Magazine article American Theatre

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Magazine article American Theatre

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Article excerpt

'WHERE ELEPHANTS WEEP': A new genre, Cambodian rock opera, debuts this month. Phnom Penh audiences will be the first to greet it. The show, Where Elephants Weep, is the product of six years of collaboration. (Audiences in Lowell, Mass., home to a large Cambodian population, got a sneak peek in April '07-but the show has changed considerably since then under the eye of director Robert McQueen, who took over from Victor Maog.)

While the phrase "East Meets West" gets thrown around a lot, there's ample reason to apply it here. Commissioned by Cambodian Living Arts, which has heaquarters in Boston and Phnom Penh, and produced in association with Amrita Performing Arts of Phnom Penh, Where Elephants Weep features music by Him Sophy, who survived the Pol Pot years in Cambodia and later spent more than a decade studying classical music in Moscow; and book and libretto by U.S.--based playwright Catherine Filloux. In Sophy's score, traditional Khmer instruments blend with a Cambodian rock-and-roll band. The cast includes Asian-American Broadway veterans alongside famous Cambodian performer Ieng Sithul, and the actors sing in English and Khmer, with surtitles in both languages. The main character, who fled as a child from the 1970s genocide, is returning from the U.S. to rediscover his birth country. In Cambodia he falls in love with a pop star, but the romance meets opposition--shades of Romeo & Juliet or "Tum Teav" (an old Cambodian love story), depending on where you're coming from.

So what does all this East-West mingling sound like? …

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