Contributor: Christine Pepah
On June 19, 2019 I had a chance to watch JYPA original musical production: STILL LIFE, at Usmar Ismail Theatre Hall.
Still Life is a musical that tells the life story of the Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh. The Story focuses on his relationships with the people around him: His mentor Paul Gauguin, his brother Theo Van Gogh, his therapist Dr. Gachet and the love of his life, Marguerite Gachet.
The set was quite impressive, with a fixed set consisting of 5 rooms on two levels and a rooftop. It’s interesting as for the opening the rooms were used as a museum to display all Van Gogh’s paintings and the narrator was the museum tour guide explaining the life of Van Gogh to the visitors. As the story goes, the rooms became the set of Van Gogh’s life story. Though it was a quite impressive set, I was little bit nervous looking at the set for several reasons: There are numerous people on the upper stage, and I wasn’t sure that the set was safe enough since the audience could actually see the set shaking in some of the scenes. Also, there was a scene when the painting canvas fell off from the second floor, but luckily no one was underneath. A safety concern indeed.
The original songs were very impressive. There were 2 adapted songs, but the remaining 12 songs were originally written. The decision to only use piano and guitar as their instruments really set up the mood of the show and I could really absorb the emotion on how sad and lonely Vincent’s life was. I could not spot whether the instrument was live or recordings only, but as an amateur audience, this was not a major concern for me for this play due to no issue of rhythm between music and the singing.
The cast did a very good job in portraying their characters, but the leading man Benedict Sutedja who plays Vincent Van Gogh was a scene stealer. He was an absolute triple threat, and I was personally taken by his performance of Vincent’s last monologue toward the end of the show.
For a musical show that lasted for two hours with plenty of dialogue and singing, I believed they also have a long preparation. Yes, it is understandable that English is not our first language, but I had trouble understanding some of the dialogues due to poor pronunciation, the dynamics, and pitch of the vocals. The poor sound system was definitely a contributing factor. It might have been the venue’s own issue, since it seems to be the repeated case from my past experiences watching plays in this very venue.
The lighting itself was sufficient for the stage, however the spotlight wasn’t focused on the cast, but instead on the surroundings. This was a very significant disappointment because it hinders the audience from properly observing the expressions and mimics, which I believe to play important roles in the play.
Inspite of the ups and downs, I personally enjoyed the show. As JYPA’s first original musical, Still Life was quiet an ambitious project, a bold step, which I believe has been an excellent learning experience for their next musical. Bravo!
(Written by Christine Pepah: an amateur Broadway enthusiast who like to watch any play on her spare time, here and there)