Curtain call

2019 is shaping up well for this drama queen

The phone call came in the evening more than a month ago.

"It's Somtow," said the voice at the other end of the line. That is, Somtow Sucharitkul, maestro extraordinaire, doyen of Opera Siam, sci-fi author, elder statesman of the Thai art world.

"I'm thinking of putting on a full production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Full orchestra. I'm wondering if you'd be interested in a lead role."

I had to cup a hand over my mouth to contain a squeal of excitement. It was the phone call I'd been waiting for all my life. Finally, after hanging around the fringe of the art world all my life, somebody -- Maestro Somtow no less! -- was recognising my innate artistic talent. No more pathetic walk-on parts on Thai soap operas. Radio voiceovers begone!

And what better person to play Jesus Christ than me?

In the split second after Somtow uttering "lead role", I went into rapid forward planning. I could wear a long blonde straggly wig. I could sign up to Slim Up and lose 10kg before opening night. I could even whip up a great costume from the dusty old curtains in the maid's bedroom -- she'd have to put up with early morning sunlight but she really should be getting up earlier anyway.

Beneath my rough exterior I've always thought of myself as a Jesus figure. I have flashes of benevolence and, while I have never walked on water, there have been mornings where I have awoken feeling like I'd risen from the dead.

Such were the thoughts buzzing through my head until they were quickly shot down.

"I don't mean Jesus Christ," Somtow continued. "That's already been cast. I mean the role of King Herod."

Ah, yes, well let that be a lesson in English to all my readers. Go back and read Somtow's quote and you will see where I slipped up. I didn't hear "a lead role". I heard "the lead role".

King Herod? The fat, flamboyant, eccentric, evil cynic who sends Jesus on the path to crucifixion? The one that dances to a ragtime song with a bevy of deviants? That King Herod? Looks like the maid gets to sleep in after all.

This is not the first time in my life I got my hopes up in the theatrical world, only to have them dashed on the rocks of foolish pride. Your columnist once starred in a popular Thai movie. At the time I was working for BEC-Tero Entertainment in the television department. The company also had a movie department which was enjoying huge success with the likes of Bang Rajan and Tears Of The Black Tiger.

One day, I received a visit from two of the movie division's producers.

"We're casting our latest movie, and there's a major role we'd like you to play," they said.

My world went immediately into tunnel vision. Major role… latest blockbuster… my name in lights... I asked for a glass of water.

This would be my stepping stone into the glittering world of showbiz; free parking spaces at the fanciest malls, complimentary desserts at Nahm, extra shopping bags at 7-Eleven… as euphoria wrapped her arms around me in a soft embrace, I said: "OK."

"Perhaps we should explain the story to you first."

"No need," I said with a cursory wave of my hand. "I'll do it. Just send me the script."

That night I was the happiest farang this side of Silom. I envisaged my playing the part of a kindly middle-aged westerner, à la Nicholas Cage, coming to terms with himself – and love – in the steamy oriental city of Bangkok.

Or perhaps I'd be a Steven Seagal character, slightly overweight and obnoxious, investigating the savage murder of a Vietnam vet in Patpong, culminating in a daring escape in a long-tailed boat and finishing up older and wiser in a dive off Soi Cowboy. Or perhaps I'd be the sage father of a young man discovering love for the first time, offering poignant pieces of advice.

Wrong on all counts.

"Andrew Biggs will play a zombie who brings a mutated Sars virus into Thailand and infects the entire country," the script explained clearly on page one. "After turning into a zombie he eats a cat, murders a woman in her bathtub, bites and infects a pregnant woman, vomits all over a man and his girlfriend, then has his head shot off."

That was the role I played.

And now, déjà vu. Here was Somtow offering me the part of a despised king who taunts and prods poor Jesus Christ.

"We did have auditions," he explained, "but everybody seems to be of the same opinion that you would be perfect to play Herod. Can you sing? You don't have to, you know. You can just shout the lyrics like Rex Harrison did in My Fair Lady."

What a circle it is to be asked to perform Herod's song. I am immediately transformed back to my childhood.

What music did you dance and sing along to as a kid? For me, there were two albums that shaped my youth. Both came from stage musicals. The first was Hair, the second, Jesus Christ Superstar.

Hair reflected the drug-infused, trippy 1960s and was quite ahead of its time. It addressed racism, the madness of war, mind-altering drugs and even saving the environment. The music still stands up. The stage show was hugely controversial, with actors stripping naked at the end of the second act.

I never got to see the show as a kid, but would dance and sing to the songs all by myself in our family living room. My parents, who despite suburban respectability were pretty hip for their time, had the albums on vinyl. There was some attempt to hide them in the back of the record collection but I would always find them.

I adored the music from Hair. How quaint to think that as a seven-year-old I would sing along to songs such as Sodomy, Hashish and Colored Spade absolutely oblivious to the lyrical meaning.

Jesus Christ Superstar was similarly shocking but for different reasons. Here was a musical that took the story of Jesus out of the Middle Eastern deserts of 2,000 years ago and into the early psychedelic 70s. Many saw it as blasphemous and some countries banned it. Again, the music was what carried it, and as a kid I would rip apart my mother's ferns so I could wave one in the air as I sang along to Hosannah.

While everybody loves the fragile I Don't Know How To Love Him or Everything's Alright, my favourite was the boisterous Herod's Song. Again, I was oblivious to its real meaning.

So it is exciting for me to be dressing up as King Herod and taking to the stage to act as a sex-crazed, evil, pouting megalomaniac. I do hope my acting isn't as wooden as the floorboards on the Thai Cultural Centre stage.

Come along to the show! It is being performed on Feb 1-2 and tickets can be booked through ThaiTicketMajor. A perfect New Year's gift.

Speaking of which, may I take this opportunity to wish my readers the happiest of New Years and a productive and challenging 2019. This week is the tenth anniversary of my writing this column. Let's do it again, 52 more times, in the ensuing year.

And now it's off to rehearsals. All I need now is for Somtow to cast me in a production of Hair and my life will be complete.


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