Lawyer-turned-actor Chacko Vadaketh set to hold his first solo show at Bobo KL

'Songs & Stories' will feature an eclectic mix of musical tunes coupled with anecdotes from his life.

(Photo: Shahrill Basri/ The Edge Malaysia)

When Chacko Vadaketh was growing up, he wished life was just one big musical and he could burst into song at any given time. His was a family that sang, especially both his sisters and their father. Mum did not really sing but enjoyed musicals, which he has always been partial to.

“When we went on holidays around Malaysia, we’d be driving and singing all the way. We’d watch musical theatre and want to sing the songs together. Whenever we had family gatherings, everybody sang. So, singing is part of my life.” There was also the church choir, of which he was a part.

Songs & Stories are what Chacko has in store for guests at his first-ever solo show at Bobo KL, over four nights starting June 22. “It’ll be just me talking and telling stories, kind of anecdotes from my life, hopefully with some humour, and songs that kind of bring them together.”

There will be an eclectic mix from Rent and My Fair Lady, one of the first musicals he can remember, and picks from the 1980s and 1990s, “my era kind of songs”, says 60-year-old Chacko, who was born in India, raised in Malaysia and schooled in England.

Helping him shape the show are Saidah Rastam and Sheena Gurbakash, with Joshua Gui as singing coach. He will be accompanied by music director Loh Ui Li on the piano, Jae Sern Lim (violin) and Marina Zaini (double bass).

As for stories, there are loads to mine from Chacko’s decade as a litigation lawyer before he became a full-time actor, voice-over artist and host. There are similarities between law and acting, but reaching a wider audience than one or three judges and touching hearts and minds of some of the public make the latter more appealing, he thinks.

Speech and drama classes in primary and secondary school exposed the relatively shy Chacko to the world of make-believe. Cambridge, where he read law and archaeology and anthropology, offered opportunities to audition and perform. The theatre bug bit him hard and stuck while playing the titular role of Othello at the university. He remembers taking the curtain call as family and friends cheered and showered him with carnations. “That’s what I want to do,” he told himself.


Chacko in 'Love Story The Musical' by Dama Orchestra in 2017 (Photo: Chacko Vadaketh)

It would be years more before the man who considers himself lucky to have a nice and powerful speaking and singing voice made full use of it. But he reckons he still has to work at pitching and timing because they do not come naturally to him.

Chacko, who sits on the board of Rimau, which has been trying to save the Malayan tiger, has a song about nature and the environment. He produced, directed and narrated a documentary for the Cambridge Festival 2022 showcasing four conservation initiatives in the Malaysian Rainforest, called Kaleidoscope of Rainforest Conservation.

Two idyllic childhood years of living with grandma in his birthplace, Kerala, while his mother did her paediatrics specialisation in London remain fresh in his mind. “I’d probably talk a bit about what that meant to me and my identity as a Malayalee Syrian Christian. I’m very much Malaysian but I have a strong affinity with Kerala. My roots are there and with the community here [in Kuala Lumpur].”

He hopes his vignettes can “paint a whole scenario, an experience” of the years he spent working in Singapore and Los Angeles. He went to LA on an O1 visa as an alien of extraordinary ability in 2009 and was there till 2014 November, when he returned to KL as his mother was not well. Mum was the late pioneering paediatrician, Dr Rebecca George.

Chacko, who has added writer, trainer and producer to his credentials, is an old hand on stage and in film. He was narrator for the History Channel Asia and Nat Geo Asia series Road to Nationhood, host for the Royal Gala for The Prince of Wales and the Association of Media & Entertainment Counsel Awards Night, Los Angeles, and one of the hosts for Boleh The Podcast along with Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan and others. He was Coach Tharman in Anak Merdeka (Astro)and presenter for Hakam’s (National Human Rights Society) Facebook Live series.

His TV credits include Strike Back by Cinemax, Our Girl (BBC), The Bridge (HBO Asia/Viu), The Bold and The Beautiful (ABC), and Ghaib (Tonton/TV3). Among his stage credits are King Arthur (in Camelot), Prospero (The Tempest) and Mahatma Gandhi (Steve Allan Theatre, Hollywood). As for films, he performed in Princess of Mars, 1957: Hati Malaya/The Heart of Malaya, Entrapment and 2012: Ice Age.

Asked if he is selective about projects, he says clashing schedules is one deciding factor. He might take on a job to gain more exposure and experience in the Malay film and TV scene, or for viewers to get to know him. Finding a good fit with fellow actors is also important because they may be working closely for months.


On location in Griffith Park Hollywood for 'Princess of Mars' (Photo: Chacko Vadaketh)

With funding for the performing arts, especially theatre, shrinking, there is also the struggle thespians face. “The problem is whether you can afford to do it and how you can augment your income through other means. Ultimately, it’s whether the work is something that appeals to me.”

With the pandemic years behind him, the idea of returning to law did crop up, but he realised he had been out of it for too long — 15 years. Looking for something else to do, he turned to corporate training, which combines his corporate, legal and communication skills, and is now a facilitator with Enfiniti Academy.

“Then people heard I was back and I started getting acting gigs and have kind of fallen back into this,” says Chacko, who continues to enjoy doing voice-overs, and making sure that such artistes, who could be at the bottom of the food chain after the studios, production houses, clients and advertising agencies, get paid a reasonable amount and are not exploited.

Like every actor who dreams of making it in the US, Chacko has wondered about what might, or could, have been if he had not returned home. “I mean, I loved LA and things were starting to possibly take off. But there are no guarantees. You know, perhaps if my career had really taken off, then I could justify not moving back.

“But I’m glad I came back. I was very fond of my mother and she had done so much for me. She was alone most of the time and I was very grateful I had the chance to make her life active as much as possible. I think my being back and having that kind of attention helped her kind of blossom again”, before she passed in 2022.

Singapore remains an option although he cannot see himself moving there with dad, retired judge Tan Sri V C George, ageing, albeit healthy.

“I think one of my regrets is perhaps I should have focused on Singapore. I was doing well and in a sitcom.” Chacko played Sabo Singh in all three seasons of Mr Kiasu, a popular sitcom in the city state in the 1990s. It was nominated for Best Comedy at the Asian Television Awards.

“I guess I should probably write. The question is, what to write? Writing is a very lonely process; you’re just by yourself and the keyboard and it goes on and on and on. But once you get into that space, it’s very rewarding — you can lose yourself in there. I find it quite difficult to force myself to do that. Guess I’m quite a gregarious person, so I miss company and things.”


Rehearsals with the band before his show (Photo: Chacko Vadaketh)

Looking back on the choices he has had to make, “the pieces all come together. I mean, it’s been a rich experience for sure”.

Despite what people say about Hollywood being superficial, Chacko shares that he made some very good friends. Then again, everybody there is struggling on their own.

“As I get older, I’m glad to be in a place where there is family support. I mean, if you make it big in LA, yeah, it’s fantastic. Otherwise, you’re playing supporting roles in TV series and you’re just one of many. Over here, if there’s an opportunity, I can perhaps play a bigger role or get more attention.”

Does he still feel the same thrill when the lights come on as when he first started?

“I guess I’m more seasoned. But I think every time you step on the stage, you have the nerves and you sort of wonder whether it’s going to work and you ask, ‘Why am I doing this?’

“As you’re getting to the rehearsal stage, invariably, something will go wrong and everybody’s in a panic and everybody’s stressed. But then, once the show happens — and hopefully it works — there’s nothing like it. To entertain, to captivate an audience and bring them either joy or catharsis, or move them if it’s something very special. To create something beautiful, whether it’s on stage or in film that touches people and takes them outside their world and into another.”

That’s the “chocolate voice” actor telling a favourite story, for sure. He does not know how the moniker came about but happily uses it as a hashtag, #ChackosChocolateVoice.
“I have also been called Chackolicious but they may not have been referring to my voice...”


'Songs & Stories' by Chacko Vadaketh is on at BoboKL from June 22 to 25. Tickets at RM100. Buy here.

This article first appeared on June 12, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


Follow us on Instagram