Whether you have it or want more, money can trigger unsound logic that drives erratic behaviour. A couple throwing money they do not have on a wedding to impress relatives who don’t care about them and then spending years repaying the debt incurred is one confounding yet commonplace example.
People use money to impress and convince others, or even themselves, that they are doing well in life, says Terence Toh, who ribs the ridiculous things people do for and with it in Fortune Kooky, a full-length musical comedy he scripted together with Lydia Tong.
The show centres on hawker’s son Jared, an aspiring app developer who strikes gold after designing a new fitness app. With that blessing from the God of Wealth, Jared thinks he can improve the lives of his mother, girlfriend and best friend/business partner. But trouble starts when people are made foolish by his good fortune and Jared, who is among the lot, has to weigh the price he is prepared to pay for a monied life.
“It’s a play of words and a bit satirical,” Toh says of the plot, pieced from stories shared by those who think money can fix everything. The script also refers to fortune cookies, that dessert with a twist and an aphorism or “fortune” wrapped inside. Kooky also means a bit mad and, true to life, money can turn people crazy, he adds.
Fortune Kooky is the second show by KuLT Productions, which he and two friends — music director cum producer Kelvin Loh and Tong, a lawyer who dabbles in songwriting — set up in 2019. The pair set to music 12 original songs that will be played by a five-piece live band comprising Albert Loo, Kelvin Loh, Lee Han, Matthew Wong and Samuel James Adam.
KuLT takes its name from the cofounders’ initials and dreams of staging musicals “rich in [k]reativity, universality, local flavour and talent”. The “u” also addresses the audience, asking them to support its shows and join the cult, adds Toh.
Three years ago, he wrote the script for the company’s debut production, The Working Dead, from scratch too. It is about overworked zombies chasing after money, at the expense of uncountable sacrifices, such as time with family.
The team began working on Fortune Kooky at end-2019 and had hoped to stage it last year. Covid-19 dashed that plan but it turned out to be a blessing because they could rework parts of the whole piece, change some lyrics and put more effort into certain scenes.
The challenge of staging an all-new musical is compounded by the uncertainty of how it will go down with theatregoers more familiar with the classics or popular modern works. On the other hand, Toh notes, you are completely free to do what you want with it. “We struggled with the plot at the beginning and the script went through a lot of rewrites to refine ideas and iron things out.”
Part of the fun of producing something no one has seen before is seeing how people react to it, says this “no-musician” who had a clear idea how his lyrics would sound when sung. “When I penned the words, I was aiming for a certain feel. Kelvin and Lydia always managed to nail it somehow. They’ve worked really hard and I hope, like with our previous show, people will like the songs in Fortune Kooky.”
Three awards at the 17th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards presented in July 2020 were proof that KuLT nailed it with The Working Dead. It won Best Book, Best Score and Best Musical Direction, all under the musical theatre category.
An avid theatre buff, Toh started writing 10-minute shows for KLPac’s Short+Sweet festival, winning best libretto awards in 2012, 2015 and 2016. His Restless was featured in the Actor’s Studio’s New Play Project 2018. In 2019, wanting to do something longer and bigger, he co-wrote Euphrasia The Musical, about the Roman Catholic nun born Rose Virginie Pelletier, with local playwright Cheah UiHua.
The Working Dead was directed by Nicole-Ann Thomas, who now leads the Fortune Kooky cast comprising Alvin Looi, Angie Cheah, Nikkhil, Kirthana Kuhendran, Lakshmi Ahrunagiry, Rachel Liu and Sabahan actor Ronnie, who plays Jared.
Nicole’s interest in the arts started early, with school performances, and she went against family expectations to do law. “I took short dancing, acting and music courses over six to seven years. Every chance I had to learn more, I grabbed it,” says the fitness trainer, actress, choreographer and founding partner of Theatrethreesixty.
Talking about KuLT’s two productions, she says they are different in that Fortune Kooky is less physical but taps more into emotions and dialogue. The parallels are money, a sense of family and how, when all seems lost, there is hope if you strive towards your goal.
Musicals require a different approach with “triple threat” performers who can act, sing and dance. Straight play or musical, “there’s a rhythm to every piece of work and you have to feel it”, says Nicole, chosen best director for Practically Purrfect at the 2018 Short+Sweet.
Directing is a natural progression for her and working on a brand-new script is like giving life to something. “I don’t go in with fixed ideas. I let the actors create the mood and work with me and things develop as we go along. It’s like a baby.”
KuLT, a newbie in the arts scene at three, is grateful for support to help it grow. A grant from Cendana (the Cultural Economy Development Agency) takes care of its current production and Toh is doubly glad because after almost two years of pandemic-induced starvation, “theatre fans want to go back and watch something”.
'Fortune Kooky' will be showing until Apr 10 at Nero Event Space, Petaling Jaya Performing Arts Centre, 1 Utama Shopping Centre. Showtime is 8.30 nightly. See here for tickets.
This article first appeared on Mar 28, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.