It really works! World exclusive in Bangkok

by Robin Westley Martin
The Workshop musical

No one expected this! A Broadway-style full-on musical extravaganza – with an all-Thai cast. But that’s what we got – in spades – with the worldwide premiere of ‘The Workshop: a dress rehearsal for life!’, that opened on May 18 to a packed house at Bangkok’s impressive Thailand Cultural Centre .

But let’s go back a month or two. While I was around town in Bangkok I had bumped into Darren Royston (the show’s choreographer) who told me about a production that was in the offing that had never before been tried in Thailand… a Broadway style musical, with a Thai cast, but performed in English by the actors and singers. And it was to be a brand new, original story too.

Intrigued, I asked to know more, and ended up being introduced to Stefan Sanchez, the producer, and Dr Cherie Carter-Scott, co-creator of the whole shebang. Stefan, a resident of Bangkok, is an internationally renowned opera singer, who has also produced musical and operatic productions around the globe. Dr Cherie, also a Bangkok resident, has been a professional life coach since the mid 70s, and is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of motivational book ‘If Life is a Game, Here are the Rules.’ Together with her sister, Lynn Stewart, also a life coach, they had the idea that the accounts of the people they coached in their workshops would make a great story. So they set about doing just that! 10 years along the line the end result is a world-class musical that Bangkok has been privileged to be chosen as the place for it to be presented onto the world stage.

Cherie, Lyn, and Michael Pomjie sat down together and chose 11 story backgrounds to showcase in the musical, from real-life issues that people attending their workshops had come to prevail over. They wrote the narratives for the show, the lyrics and music for the songs, and Darren Royston took care of the choreography. Napisi Reyes was the director. Auditions were held, which Stefan said went surprisingly well, and the performers set about rehearsals, and training with an English language coach. I attended some of the rehearsals and was astounded to see how hard these, by and large, virgins to the stage, wholly applied themselves to the exercise, with energy, enthusiasm -and a few laughs along the way thrown in, too. After five months, it was showtime!

And so to the show!

On opening night the auditorium was buzzing, and it was a sellout. I felt the excitement and electricity in the air. Everyone present was looking forward with great expectation to this world premiere of The Workshop, and the audience was international, with people from all five continents. With a lot of Thais present, too. Although the musical is in the English language, Thai subtitles are projected onto screens that they can easily follow if their English is not so good.

As the live band started playing the first song, the lights came up to reveal the minimalist stage setting, of what a de-facto coaching workshop would actually look like. The cast portrayed the “difficulties” in their life that they were trying to overcome with pathos and acting talent that belied their amateur status. The dance routines were complex and exciting, yet were spoton, with not a step out of place. They were performing at the top of their game, and the stories they were telling resonated with the audience. Ernie suffering from losing a wife of 30 years to cancer, Karen trying to overcome an eating compulsion, Pete Pol/Venda trying to deal with his gender understanding, to those who can never say no, to how to find a voice, to how to explain the trauma of a sexual assault, and more. These all sound daunting and rather sombre problems, and not exactly for light family viewing. Many in the audience clearly sympathised with the issues being played out on stage, and had either experienced something of the same themselves, or at least knew someone who had.

The whole point, though, of people going to a life workshop is to get help with overcoming the issues they have.

And in this musical they do overcome, they do prevail. There is an uplifting climax, and the cast’s problems are mostly resolved, as the whole cast combine to perform a rousing choral finale. At the end, after the cast have performed their bows, the audience get to meet the performers in the foyer, and from some of the conversations I overheard, the performances of the cast members had touched them deeply. 

This show is a real first for Thailand and Bangkok, a true world premiere. The show is on until June 1st at the Thailand Cultural Centre, go and see it. Don’t miss the chance to see this spectacular musical, before it heads to the West.

The Workshop musical in Bangkok

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