Knock'em dead, Reya
TV superstar Chompoo Hargate has risen to the daunting challenge of the musical stageJust to set the record straight, the highly anticipated "Reya: The Musical" is not Araya Alberta "Chompoo" Hargate's theatre debut, as widely believed. "My stage debut was more than 10 years ago in the charity play 'Maan Praphenee' ['The Butterfly Lovers'] at the Thailand Cultural Centre," she says.
Admittedly she got the role "by default". Channel 7, where Chompoo was contracted at the time, couldn't spare the actress who the play's producers wanted, so "less busy" Chompoo stepped in.
"I took it as an opportunity to learn more, and I did, but years have passed since then. Acting onstage is different from TV. The focus is on body language and vocal expression. You need to pay
attention to each and every word, almost like dubbing a film.
"They taught me this one technique - how to use my body in certain ways so that I could cry. It was interesting, although I've never used it since."
At any rate, although "Maan Praphenee" was a charity produc
tion, Chompoo was supposed to be remunerated for her time. "I still haven't been paid, so let's not talk
about it," she laugh
Chompoo never had any formal training in acting. A TV scriptwriter called her for an audition 14 years ago, having heard she was good-looking. She ended up with the lead role and signed with Channel 7 right away. But, she admits, she's not a "natural-born actress".
"I watched TV dramas when I
was young, of course, so when I read the script I knew a particular line suggested the character was angry or whatever. I guess I was using my brain more than my heart back then.
"That changed in my third series, 'Lukmai Klai Ton', which starred many veteran actors, like Pairoj Sangwaribut and Suwatjanee Chaimusik, and I felt like I was in a magnetic field. I learned a lot from them."
"Dok Som Si Thong" on Channel 3 gave Chompoo the role - as Reya - that cemented her fame. When Taitao Sucharitkul, who wrote the novel on which the series was based (and whom Chompoo refers to as Mum), approached her to star in the stage version, Chompoo knew right away it would be "a once-in-a-lifetime experience".
"Reya: The Musical" would also be a serious challenge, given her limited stage experience and non-existent experience in musical theatre. "It took me almost a month before I confirmed. I decided that once in a while you need to do something totally different from what you've been doing.
"I hoped to learn a lot from this unique experience - and I am learning."
Training sessions over the past few months have focused on her singing. Chompoo, one of the few top actresses who hasn't also recorded an album, will share the stage with award-winning crooners like Kornkan Sutthikoses, Pakawat Wongthai, Sudapim Bodhipakti, Uthaisri Srinarong, Pimluk Vessawasdi and Suruj Tipakora Seni.
And Maneepatsorn Molloy, the first champion on "Thailand's Got Talent", is playing the young Reya.
Chompoo goes to Suruj's studio for extra singing lessons. He's instilled in her a passion for the craft. "I want to ask him to teach me how to sing Beyonce's songs," she says.
While calling herself the weak link in the cast in terms of singing ability, she reckons she holds "a better card" in the way she understands her character. She won many awards playing Reya on television.
"When it comes to dialogue I have no problem, no matter how long it is. Some scenes are similar to the ones on TV since they also come from the novel." Taitao has attended many rehearsals and offered suggestion, whereas she was never at the TV studio.
Chompoo says director Kriengsak "Victor" Silakong has also been extremely helpful. "He always reminds me that, apart from Reya's wickedness, there must always be a certain charm that attracts the men - and the viewers - and makes the character more well-rounded. When I'm studying the script I try to find parts where I can add the charm in."
Chompoo says she can readily relate aspects of Reya's character to people she's met in life. "At this age I think I have a better understanding of the world. There are all kinds of people in show business and I can observe and learn from them in order to prepare."
But she rarely goes to the theatre - or the cinema. She doesn't even watch TV that much.
"I guess I have a low tolerance level. I don't make the effort to get out or even buy a DVD. Except for during the flood last year, when I was glued to the TV, my TV set is just a wall decoration. Before bed I watch fashion and music videos on YouTube.
"I get to watch movies when I have my nails done - but then I get emotionally involved and my body turns stiff!"
Chompoo says that one of the most important reasons for seeing "Reya: The Musical" is musical director Somtow Sucharitkul's, Taitao's son. "I have a limited background in music and hadn't even heard of Maestro Somtow before - I'm from another part of the world.
"But the songs in this musical sound 'expensive' and yet they're accessible to everyone. By 'expensive' I don't mean luxurious, but intricate and skilfully crafted - you might say simply 'world-class'.
"I've been rehearsing with only a piano accompanying me, but I can already imagine how beautiful the songs will sound with a full orchestra. Even the veteran singers in the cast say they're very challenging.
"Simply put, I feel like I'm on Broadway!"
"Reya: The Musical" runs from September 14 to October 7 at the Aksra Theatre in the King Power Complex on Soi Rangnam. There will be performances every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 7.30pm and on Saturday and Sunday also at 2pm.
Seats cost Bt1,000 to Bt3,000 at www.ThaiTicketmajor.com. Seven shows have already sold out.
Find out more at www.ReyaTheMusical.com.