By Dimithri Wijesinghe
From 29 March to 5 April, Colombo was granted the pleasure of taking a peek into the current goings-on in the fictional alt-world of Arsikland, this time in a fully-fledged musical fashion.
Arsikland! The Musical was, as usual, written and directed by Feroze Kamardeen with vocal direction by Nishantha Warnakulasuriya, choreography by Shohan Chandiram, production by Sirraj Abdul Hameed and Ashan Munasinghe, and presented by StageLight&Magic Inc.
We have all the old players returning. Arsikland’s now President, H.E. Trymeepala Maruwedilla and Prime Minister Hon. Wikrama Nikamsinghe, Cyril Nitharamasuffering, and of course, Chaminda Pusswedilla.
However, while the characters are all the same, the faces were almost entirely new, with a fresh cast taking up the mantle to carry forth Feroze’s genre defining political satire that has truly made a place for itself in the hearts of many Lankans starved for clever comedy in any shape or form.
We caught Arsikland! The Musical on its fifth day. Personally, we believe the mid-way point is the best slot in any setting; the actors have worked out their nerves, they’ve had several chances to try things out and so feel confident, they’re coming in strong but not yet exhausted from doing the same thing 10 nights in a row, and they’re still fresh but not too fresh.
We made it to the show and we, similar to expert theater-goers, set aside all our preconceived notions and expectations and prepared to experience the show in the moment, which is actually how it should be watched.
In summary, the show was the retelling of the constitutional coup Sri Lanka witnessed not too long ago, in song form. And in true Feroze fashion, the show did not miss a thing; every little detail was spoofed, painfully so in fact that it was, once again, simply too long. There truly can be too much of a good thing, as when the second half rolled round, the audience’s exhaustion was palpable.
However, setting aside the team’s inability to release anything other than the director’s cut, the show was perfectly enjoyable. The writing was incredibly clever and the direction, choreography, and score were fantastic.
The new actors did wonderful jobs with already-established characters. While on a personal level I thought Trymeepala started off a little weak and his two minions were unremarkable, but the rest of the cast did a great job. Puswedilla, while not nearly as charismatic as the OG, was still very very good, and Nikamsinghe was pretty much a real-life cartoon character, in a good way.
The real scene-stealer was pretty much everyone’s favourite Nitharamasuffering. It was the war of the catchers with the minions of the two big fish facing it off, and the new face for Cyril did such a remarkable job at retaining the flavour of the old cast member while putting his own spin to it. His very first appearance set the stage for the entirety of his performance which was energetic, fresh, and simply hilarious.
However, one thing we must discuss is the music. While the score was brilliant and the live orchestra did a marvellous job, the song choices were rather disappointing. It left us wondering, was it so difficult to find a variety of songs to rehash from more than two or three plays? With ABBA dominating the soundtrack, with a smattering of Les Mis here and there, it all got a little too repetitive, particularly towards the end.
There was a real bait-and-switch moment with the opening act, which was a reworking of We are the Champions by Queen, which quickly prompted us to assume that this was going to be a rehashing of Bohemian Rhapsody, considering the similarities between the title card and colour scheme for the poster to the movie’s and also how recently the film was released, but no, the Queen references pretty much ended there.
Despite all this, the show was a good time. It was relatable and smart and truly funny. Some musical numbers had such unbelievable choreography where cast members utilised the stage like the pros they are and despite some of the numbers being ABBA songs, they were side-splittingly funny and so very smartly written – shout out to “an MP called Pranandu” and some others.
Photos: From posters for Arsikland! The Musical on Facebook