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Songs from the soul

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Uplifting voicesAt the performance
Uplifting voicesAt the performance

Students of the KM Conservatory brought alive compositions from famous musicals

There was Eliza Doolittle, heavy-eyed hippies and a handful of wounded soldiers. Cinderella, even. A sullen moon hung overhead, above a harp, a gleaming black piano and a tree. All in a 20x20 room in Kodambakkam. A surrealist would have whooped with joy, while a historian screamed like a little girl.

There's something to be said about a group of vocal students trying to tackle some of the most famous musicals in history. It led to ‘A Night of Opera and Musical Theatre Scenes' at the KM Conservatory.

So as Eliza wondered if it wouldn't be ‘loverly' to have chocolates, languidly lazing in a room warmed with coal in “My Fair Lady”, Charley, from “Where's Charley” told everyone of the wonderful Amy, cheekily concluding, “Trouble is the answer will be, that Amy'd rather stay in love with me.” Then we head to Virginia, where Charlie Anderson from “Shenandoah”, forced into the War, mourns for his home, even though “It could be no one's waiting there to say hello”.

The theatrics, not to mention the costumes, were reminiscent of a hurriedly put-together school play; but their voices — the unedited, unmixed, unaltered — more than made up for it.

The evening was conceived and choreographed by singer Kavita Baliga, and impressively, the students got their tongues around Italian, French and ye olde Queen's English. Suzanne and the Countess schemed to embarrass the Count from Mozart's celebrated comedy, “The Marriage of Figaro”, in a splendid ‘Sull' aria', and their Italian diction surprised as much as their finesse. There was the famous ‘Flower Duet' from the French Opera “Lakmé”, which Lakmé, Nilakantha's daughter (essentially Lakshmi) and her servant Mallika sing as they walk to pick flowers, and come upon a group of British officers. ‘Bring Him Home', from “Les Misérables”, accompanied by a brilliant piano, saw Valjean, his voice heavy with grief about Marius (and possibly, the bright lights on the ceiling as he constantly looked heavenwards). ‘Think of Me', from “The Phantom of the Opera”, however, proved a little too mellow for the cult musical.

The songs themselves, while varied in setting and mood, swooping down from the bitter cold of an English evening in Oxford, to the warmth of Cinderella's hearth, were largely unchallenging in repertoire.

But it was refreshing to be at a performance suitably small as to warrant mikes and sound systems unnecessary. Artistes know that several traditions of music — particularly of classical music — have been relegated to the sidelines as electronics proliferated, performance halls grew larger and music sold to the highest bidder. The cramped little room in the KM Conservatory might have been chosen for the lack of alternatives, but their unwitting decision was one of the best things about the evening. The absence of mikes meant that the human voice, unprocessed by a tinny microphone, was heard.

The romping finale was the spectacular ‘Age of Aquarius' from the rock musical “Hair”. Rolled up newspapers became joints, and hippies danced dizzyingly, slow and swaying; they even broke into a couple of Bollywood moves. We've all been to our share of joyless professional performances — if this evening was a sign of what musicians are like before they enter the industry, then we can only hope they stay out.

Which brings us to the ‘Step-Sister's Lament' from “Cinderella”, which drew the loudest, longest applause of the evening. Flamboyantly dressed women stormed out onstage to furiously demand “Why would a fellow want a girl like her, A frail and fluffy beauty?”, sung with defiance, while a wispy Cinderella giggled in the corner with a Prince. The step-sisters were powerful, angry and hilarious. If I'd been the Prince, I would have picked one of the step-sisters any day.

CHITHIRA VIJAYKUMAR

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