Under the stage lights – theSundaily

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MALAYSIAN theatre actor-cum-singer Aaron Teoh has just bagged himself a plum role in a West End production of the hit musical, The King & I.
The show will tour across 14 cities in the United Kingdom, starting on April 26 and completing its run in May next year.
Rehearsals for the production begin next week in London.
The musical is adapted from Margaret Landon’s best-selling novel Anna and the King of Siam.
It is loosely based on the life of British schoolteacher Anna Leonowens who was hired to go to Siam (the old name for Thailand) to teach English and British customs to the children of King Mongkut.
The musical explores the love-hate relationship between Anna and the King.
Teoh, 30, has been cast to play Prince Chulalongkorn, King Mongkut’s eldest son and heir to the throne.
“I am really excited for the production to start,” says the actor, who is orginally from Petaling Jaya but is now based in London, during a short break back home recently.
“I will be sharing the stage with some amazing people,” he adds. “There will be a lot of exchanges of knowledge. I am going to ask for tips of the trade.
“I do not want to be the same Aaron Teoh after this run is over.”
The actor intends to start a Facebook page where he will be documenting some of the things that take place during the production, on as well as behind the stage.
It will be like a record of his experiences.
“I will share whatever I have learnt with fans out there who want to make theatre a part of their lives,” he promises.
Asked to comment on his role, Teoh says: “Prince Chulalongkorn has an eastern upbringing and is trying to comprehend the western ideology that his father wants him to embrace.
“He respects his father very much, but there are things he wants to change when he becomes the king.”
Teoh adds that he has seen the 1956 film adaptation of the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, The King and I, starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr.
“I loved that film very much. But I refused to watch it again to prepare myself for the role.
“I do not want to be coloured by what [actor Patrick Adiarte as the prince] had done with the role.”
Interestingly, he is taking over the role from another Malaysian theatre performer, Jon Chew.
Teoh has also seen Chew’s performance as Prince Chulalongkorn. “It was a proud moment [for me] to see a [fellow] Malaysian performing in a West End production.
“But I am not going to imitate Jon.”
Teoh’s West End break came about 18 months ago when he accompanied his wife, Adeline Choo, to London for her to complete her master’s in Comparative Education.
While there, he got himself an agent and began going for auditions.
His first job was as a Harry Potter tour guide at Warner Bros Studio. “I had a lot of fun with it and I got to meet people from all walks of life,” he recalls.
Last September, he attended an audition for The King & I.
He was told to come with two songs to perform, but in the end, the casting crew only wanted to hear one.
“That only meant you are either good or very bad,” Teoh says, “and I was convinced of the latter. I never thought they would call me back.”
He had to undergo another three callbacks, before being given the role.
Now, his wife will be following him back to the UK.
She will work and stay in London, and visit him on weekends wherever he will be performing.
So what’s next for him?
Teoh says he intends to stay on for a while, and try his luck for a big screen role.
He adds that he doesn’t mind being pigeonholed as an ‘Asian actor’, and has no qualms playing stereotypical roles.
“If I am given a role to play a toilet bowl cleaner, I will play my role to the best of my ability and make sure I scrub the bowl clean,” he declares.
“I am eager to learn. I am eager to prove myself. This might lead to something else.
“There is no such thing as a wasted opportunity.”
But Teoh says his heart will still be in Malaysia.
In fact, he was one of many overseas-based Malaysians who went to the airport searching for someone to take their ballot papers home during the last general election.
Home is also where his parents are. They have always been very supportive of his interest.
Teoh grew up in a household filled with music, song and art. His father, who was in the army, loves to sing, while his mother was an architect and also a Chinese brush painter.
At age 15, he was so amazed by the performance of the musical group, Young Kuala Lumpur Singers (YKLS), that he auditioned to join them.
That was the time he decided to dedicate his life to the performing arts.
He went on to complete a bachelors degree in Contemporary Arts (Theatre) from the University of Tasmania, Australia, before returning home to pursue his passion.
In 2015, he was nominated for his first Boh Cameronian Arts Awards for best performance in a leading role in Merrily We Roll Along, and in the following year, he was again nominated, this time for best performance in a supporting role in Tick, Tick… Boom!.
Never once did he dream that one day, he will be performing in a West End production.
Indeed, life is full of surprises.

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