By Malie Bifc USA
It generally takes several years from the time a musical is proposed for the Broadway stage to the magical moment when the curtain finally rises. Unsurprisingly, the wait is filled with plenty of nervous moments, which may explain why Takonkiet “Boy” Viravan’s nails are bitten to the quick.
However, Scenario’s musical “Behind the Painting” (“Khang Lung Phab”) is apparently still on track though there are still many steps to take on the long road to the Broadway stage.“We don’t know how far the project will go, whether it will or not eventually play on Broadway, but the feedback from the almost three years we have spent on this project is good,” Takonkiet says.
Scenario’s director is no stranger to New York’s famed theatre thoroughfare, having worked as one of the producers for 2010’s “Promises, Promises” as well as “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” and “Nice Work If You Can Get It”.However, Takonkiet had been trying very hard to keep his Broadway project a secret until he at least knew whether “Behind the Painting” would make it to Broadway or not.
But nothing stays secret for long in this town, which is why he found himself last week calling a press conference to ensure the media had their facts right.“We’ve just finished the script reading presentation to Broadway theatre-makers,” he notes, “and while, as I have said, the feedback is good, there is still a long way to go. Our next presentation is scheduled for late February and includes not just the script, but also the staging, blocking and choreography. After that, we have even more hoops to jump through before we know the final outcome.”
There is still the not-incidental matter of finding investors, for example. And the show has to win enough applause to even “qualify” for the big league and a run on Broadway. Takonkiet won’t be alone in the Big Apple if “Behind the Painting” does get the green light. His favourite leading man, Sukrit “Bie” Wisetkaew will reprise the role of Nopporn and the director will also take along his production designer Sasawat Srimahaban and the Scenario music director Sarawut Lertpanyanuch to work on the project.
He selected “Behind the Painting”, he explains, because he feels an American audience will be able to relate to the story.
Nopporn will still be a Thai student in Japan but he’ll fall for Katherine, an older American woman married the widower and diplomat Jao Khun Atikarn rather than the lovely Khunying Kirati.
The musical will keep its 1930s setting and Katherine will be introduced as the daughter of a diplomat who travels with her father to Thailand when he is appointed as the US ambassador. There she meets the Thai bureaucrat Jao Khun Athikarn.
The family returns home to an America in full depression. They go bankrupt and her parents die, leaving her in debt. Jao Khun Atikarn, who is now the Thai ambassador to the United States, reaches out a helping hand and within months, the two are married. Katherine vows to be a good wife when they return to Thailand but during a trip to Japan she meets the Thai student Nopporn.
“In this version, Nopporn is a young Thai bored with his country and dreaming of leaving Siam to settle in the West. Katherine has everything he dreams off yet she is able to convince him to see the beauty of his own country,” says Takonkiet.
He adds that it was important to change the script to reach the hearts of an American audience. “I don’t want it to be a king ‘The King and I’,” he says. We’ve worked hard to portray the true Thai art and culture,” he says,
Award-winning American theatre director Richard Maltby has written the new script and lyrics while David Shire has composed the music. Only one song from the original production has been kept.
Bie was reluctant to accept the proposal, mainly because of his lack of English proficiency but also well aware that working overseas would be stressful and tough.
“I consulted many people, among them my parents and people in the music industry, and they all said I should go,” he says, adding that despite several visits to New York, he still feels nervous about working in a place he knows nothing about. Nonetheless, his English has improved to the point where Takonkiet is piling on the praise.
The director himself says he learned a lot working away from the Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre for the first time.
“My musicals may be successful here but the people who come to see them haven’t grown up with musicals, so it’s impossible for me to judge how good, or how bad, I actually am. For that reason alone, I’ve wanted to stage a musical in the country with a long history of musicals.
“I was very nervous at first but my colleagues reassured me, telling me that I was a legitimate director. That came as such a relief because it told me that what I had been doing was right though obviously I still have a lot to learn.”
Takonkiet adds that he has always dreamed of working on Broadway but being a pragmatist decided to start off by making musicals for the Thai stage. Discouraged by the lack of venues, he set up his own theatre and its success over recent years has contributed greatly to making his name known at the international level.
“Everything I have done has led me to this project. Having a dream is one thing, what I am focusing on now is a realistic possibility. And I am taking it step by step in the hope that I will catch my dream,” he says.