh Teoh: | Photo credit: Justin Goh Ti Kean
Halfway through the show my friends and I had decided that the show was not going to be worth our money if Julie Chan didn’t get a solo. Luckily for us, she did and it was amazing. Listening to her brings me back to Witches of Oz when she played Elphaba the Witch of the West, specifically when she sang the well known Wicked hit ‘Defying Gravity’ where she would leave the audience in awe at the end of Act 1 every night, just as she did tonight.

Julie Chan Nuo En | Photo credit: Syariz B. Amir Sharji
An honorable mention also goes to the instrumentalists, especially violinist Andrew Wen Hao Ng who is regarded by one of my violinist friends as ‘the pro violinist’. His impressive solo shows that Cempaka holds and promotes an appreciation for classical music as well, a trait that is progressively lost among today’s younger demographic. And also, much commendation to Mr. Lee from Damansara for his swinging saxophone skills. You can’t have jazz without a saxophone.

Andrew Wen Hao Ng | Photo credit: Khairul Bazli B. Abdul Razak
Although the focus of the concert was the alumni performers, we had our fair share of current students such as Savira and Farel Sigit, Muhammad Luqman, Caleb Choo on the drums, Natasha Lama and others. There was only one dance lined-up for the night—performed by Muhaimin, Annatasha, Jun Vinh and Natasha Lama, which was an exciting and fast-paced number.

Photo credit: Justin Yap Khai Wen
Mr Scott Mcquaid, theatre coach and current director of the Cempaka box office productions also wrote a third sketch for his ongoing skit series, Private Eye. The plot follows an oblivious, self-absorbed detective, played by Luqman, being outsmarted by witty and seductive Breathless, played by Savira. The acting was consistent and the lines were delivered by all actors as sharply as intended. Savira’s talent cannot be overstated—her voice is sublime and her acting equally good. I also found Farel’s new role as a pimp-like character whose swagger outweighed his stature quite refreshing.

Savira Windyani Putri | Photo credit: Khairul Bazli B. Abdul Razak
Muhammad Luqman & Farel Sigit | Photo credit: Syariz B. Abdul Sharji
Jes Ismael also took the stage with his brother, Jes Ebrahim singing 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' by The Beatles. Though Jes is part of a band, his talents were widely unknown until he took on the role of Tarzan in this year’s production. Their performance wasn’t spectacular, but it was definitely engaging. The brothers’ voices complemented each other as much as their matching outfits did, even with Jes Ismael forgetting the lyrics at one part of the song but that’s kind of like his signature. His rendition of American music duo Simon and Garfunkel’s ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ which he performed during Commencements still remains, in my opinion, his best performance (he forgot the lyrics during that rehearsal too).

Jes Ismael & Jes Ebrahim | Photo credit: Syariz B. Abdul Sharji
Lastly, the performance we’ve all been waiting for—Razlan Shah, or as a group of girls two rows behind me shouted,“Go Binsky’s brother!” I think we could all see through the marketing ploy to put him as the last act, but it was worth the wait. I don’t remember seeing him in any productions and he himself says that he was never a performer when he was in school. However, he is currently studying in Berklee College of Music where he is now the student president. Razlan’s music has a sort of Mumford and Sons feel to it and with just two guitars, a cello and a powerful set of drums, the audience was transported to an international indie music festival. It was a performance that gave off a feeling of the freedom that came with summer. It gave me goosebumps.

Razlan Shah | Photo credit: Syariz B. Abdul Sharji
Of course, in true Cempakan style, the show ended with all performers coming onto stage for a run of the song I’ve been hearing ever since I first stepped foot on Cempakan grounds—Seasons of Love. 

If you missed this year’s Cempaka Voices in Concert, I can only hope that my article was able to deliver even a fraction of the magic that happened that night. Cempaka does not churn out stars at an alarmingly high rate like a K-Pop record label but Savira, Jes, Luqman and others will probably still be around to perform next year. Be sure to purchase your tickets early next year so you don’t miss out on what's sure to be another amazing night.
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