Colourful characters and infectious tunes are promised in this tale set in the savannah.
SOME wild and crazy things have been going on in the African savannah recently. A big game hunter is on the loose, and he plans to steal the tears of an ancient crocodile! But standing in his way are ... a young zebra and his best friends, a cheetah, and a lion cub?
Expect colourful costumes, catchy songs, and a whole lot of fun and laughter with Zak Zebra’s African Safari, an interactive musical for children and the young at heart. Created by local composer Nick Choo and Murdoch University Assoc Prof Jenny de Reuck from Australia, the musical has played to full houses and critical acclaim in Australia and will be making its Malaysian premiere next week.
“It’s a very physical show. I think the choreography is very visual, and very fun to watch, and the young performers really bring a different sort of energy to the piece,” says Mark Beau de Silva, who directs the show with Omar Ali.
“Everything is very fast, and Nick Choo’s music is wonderful! His fans will see a different side to his music: a more upbeat, faster side.”
“It’s fun for everyone,” says Omar at the recent interview, adding, “And if people become inspired to take care of nature and animals in the process, it’s a bonus. We’re not going to be outrightly preaching that, but if they get that, great! Our hope is for people to have fun, and have a really good time.”
Zak Zebra features a book by de Reuck, choreography by Lex Lakshman Balakrishnan, and lyrics, music, and musical direction by Choo. The cast comprises Aiman Asmawar, Annabella Yau, Dominic Lucien Luk, Fara Faidzan, Freddy Tan, Ho Lee Ching, Kevin Michael, Nabilah Hamid, Ping Khoo, Siti Farrah, and Vale V. Wong. De Silva also plays a role.
According to Omar, the musical’s casting was influenced by how some of the actors had aspects that reminded him and de Silva of certain animals.
“I mean that in the best possible way!” Omar laughs. “Not just how the animals looked but also their characters in the script.”
The two directors say the musical will feature 13 to 14 musical numbers, with highlights being the ensemble numbers, such as the catchy A.F.R.I.C.A.
The show will also employ projections, and feature audience participation.
Another highlight of the show, they say, is its costumes, with the performers dressed as the many wild and wonderful animals of the savannah. Some of the colourful characters in the show include wisecracking hyenas, jumping monkeys, a hydrophobic hippopotamus, and even a military meerkat, played by de Silva.
“It’s not going to be like mascot suits, with the performer dressed fully as the animal.
“Instead, our costumes give a hint of the animal, aided through masks and so forth. It’ll be very much like the musical The Lion King,” Omar says.
He adds that one of the challenges he and de Silva faced in staging the musical was keeping the material accessible while making sure all members of the audience enjoyed it.
“From day one, we decided that we did not want to make this just for kids. Of course, they are our target audience, and we want them to have a good time. But we didn’t want to make it too kiddy or too patronizing, where we talk down to them,” Omar says.
“I would say we’re trying to follow the model of Disney films. They may be for kids, but parents can also enjoy them,” de Silva adds.
Much of the charm of Zak Zebra comes from the unlikely friendship of three main characters: the plucky Zak Zebra (played by Fara), the know-it-all Themba the Cheetah (Ho) and the sheltered Lola the lion cub (Nabilah).
The trio even have a song, Why Can’t We Be Friends, about the odd relationship.
“Despite being a lion, my character is not very brave yet. You know how lionesses, like mums, tend to protect their children? So she’s very sheltered, and a little ditzy at times. But she’s always there for her friends. She’ll do whatever it takes to be there for them,” says Nabilah, 25.
“Themba is very fond of literature, and is the most sophisticated of the three. It is a challenge to play her, I’ve never played a smarty pants before!” laughs Ho, 23.
“Zak Zebra sees himself as someone very intuitive. He sees himself as a leader, who takes charge in everything. He’s determined to do things, no matter how young he may be,” says Fara, 22.
“You’d expect one of the predators to take charge, but no, it’s the zebra,” Nabilah laughs. “He’s the bravest of the trio.”
While the character of Zak Zebra was written as male, Fara says gender is not an important aspect of the show, and would not influence her performance.
“As I play the character, I can be any gender the audience wants me to be. I’ll be playing Zak as a boy, but if the audience sees me a girl, they see me as a girl. It doesn’t really matter,” Fara says.
According to the three, one of the more interesting parts of Zak Zebra was how to portray themselves as being younger in age, given that their characters are tweens.
“You also have to be animal-like, but also not too much like an animal,” Ho says. “And finding a balance is quite a challenge.”
The trio adds that they hope their characters’ larger than life personalities will inspire children in the audience to embrace who they are.
“It teaches kids that it’s fine if you’re different. You can be a hippo and be afraid of water. You can be a lion and not be brave. It’s fine if you’re not who people expect you to be,” says Nabilah.
■ Zak Zebra’s African Safari will be showing at the Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre (Jalan Strachan, off Jalan Ipoh, Sentul Park) from Feb 3-8. Showtimes are 11am and 2pm on Feb 3-5 and 3pm and 8.30pm on Feb 6-8. For ticket purchase, contact the centre’s box office (03-4047 9000) or ticketpro.com.my (03-7880 7999).