By Malie Bifc USA
Press coverage of WATERFALL a new musical from May 2015…
Special report ABC7 news Los Angeles by Adrienne Alpert
Los Angeles Times
*** A great article by Michelle Mills from San San Gabriel Valley Tribune, 05/28/15
Love can be transformative, affecting your life long after you and that special someone have parted ways. It’s what we learn from these experiences and how we use that knowledge that is at the core of the new musical, “Waterfall,” premiering at the Pasadena Playhouse on May 29 for a run through June 28.
“Waterfall,” based on the novel “Behind the Painting” by Siburapha, tells the story of an affair between a Thai student and an American woman. Set in the 1930s as the Thai monarchy is falling and Japan is about to enter the war, the tale also explores politics, culture and the impact of relationships.
“(The student) meets this real-life American woman for the first time, who happens to be the wife of the Thai diplomat that he is supposed to be escorting while in Japan,” said “Waterfall” director Tak Viravan. “She makes him sees the beauty of the world and the beauty of his roots, his own culture and in turn makes him appreciate the things around him. It makes him become a better person.”
Viravan is a leading figure in Thailand’s theater scene. He has directed 14 musicals and plays, including the musical “Behind the Painting,” from which “Waterfall” has been adapted. He’s also produced several shows on Broadway.
“Waterfall” features book and lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and music by David Shire. It is choreographed, and co-directed, by Dan Knechtges and the cast includes Emily Padgett, Thom Sesma, J. Elaine Marcos and Bie Sukrit.
Sukrit plays the student in his 20s, while Padgett is his 35-year-old lover married to a much older man.
“I think this role is just right for (Padgett),” Viravan said. “Her emotional love and her sincerity of emotions, she’s the Katherine we’ve been looking for. She and Bie have great chemistry together and that’s very important for a love story to work.”
New York City resident Padgett, who has been in “Side Show,” “Grease,” “Rock of Ages” and “Legally Blonde” on Broadway, has mutual admiration for Viravan.
“He’s so respected in Thailand, he’s such a huge deal there. He’s very collaborative. He lives to workshop things and try new things. This is his baby and he definitely has a vision,” she said.
Viravan also has the wisdom to have surrounded himself with a top-notch creative team to ensure the show will work for American audiences as well as its previous incarnation in Thailand, Padgett added.
She calls her character Katherine the “Western Wind,” as she is a force of nature who comes into a younger man’s life and makes him believe that despite his humble beginnings he can change the world.
“She is a New Yorker, she’s a socialite, she’s an artist. She’s just the most fun to play. She’s full of life and sees the beauty in everything,” Padgett said. “I think of her as the girl at the party who stays til the end and maybe goes on the roof, takes her shoes off and watches the sun rise, and that’s OK.
“Katherine is such a relatable character because she loves hard and she makes mistakes and she’s charming. I think having that kind of dynamic in this Thai show is going to be great for American audiences.”
In the book “Behind the Painting” and the movies, as well as Viravan’s 2008 musical, all of the characters were Thai. In this adaptation, Viravan wanted to connect with an international audience. The basic love story is universal, so the key was in the characters.
“When we changed the leading lady to be an American, that changed a lot and opened up into a whole new world of the difference of cultures, the difference of understanding the perception of the world and being able to open yourself to different kinds of beauty,” Viravan said.
Adding to this tale of romance and enlightenment is a lush musical score and a visually appealing set that includes a working waterfall. All this makes for a production boasting a classic feel blended into a modern presentation.
“I want the audience to just come and be taken on a journey,” Padgett said. “This is an epic love story where every character throughout the show changes in a dramatic way from beginning to end. It will be such a beautiful escape for audiences.”
Richard Maltby, Jr. and David Shire offer a love triangle set before the start of World War II
Behind the Painting is a story written by Thai novelist Siburapha. The highly-acclaimed novel has been made into two successful films and was adapted as a musical in 2008. The director of that musical, Tak Viravan, loved the project so much he sought out the advice of lyricist and screenwriter Richard Maltby Jr. (Miss Saigon, Fosse) on how to make it a Broadway-bound musical. The significantly revised show, Waterfall, has its world premiere on June 7 at the Pasadena Playhouse.
“As soon as I made the main character an American girl instead of a Thai woman,” says Maltby in a break from rehearsals, “that opened the door to the entire story of America in the decade in Asia before the war. In the beginning of the 1930s, American influence was spreading around the world like wildfire. Siam became a democracy. In Japan, American music, movies, clothes and culture were just taking over the country. Obviously there was a whole element of Japanese culture that thought it was a catastrophe that Imperial Japan was being eliminated. That decade ended up with them preparing to bomb Pearl Harbor.”
Waterfall tells the story of Noppon (Bie Sukrit) who is given the assignment of assisting a visiting diplomat (Thom Semsa) and his American wife, Katherine (Emily Padgett.) Noppon falls in love with Katherine. The politics of the love triangle mirror the rapidly changing world in which the story takes place.
Not only did Maltby have definite ideas about the story, he knew his regular collaborator, David Shire, should do the music. “There was a lovely fully produced video of [the original show.] It had what we call an Asian aesthetic, not the pace and storytelling you need for Broadway. Richard thought it needed a whole new score. We took it as kind of a job. Within 3-4 months we were as passionate about it and hopeful for its potential as anything we could have picked for ourselves.”
“Somewhere in its heart it’s about something primal,” he says. It’s the exploration of what connects one person to another person. That love transcends boundaries and enemies. This story has a strange mixture of generations. The woman is 35, the boy is 22 and she’s married to a man who is 65. We simply tried to tell the story of each of the characters as honestly as we can.”
As for the music, Shire had a lot to work with. “The score is jazz-influenced and American-influenced because one of the principals is American. It has Japanese music and Thai-oriented music. Luckily the scale used in traditional Thai music is not the same as the one used in Japanese music and I found a way to distinguish the two. Richard and I love passionate sweeping melodies, but we’ve never really gotten to do a big full-blown love story for the musical comedy stage. It gave us the freedom to use some muscles we’ve been dying to use full force for many years.”
Given that each season on Broadway finds plenty of failed shows, what are the chances Waterfall will buck that trend? Shire has confidence in the audience. “This isn’t a cheap show. $14 million is not bargain basement. We believe the most audiences are thrilled by a really good story, well-told, that moves them emotionally.” Maltby also credits one of the themes of the show. “Do you ever forget your first love? That first love remains with you forever. My instinct is that people are going to be really moved by it. We do get our share of tears at the end.”