When one is far from the familiar embrace of the motherland, a curious transformation often occurs. For some, nostalgia takes hold and sentiments of longing and appreciation for the home country start to grow, leading to a heightened sense of patriotism. In this foreign milieu, they begin to reflect on their own cultural identity, reinforcing connections to their roots.
Michelle Tan — co-director, vocal coach and performer of Dama Asia’s upcoming musical In Perfect Harmony, Too — started finding pride in Malaysia’s unique values while living in unfamiliar territory. “I have actually migrated to Australia but when I was asked to come back to work on this, it was an instant ‘yes!’
“I was never that patriotic growing up and as a teenager, I could not wait to leave the country. But when I arrived Down Under to further my studies, this patriotism just amplified. As a result, I stubbornly refused to pick up an Aussie accent; instead I threw around as many lahs as possible. I celebrated Merdeka Day with fellow Malaysian students with great pride and started really getting into Malay music.”
Tan made her debut in a professional production with Dama in its very first In Perfect Harmony in 2011. It is quite surreal to see it all come full circle and to be working in a more creative capacity on this latest iteration of the show, says the master’s degree graduate in musical theatre from Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts, London. “I’ve always been super proud of my roots and heritage, so to be able to perform in such a quintessentially Malaysian show is a huge honour.”
In Perfect Harmony, Too unfolds within the charming ambience of a traditional kopitiam, serving as the backdrop for a unique podcast, “How Much You Know About Malaysia?”. The show is a delightful exploration of the nation’s heritage through popular music and soul-stirring songs since the days of Merdeka. A talented ensemble of home-grown artists will be singing their hearts out in various languages, including Malay, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hindi and English as well as some popular numbers from Sabah and Sarawak.
The musical is a celebration of the diverse melodies that unite us as Malaysians, fostering a harmonious tribute to our shared identity and cultural richness. The song list includes Queen’s We are the Champions, Sinaran (Sheila Majid), Friends (Alam Tam), Jai Ho (A R Rahman) and Jambatan Tamparuli (Justin Lusah).
According to artistic director Pun Kai Loon, the selection criteria is based on songs enjoyed by the general Malaysian public, irrespective of race. “We had hundreds of songs in our first listing to deliberate over. We spent about three weeks to finally reduce that number to just about 17 songs and six medleys.”
This is the second time Dama is featuring a Malaysian musical journey theme after the premiere of the show in 2011. “This ‘sequel’ production is very much a standalone showcase, with a new stage setting, a more diverse repertoire and a lot of new talents,” Pun beams.
After All That Glitz & Glamour in April, this is Dama’s second fundraising musical planned for this year. Public reception to the show was very encouraging, recalls Pun. “The Edge together with our strong supporters have been of significant help to us. It was a huge relief to have a great reception despite having less prep time. So, we are very much looking forward to the final fundraising showcase, In Perfect Harmony, Too,” he adds.
Cast member Kirthana Kuhendran finds immense joy in gracing the stage alongside fellow performers from diverse racial and cultural backgrounds. “One of the many things I love about being Malaysian is the diversity we celebrate. It’s nice to be able to represent a small taste of Malaysia on the big stage, singing and dancing with my new friends!” This is the first time she is working with Dama and she says it is an honour to finally be on stage instead of watching with the audience. “It has been a wonderful experience to work with such an established company that has made many shows I enjoyed growing up.”
Also making her debut with Dama is Janelle Arnelia, who says being in this musical brings back memories growing up in multiracial Malaysia. “In Perfect Harmony, Too really reminds me of my roots. It gave me an opportunity to study the songs and learn about the different languages and cultures behind them,” shares the lass who grew up listening to songs from different eras, thanks to her parents. She is trained to sing R&B, pop, jazz, Broadway, country and rock as well as in belly dancing, tap, hip hop and contemporary dance.
Zamil Idris, professional master of ceremonies, TV host, voice-over talent and singer, brings along 20 years of experience in the industry. This is the fifth time he is working with Dama since 2016. “This is my first musical production with the multiple-award winning bilingual theatre company. The previous times were collaborations for my solo concerts and I am very grateful for these seven years of working with them.
“I am so excited and feel very honoured to be a part of the musical. It has been a long time since the pandemic. I really miss performing and sharing the stage with other talented Malaysians,” says the Malaysian Idol finalist who has released six songs to date, including a duet with singer-songwriter Hazami.
Khor Seng Chew, the music director of Dama, sums it all nicely when he says: “We are merely playing a small part to have all races working together harmoniously. And it’s an opportune occasion to usher in the Merdeka celebration, which is just around the corner.”
'In Perfect Harmony, Too', presented by The Edge and Dama Asia, will meet the audience at Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre, 1 Utama E from Aug 4 to 6 and Aug 10 to 13. Purchase tickets here.
This article first appeared on July 31, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.