Les Misérables

I love musicals. "The Sound of Music" (which was a 3-times-a-day childhood staple of mine), "Hairspray", "The Phantom of the Opera", "Miss Saigon", the usual Disney suspects - I love them all to bits!

And after watching how quite a number of these have been adapted into movies and anniversary concert DVDs - I've come to accept that certain aspects of what makes them GREAT as musicals (the energy of a cast that reaches to the far ends of a theatre) just don't translate well onto the big screen... or don't come off just as nice post-pro. There's not much they can do story-wise either as many musicals are somewhat trivialised versions of proper stories and books to begin with.

In other words, I've discovered that there are many things not worth nit-picking over.

What one can look out for most, however, in movie adaptations are the actors. (Yes damn those blessed and talented souls!)

Which brings us to Les Misérables - the movie I've been anticipating for over a year already.

Is the movie as miserable as the title suggests? Well, sort of. It might tug at your heartstrings so do get the tissues ready, but don't worry - it won't leave you in a state of dysfunctional shambles. It's safe to watch over the holidays.

The story revolves around the life of an ex-convict named Jean Valjean (played by Hugh Jackman), who escaped parole and has created a new life for himself as Mayor Madeleine after a compassionate encounter with the Bishop of Digne. Hot on his heels however is Inspector Javert, a dutiful officer of the law who's adamant on putting him behind bars no matter what. Their chase brings them into a revolutionary period in France where a group of young students are ready to make their last stance at a street barricade - bringing with them an epic tale of injustice, unrequited love, sacrifice, redemption and liberation.

And they sing songs about it.

Who cares about your lonely soul? We're scripted to die together!

Which helps make all that misery a little more tolerable, I guess.

In all seriousness though, Les Mis has never been a sod fest for me. I see it as a story about freedom - of liberation from the pain and suffering that we endure in life. Death is nothing but the next adventure for many of these characters. Or a very well-deserved rest.

And playing these characters is possibly one of the best casts around - most of whom held their own pretty damn well!

Hugh Jackman as Jean Valjean
Forget those guns he's got for arms, that man has enough firepower in his pipes to blow people away already! In fact, his casting was almost a dead-given and I honestly doubt that anyone would attest to that. A ghastly rendition of "Bring Him Home" aside, which left my friend and I cringing in dread of what he might fail to deliver during the "Epilogue" (but thankfully, DOES) - his portrayal of Jean Valjean was simply remarkable. He sung as well as he acted - and as proven in the case of Russell Crowe, that shit ain't easy. All that physical transformation has got nothing on his acting chops too, which through Tom Hooper's lenses, were painfully scrutinised and magnified* for all the world to see. Well done, big guy.

Hoshit is that how I really look nowadays?!?!

Eddie Redmayne as Marius
Michael Ball - a slight bit too showboat for my taste. Nick Jonas - too Aladdin. Let's not even talk about Gareth Gates. But the question remains - "has the world finally found the perfect Marius in Eddie Redmayne?" Well, I'd say we're close enough! Boyish good looks, and a voice so gentle he could make all the young girls blush (and just powerful enough to hold his own against the predictably bigger voices from the rest of the ABC boys). Not bad at all. Even his butt looked good onscreen.

Amanda Seyfried as Cosette
What can I say? She was made for the role - sweet, mellifluous voice, long blonde locks and all. Simply perfect.

Mamma Mia! Look what daddy carried home from the barricades!

Russell Crowe as Inspector Javert
It was like Pierce Brosnan bellowing away in "Mamma Mia" all over again. (This is fast becoming a curse.) And pretty much every time he sings, he'd be singing atop some high-rise structure - which is really unfortunate because it only makes it all the more tempting to end the aural assault with a slight push, pluck Hadley Fraser off his Army General uniform and hand him the role instead. But regretfully, it was the older man who prevailed.

"Don't understand." (Me neither.)

Anne Hathaway as Fantine
Sharing possibly just as much screen time with Jean Valjean as Eddie Redmayne's rear-end is none other than the lovely Anne Hathaway, whose haunting version of "I Dreamed a Dream" stirred up so much anticipation for the movie it made me look forward to December so bad that I can hardly remember anything from the months leading up to it. (Okay fine there was Season 3 of Downton Abbey.) She was a fantastic Fantine - be it virtuous, gutter or ethereal form. She'll definitely be raking in some awards for her role in this movie. Word is that she has already won a couple right now!

Making mum (an ex-Fantine herself) proud.

Samantha Bark as Eponine
Ah, Samantha... of waistline so small that many kept mistaking her for Corset Cosette. She's got the voice all right (plucked fresh off the stage too) - and all the hopeless pining for Marius' attention? Quite entertaining. It's a shame that her death scene left much to be desired for. Perhaps it's a framing thing? Girl tugged at my heartstrings during the 25th Anniversary tribute concert - but here... nothing. I felt like she was shortchanged in the film.

That b***h!

Aaron Tveit as Enjolras
I admit. I had my doubts about Aaron and I was really curious to see how he would fare as Enjolras. ("Nate Archibald's cousin? REALLY?") I've always seen Enjolras as someone who's loud, commanding and decisively fearless ala Ramin Karimloo - not a Link Larkin or Fiyero, you know? Preferably someone with dark hair too. But I couldn't have been more wrong. Aaron NAILED it! He absolutely nailed it. I'd forgotten that Enjolras was a student after all - and he brought it all back. There was a gentle conviction to his voice that felt quite Michael McGuire-esque. And with such good looks - could his Enjolras be the second coming of Orlando Bloom's Legolas? Just saying, 'cause it's been over a decade and we could really use one right about now.

Nate who?

Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as Mr. and Mrs Thernadier
Have you seen "Sweeney Todd - The Demon Barber of Fleet Street"? They were pretty good, weren't there? Case closed.

And not forgetting the younger talents in this movie who completely stole the show. Young Gavroche - especially. A rousing spirit and an absolute talent.

Boss in a box.

My final verdict?

Definitely worth a watch.

Sit as far back as you can. Tom Hooper's dead set on trying to deliver those close-up shots that you'll struggle for when watching the stage productions. It was SO close - it actually got a little too much for my liking at times. ("Shit, check out that snot Anne Hathaway's got up her nose oh wait focus she's crying argh but I can't - damn she's good.") Back it up, Tom. Haha.

And to end this post, here's my absolute favourite part from the Les Mis! The epilogue (such beautiful lyrics!). This one is from the 10th Anniversary Tribute Concert and features Colm Wilkinson, the original (and hands down the best) Jean Valjean. Fans would also know that he has a cameo as Bishop Digne in the movie. So do keep an eye out for him!


Seize The Day!

That awkward moment when I'm NOT tweeting for attention; and two actors decide to hijack my tweet. Oh that John Michael Higgins really IS everywhere!

Can someone verify D.W. Moffett already?


It's Always This Versus Something Else

Have you ever felt somewhat shortchanged in life?
Like you deserve better, but it just wasn’t to be?

I did.

“Did” because I was once a childish fool, who never counted her blessings but believed that... read more


This is a short excerpt from my latest article for 95% Advertising Academy's latest project - 95% More. You may take a look the full write-up here. Click through the rest as well, alright? There are plenty of enlightening articles waiting to be read!

A Morning with Ramin and Annalisa

Having spent a good part of the past two years dabbling in the remotely new (and still growing) swing dance scene in Malaysia, you can say that I've developed some form of immediate respect for people who are willing to put in the time and effort to organise free recruitment drives, community outreach programmes and the like. I really do.

Hence, huge props to the peeps at Enfiniti Academy for organising the lovely community engagement session with Annalisa Kerrigan and Ramin Karimloo!

Ramin Karimloo and Annalisa Kerrigan (Pic credit: Olala/Quin)

It was a really intimate Q&A session where fans, students of the arts and their parents got to ask the pair any questions regarding a career in the performance arts. Predictably, some of the questions were more technical than the rest ("How do you warm up before a show?") - but most were general enough that people from different creative fields such as design and advertising could easily relate to and be inspired by.

From questions regarding typecasting to keeping a role fresh, or how it was like to work alongside Nick Jonas in Les Mis - I felt that both Annalisa and Ramin did a pretty great job in keeping their answers real.

Best video recap I managed to find online!

Parents questioned the practicality of a career in the performing arts while students frantically searched for a fast track to success. (I squeezed in a question about how side projects such as releasing an album aids in improving their craft/career) But it seemed like no matter what your role is in the creative business, be it singing, acting, writing or dancing - it is focus, true grit and determination that you'll need to overcome obstacles in the industry. And of course, lots of passion and practice. There are no bloody shortcuts! Even if you struck gold in a reality TV show - it's best that you arm yourself with the capacity to keep on learning, no matter what.

I can't recall their exact answers to most of the questions (still slapping myself for not bringing a recorder with me!) but I remember Annalisa sharing some stories about her time in Florence and most notably - how it's not always about looking abroad but making a name for yourself in Malaysia first. Start off where there's already a pretty receptive yet unsaturated market and grow it from there on. Most of us dream-chasers tend to forget that, don't we? Yeah well, I'm guilty of rashly jumping into deep ends too.

The pointers she gave were smart, sharp and most importantly, really genuine. She may be diminutive in frame, but that lady's one heck of a fighter - which made respect her so much more!

Ramin, on the other hand, sounded like a complete bore... nah, just pulling your leg there! This "honorary principal" of the academy and mentor of the students came off as a man who seems to be really honest with himself.

"I complain about not being able to play the guitar better. But do I practice everyday? No. So it's my own fault."

Clearly, the take-out from that was that you reap what you sow. Yet, he advises that one should not go making unnecessary wars with things that are out of your control, say... roles that just don't fit you. Some things just aren't meant to be - but they open up windows to other opportunities. (I couldn't agree with him more!)

When questioned about what his goals were in playing roles that were preceded by the likes of Michael Crawford and Colm Wilkinson - his response was that he did not go in aiming to top anyone, but as someone who has something to share and to tell a story.

I find that this holds true in most creative industries, especially advertising.

"I spent years trying to be someone else and it got me nowhere. You are more interesting than anyone else."

 A quick shot with Ramin at the door. What a privilege to have him and Annalisa take on my question!

"Oh wow." I think the 25th Anniversary Souvenir Book might have caught him by surprise.

Signed programme book by Ramin and Annalisa from the night before.


A Time For Roti Canai With Maple Syrup

I must say that 2012 has been a pretty good year for me - especially on the music front! I got to catch my favourite band (who else can it be?) earlier in March and this month?

After missing him LIVE in Kuala Lumpur on three separate occasions, I finally got to meet the voice behind this very song - Ramin Karimloo!

Oh, uh... Ramin-who?

Right. I think that a little introduction may be in order here.

Ramin Karimloo is an Iranian-born Canadian actor who is most known for originating the role of the Phantom in "Love Never Dies", the sequel to Andrew Lloyd Webber's infamous "The Phantom of the Opera", in which he has also played the roles of Raoul and the Phantom respectively.

Fellow West End enthusiasts might also recall his other roles such as Chris Scott in "Miss Saigon" (dear lord one can only imagine how lovely his rendition of "Sun & Moon" must have been), The Pirate King in  "The Pirates of Penzance" and most recently, musical theatre's most lauded ex-convict, Jean Valjean of "Les Miserables".

He also had the privilege to play the title role in the 25th Anniversary of The Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, as well as Enjolras in Les Miserables 25th Anniversary Concert at the O2 Arena.   (Both made available on DVD so you don't miss out!)

Ramin as Jean Valjean with BFF Hadley Fraser as Inspector Javert

So, what business does a man from the West End have in a country like Malaysia?

That's something you have to thank the theatre-loving folks of Enfiniti Vision Media for! Much credit goes to them for putting together another wonderful effort in bringing quality West End acts closer to home. Last year, they organised "West End Stars In Concert", which featured the powerful voices of Simon Bailey, Stephen Rahman-Hughes as well as Ramin Karimloo himself. I missed it thanks to some mission I had 6,118 feet above sea level but wow - how the audience survived such earth-shattering pipes will forever remain a mystery to me.

This time around, however, it was this.

A two-night dinner concert at JW Marriott. With him was Annalisa Kerrigan, an opera songstress who's proudly half-Malaysian.

It was a different sort of concert - and at one grand a pop, "An Evening With The Phantom" was definitely one that was catered towards the more affluent members of society.

Needless to say, the release of the poster (and its price) totally floored Quin, Olala and I. But thankfully, the universe was kind enough to give us what we wanted, and on the eve of the concert itself - we won two tickets to the show via a Twitter contest!

And how did we win it, you ask?

A super shameless, super heck-it-all-there's-nothing-to-lose sort of last ditch copywriter-designer effort that we chalked up in the dying minutes of the contest! THIS.

You're probably thinking that it looks nothing like him. But it's alright - it's the thought that counts! 

And our lucky streak did not just end there! Just as we were getting ready to to shell out for another ticket and split the costs three ways, I got a call from Lino who then invited me to be his plus-one! So all three of us got to go for free! How awesome was that? It's as if everything worked its way to give us what we have been secretly hoping for!

And here are some pictures from the night itself. A night where we felt completely out of place, and drifted even further from reality when Ramin (joined by Annalisa, of course) sang us through his life's musical journey - from the Phantom of the Opera staples to Jean Valjean's prayer, to a really dark rendition of "Sunset Boulevard" and a bluegrass cover of "What a Beautiful Morning"on his banjo... with plenty more in between.

And not forgetting his most famed anthem, "Till I Hear You Sing", which he apparently laid to rest in this very ballroom for the very last time.

The JW Marriott ballroom that was completely transformed for the night, fitted with an 'official chandelier' by Seng Hup too!

With the ever-friendly Tiara Jacquelina (and possibly, Olala's biggest idol). Read up on her, folks - she's truly an examplary lady.

Annalisa asking if I enjoyed the evening. How couldn't I?

Signed and sealed with a wink!

And of course, a picture with the Phantom himself - Ramin Karimloo!


Just Doing Some Shadow Dancing

If you have me on Facebook, you would probably be able to tell that I spend lots of - or perhaps, WAY too much time rummaging through YouTube for videos of people singing and dancing in outrageous get-ups.

Sometimes, I do it for the laughs (like what the hell is going on here Boney M?). Else, it's because I really (and by really, I mean shamelessly) do enjoy the flamboyance of it all.

But my latest find - this man here, caught me off guard.

So who's this Caucasian Jerry Yan with the Fawcett 'do, you ask?

His name is Andy Gibb.

Some of you may immediately recognise him as the youngest of the Gibb brothers. Not me though - not till last week anyway (RIP, Robin and Maurice). He died years before I was even born.

However, I do actually recognise most of his songs! After all, like Liverpool FC - Bee Gees and Light & Easy are a few of my Dad's favourites that I've grown to love over the years.

And if you're about to run a Google search on Andy, you'll probably discover lots of stories about his addiction to drugs and how they took his life at the tender age of 30.

It's such a shame, really. But I find solace in knowing that if a girl like me can still find so much joy in his songs two decades after his death - he's definitely given the world much more than many others can in a 100 years. That's something many strife to achieve.

And just like the way I'm thankful for the likes of MJ, Cole, Louis, Elvis, Frankie, Johnny and your brothers - I thank you very much for that, Andy.

Pictured here with former flame, Victoria Principal. 

Here are my top 3 Andy Gibb picks. I hope you'll enjoy his calm (and yet, equally commanding) stage presence as much as I do.

No. 1: "Shadow Dancing"

No. 2: "All I Have To Do Is Dream"

No. 3: "I Just Want To Be Your Everything"

So catchy. So effortless. So... good.

Now, if only I could get my hands on a disco ball by September 25... I hear disco's back!


Whoops, Looks Like Your Smile's Broken!

It's been 10 months. I still get the occasional thumping and muscle spams on the right side of my face, which reminds me that it's about time I blog about my little brush with a certain something called 'Bell's Palsy'!

First things first, here are some facts you might want to know about this facial paralysis.
  1. It's a pretty common condition (we're talking about 1 out of 70 here!) but it may still come as a shock to those who get it.
  2. It's not fatal! In fact, the prognosis for the condition is pretty good, even without treatment. So it's really nothing to worry about.
  3. If you HAVE to worry about something, it'd be 'synkinesis' - the dreaded miswiring of nerves after trauma. So yes, #FACIALEXERCISESEVERYDAYORDIE.
  4. The recovery period varies for different people. Some recover in a matter of days, some take years (usually the older folks). It took me a little more than a month - just enough for me to melodramatise things a bit!
  5. No one knows the exact cause of Bell's Palsy, so uh... preventing it from happening can be kind of tricky! Oh, and it happens overnight.
  6. It's kind of funny. It can be funny. Heck, your friends will find it funny anyway.

So yeah, here it goes. I really hope it doesn't happen to you or a friend - but it's best that you know what it's like anyway!

It was a Thursday, and I can still recall how my lips felt a little odd that morning. They felt stiff and swollen each time I pursed them, but looked completely normal in the mirror. My right eye, on the other hand, felt extremely dry. I went to work anyway, not knowing that they were telltale signs of an impending facial paralysis till a colleague pointed out how my right eye was blinking much slower than the left over lunch.

Upon their insistence, I went to see a doctor immediately.

Day 1: Not worried just yet.

He told me that it was no biggie - nothing a little medication can't cure. It was, however, some form of infection in the brain (LIKE HOW IS THAT NOT A BIGGIE?!?!) and that I should see a neurologist ASAP.

Puzzled, I headed straight off for Pantai Hospital.
And that was where the neurologist dropped the bomb on Bell's Palsy.

"No, it's not Bell's Palsy! The doctor told me it's some small infection in the brain!"
"Ah, he probably didn't want to scare you."
"Like how is THAT not scaring me now???"

Truth be told, the only thing I knew about Bell's Palsy back then was that Alexis Denisof (and other actors such as Katie Holmes and George Clooney) had it too. So if they can still act - it's nothing to worry about!

He then explained that Bell's Palsy is a form of facial paralysis that is caused by an infection to the cranial nerve VII (read as "seventh cranial nerve", but also known as the facial nerve). Symptoms include problems controlling the facial muscles and closing the eye on the affected side of the face. It's almost like a mini stroke - but you can't move your forehead at all.

And the line to rule it all?

"Since it's only your first day - expect it to get much worse."


That sure got me contemplating about living life as Two Face Number Two (Three?), but in all seriousness - I had to start treatment immediately or risk having half my face droop lower and lower with time.

"Holyfuckitydoodle. What do you mean that I might stay like this forever?"

I was given a 6-day leave, as well as a week's dose of steroid pills and nerve vitamins. Prolonging of the condition will only weaken the muscles even more, resulting in a longer recovery period - which I absolutely CANNOT afford. I was also told to return for a check-up should I see no improvements at all.

And as the heavens would have it - I SAW NONE.

This is how bad it got on Day 5

I had problems eating, drinking and gargling as I was unable to seal the right side of my mouth tight, or open it wide enough to fit a spoon into it! My inability to close my right eye was also fast becoming a nuisance, what with the eye patch I have to keep on at all times to protect it from dust and dirt.

Finding the whole situation less funny by the minute (the effortless one-eyebrow raised aside, I can only embrace such a whimsical face for THAT long - and it's really weird having random kids pointing at my eye patch), I rushed back to the hospital and with a zim zam alakazam, I was checked in for three days worth of intensive treatments. Here's what they put me through.

Steroid Injections
For this, they inserted an IV tube into my wrist, which hurt less than I expected. I was more worried about yanking the tube out by accident during my entire stay. I also learned that taking a shower with one hand is NOT easy. The side-effects of steroids, however, are a bitch. I got SO FAT after my stay, and I'm still paying the price to get my face moving again!

Brain Scan
No biggie. It was actually kind of cool putting your head through some fancy-looking hoop!

Nerve Diagnostics
Highly unpleasant. It's like having your face stapled multiple times. And I felt like I was given the most impossible task in the world when the doctor told me to "relax" and keep my eyes open WHILE bracing for another shock of pain. I've had my eyebrow pierced before, and THAT hurt so much less.

Electric Stimulation Therapy
Who knew that shocking your face with electric currents can be that enjoyable? These sessions were also followed up with an ice massage to further stimulate the muscles. I still do this at home.

VERY depressing. Imagine looking into a mirror, and willing your face to move, again and again... only to no avail. A very slight tremble, at most. I was also given a facial exercise sheet that included pouts, frowns, lifting of the eyebrows, grins and smiles - most of which, I could not do. Oh, and those repeated chants of "A E I O U" which I ALSO couldn't execute perfectly.

Day 29 : Almost there!

It took about 26 days for me to regain full mobility of my right eyelid; and 40 days to reach an almost back-to-normal smile.

I also sought out acupuncture once every two days. (Yes, I had about 15 needles shoved into my face per sitting). I can't tell you exactly if it worked. It could have sped up the entire process as there was a sudden spike on my recovery curve, but I can't be sure as I was already getting better naturally.

The journey may not seem that long - but it sure felt like it as there were days when nothing seemed to be progressing; and days I'd see a little lift in my smile but wasn't too sure if I was fooling myself into seeing it - or that it's really happening.

Day 33 : Spotted another slight lift in my smile!

That said, I learned that the key to geting through it is patience. It's hard to stay positive all the time when people can't help but feel sorry for you - that when you want to smile, your face just betrays you, but you just got to.

Remember, it's a temporary thing and it won't last! Thank your lucky stars that it's nothing more serious and joke about it with your friends if you like! You'll come out of it beaming like you never did before!

PS, I will be posting up the photos I took to keep track of my recovery curve soon. :)


TOMS : One For One

I don't usually have much against people who sell counterfeit products online - but when the brand in question is one that champions a really good cause... well, I find that a little hard to swallow.

TOMS is more than just a brand. It has a cause, and I urge all of you to support it. For each pair of TOMS shoes that you purchase, TOMS will donate a pair of new shoes to a child in need. It's that simple, really.

Image taken from The Happening Blog

So, the usual question - why shoes?

That's because many children in developing countries grow up barefoot.

Without shoes, they must walk barefoot for miles to reach school, clean water or medical aid. (I struggle to even cover a mile with sneakers on - forget walking to the clinic barefoot!) This puts them at risk for a plethora of injuries and soil-transmitted diseases. Heck, some of them can't even attend school as shoes are a required part of their uniform!

True, it's quite pricey (depending on the design, a pair may cost you approximately RM130 or more). But remember - you're buying for two. And you're not wrong about imitation being the best form of flattery there is. However, if you're going to be all brand conscious about it - at least know what owning a pair of TOMS shoes really is about.


The Founder and Chief Shoe Giver, Blake Mycoskie

And trust me, the original TOMS are worth every cent. I can dance in them, walk miles and miles in them, and I do it all knowing that a child in need is enjoying the same (or potentially bigger) benefits that I am. It's a win-win situation!

Want to get yourself a pair of TOMS? They aren't available in Malaysia just yet, but you may get them online or from a neighbouring country! (I got mine from the Philippines.)

UPDATE: Here's a video for those who'd like to know more about the shoe giving movement!

PS, dear blogshops - I am so sorry for putting a dent in your business. Everyone's got a part to play in this world, and I choose this.


Like a Nanny Rerun

She never fails to make my day.

Life as a Self-Fulfilling Prophet

There is just something about prophecies that intrigues us.
Can we actually know the happening of things before they really do happen? Is it witchcraft? Is it magic?

No. It’s just you.
Let me explain.

What many of us tend to underestimate is the... read more


This is a short excerpt from my latest article for 95% Advertising Academy's latest project - 95% More. Read the full write-up here and don't forget to check out the rest! Trust me, they are super inspiring!