IN the closing months of the Japanese Occupation in Malaya, a young girl named Lily finds herself working as a dance hostess in Tong Lok Dance Hall in Penang and forced to entertain the Japanese soldiers.
She meets a young but tired and war-weary Japanese officer named Asagao, and finds herself in his care following a tragedy.
With the help of some locals, their relationship deepens but things get complicated when Boon Hwa, a zealous leader in the anti-Japanese army whom Lily is betrothed to, comes looking for her.
After two successful productions, The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Taylor’s University is now putting on an original musical drama called A Flower’s Promise.
Produced and directed by senior lecturer (theatre) Pat Chan, A Flower’s Promise is based on an original script inspired by the West End musical Miss Saigon and written by Chan and her students from the American Degree Transfer Programme.
The music score is written by veteran composer Shen Ching, better known as Shensation, while the cast is a melting pot of students from various schools and programmes within Taylor’s University.
Playing Asagao is El-Umar Mukhtar Abduk Wahid, who has acted before in plays but this is his first musical effort.
The Taylor’s Business School student said he has always wanted to be in a musical drama, so he is excited that this opportunity came along.
“It never crossed my mind to be involved in theatre but after a friend got me to audition for his play, my interest was awakened,” he said.
“At first my parents did not approve, but they relented after seeing my passion and only agreed on condition that my studies are not neglected.”
To El-Umar Mukhtar, theatre is a form of self-expression that has allowed him to explore his emotions.
He also likes the fact that a stage production is a team effort and each person has to play his part in order for it to work.
The part of Lily goes to Sharifah Alya Amani Syed Nasir from the School of Communication.
Sharifah Alya Amani has been acting from a very young age and was also involved in the university’s production last year.
“I love theatre, so it makes sense for me to be involved,” she said.
“You don’t know how good you can be at something until you have tried it out. I wasn’t sure I could sing well, but the vocal coaching these past weeks have made me realise that what I am capable of.
“I’ve always wanted a role in a musical, so now I get to see this dream fulfilled!”
Bryan Tiang Zhang Quan, a business major from the American Degree Transfer Programme, plays Boon Hwa and is enjoying the experience.
“I am always looking at testing my acting limits and Boon Hwa is a character who develops significantly by the end of the show,” he said, adding that he is keen to continue pursuing acting even after he completes his studies.
“To prepare myself as an actor, brain-training games help improve cognitive skills like memory, multi-tasking and flexibility so that you are able to process more things subconsciously while on stage.
“I’ve learnt that when being in character, it is best to just live in the moment and not overthink the part. By simply immersing myself in the character in each situation, I can then bring out a raw and in turn, more honest, interpretation of my character.”
One of the scriptwriters, Megan Chuah Mae-Ern, is using this opportunity to hone her creative writing skills which is her major along with English.
“It has been really eye-opening with regards to the mounting of a large-scale production for a live stage performance, everything that goes into preparing for it,” she said.
“This is both work as well as enjoyment for me, made all the more fun since I am working with such good friends.”
This production is timed to commemorate the 60th Merdeka Day this year as the nation celebrates her diversity of races, religions and cultures.
The musical drama is inspired by true events and based on historical facts researched by the scriptwriters.
One of the researchers is Hazman Azim Mokhtar, a political science major.
“I have to admit that before being involved in this, I had very little knowledge of the Japanese Occupation,” he said.
“The more I read, the more I realised how privileged my generation is who did not have to undergo such suffering.”
Hazman Azim added that being involved in this project has also allowed him to “see first-hand the workings of a stage production from the inside out” and also made him realise that a two-hour long presentation like this is “the result of months of planning, preparing and rehearsing”.
He has learnt that “coming up with a good story and bringing it to life are two completely different things”.
The stage manager is Marina Mohd Hamdan, who is a criminology major from the American Degree Transfer Programme.
Marina, who has enjoyed theatre growing up, initially contemplated acting but then jumped at the chance to be the stage manager.
“Being the stage manager has taught me to take care of 70-plus people at one time,” she said.
“The job of management and organisation can be very demanding and tiring, but this experience has made me a much more independent and efficient person.
“I learnt to adapt and work under pressure, and now I think this kind of work is my calling.”
Chan praised her cast and crew for their dedication, spending their evenings over many weeks in working on putting together this production.
She said that many students are even taking on double duties, like acting and writing or acting and publicity work.
“This is an educational venture, aiming to bring light to the younger generation of the struggles endured by our forefathers,” said Chan.
“The production also seeks to showcase the diverse talents and vast creativity to be found among Taylor’s University lecturers and students.
“The students have also learnt to organise their time, and about working together like a family unit.”
She added that she would like to enter this production for the Boh Cameronian Awards.
Proceeds from the ticket sales will be donated to various causes, including the Bodhi Home Care Shelter in Cheras, Good Samaritan Home in Klang and Rumah al-Mahabbah in Klang.
To purchase tickets, contact Kian Yang at +6011 2820 9850 or firstname.lastname@example.org
A FLOWER’S PROMISE
Dates: July 14 and 15
Showtimes: 3pm and 8pm
Venue: Taylor’s University Lakeside Campus, Subang Jaya
Ticket prices: RM25, RM30, RM35