6 June 2024

Beginning with a bang, gasps and many musical numbers, Bangkok University’s rendition of the hit 1975 Broadway musical Chicago will debut at the Big Mango’s M Theatre on May 10.

Thai PBS World went behind the scenes at Bangkok University’s Performing Arts Faculty theatre space to get to know the cast and production crew.

Directed by Pansak Sukhee and translated by Rattanachai Lueangwongngam,

Bangkok’s Chicago is no small feat. BU Theatre Company manager Chatree Tangwongpimook or Em says Bangkok University’s rendition is different from all other Thai stage productions.

“The crime thriller concepts were challenging to match in parallel with conservative Thai values,” he said.

Without giving too much of the plot away, two female murderers (Velma Kelly and Roxie Hart) set the scene of Chicago as they quarrel for centre stage in newspaper headlines – the idea of which Chatree says would both shock and excite the Thai audience.

It’s common knowledge a murderers should be punished for their crimes, so the scenes of Chicago are set to stand out in dramatic ways.

“But we Thai people have a great sense of humour and can carry our audience forward while still conveying some of the more serious messages of the show,” said Chatree.

Chatree wants to see Bangkok University’s Chicago set the precedent for musical theatre in Thailand.

He says theatre should not be just something for the greatest stars, students should be able to aspire to take the spotlight in global selections too.

“For this play we pick up the most talented of our students, they’re not famous, they’re not already stars and they didn’t have any financial support to get to where they are – but they are talented,” Chatree said.

“They can sing, act, and dance all on their own, that’s the stand-out of our company… We want to spotlight these actors within the performing arts industry so that leaders can scout people from the very beginning to be the next face of the industry.”

The Chicago production team consists of approximately 100 designers, stage support staff, casting crew and understudies. No small feat, the BU Theatre Company’s department consists of 800 performing art students, actors and dancers.

“Our department is the most popular performing arts faculty in Thailand,” Chatree said.

He adds that theatre is well-respected across the country, with every province providing an in-depth curriculum spanning across traditional, avant-garde and modern production styles.

Chicago’s journalist character Mary Sunshine is portrayed by BU Performing Arts student Alina Angelina Mittleman (Lina), who is nervous for her first time singing in a play.

“This is my first musical…as we are one of the professional companies in the country, we require practice and professional guidance.”

“We work with trained professionals, like the set designer, costume and lighting designer,” Alina said.

The rehearsal schedule is separated into three parts focusing on dancing, acting and singing.

“We work with a choreographer and a dance captain maintaining the artistic standards of all choreography and staging within a production,” Alina said, while Director Pansak Sukhee oversees the quality of the acting.

“As for the singing part, we have a trained vocal coach and a music director that are essential for refining our technique.”

“We’ve all been rehearsing on and off for the past few months, recently every day, and usually scene-by-scene. Everyone’s been working so hard and I feel so lucky to be working with a committed group of talented people.”

BU Theatre Company manager Chatree says the humour of the Thai people is of great importance.

“There are just so many more levels to the Thai language that convey more emotions than the American version can…here, our audience can recognise their local news stories, their jokes and their family members in our own translations,” Chatree said.

Chicago’s high-priced lawyer character Billy Flynn is portrayed by screen actor Varintorn Yaroojjanont (Bloom Varin).

“It requires making no mistakes to be able to pull a stage play through from zero to a hundred,” Varintorn said.

“This is one of those not-to-be-missed musicals that happens every once in a while in Thailand, if not imported from global companies from Broadway or the West End.”

“With musicals, everything is live, not just actors but also the musicians. Each and every time we bring it to the crowd, it’s a brand new experience.”

What makes Chicago so unique, Varintorn says, is the classic nature of the infamous crime thriller production.

“Everyone who’s big in the music world will know the story…everybody knows the end already but it’s still enjoyable to watch,” Varintorn said.

“We’ve got the Thai translation and everything is entirely in Thai. I think the story itself is still reflecting true to today because we consume news as if it’s some form of entertainment – I think that’s the heart of the story about Chicago.”

BU Theatre Company is trying to make the performing arts accessible to all Thai people.

Ticket entries start at 800BHT (US$21) while the best and most expensive seats in the house are capped at Bt1500 (US$40 US).

“We also want to show the Thai people they can come and see shows in their language for a modest price range,” BU Theatre Company manager Chatree said.

“At the same time we also need more support from the government and patrons to prop up these broadway productions so that anybody can attend and be inspired by the arts.”

The curtains open on May 10 at M Theatre on Bangkok’s Petchburi Road.

Over the fortnight Friday viewings will run from 7.30pm and on weekends there will be two performances each day scheduled from 2pm-4pm and 7.30pm-9.30pm.

By  Ellie Franco Williams