Penang-born Michelle Tan Hui Sze has always had a passion for singing and performing arts.
With a Masters in Musical Theatre under her belt, she is currently heading a musical theatre programme in the British Academy of Performing Arts, Petaling Jaya in Selangor.
She was recently seen in Love Story – The Musical, which was staged at Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre in June. The musical by Stephen Clark, revolves around music student Jenny Cavilleri (played by Tan) and law student Oliver Barrett IV, who fall in love at first sight. Their happy life soon takes a downturn when they discover that Jenny has a terminal illness.
“I injected a lot of myself into Jenny because she’s such a real and relatable character,” mused Tan, 32, during an interview.
“I have always been very interested in singing. When I was in school, I joined the school choir,” added Tan.
When she was 14, she made her debut as a member of the chorus line in Hansel & Gretel, a production by the Penang Arts Council. She played a gingerbread man!
After graduation, Tan worked in banking but did not derive satisfaction from her job. She found her true calling when she stumbled upon an advertisement by Dama Orchestra (currently known as Dama Asia) in The Star, looking for singers and dancers. It was for In Perfect Harmony, a musical by The Star in conjunction with their 40th anniversary celebration in 2011.
“The Star gave me my first audition and provided an opportunity to delve into the world of performing arts. And for that, I am forever thankful!” enthused Tan.
Asked about her experiences in musical theatre, Tan replied: “At the end of the day, people are looking for more than just the voice, especially in musical theatre.
“So, I can’t keep relying on my voice because it is more than just singing. This was one of the challenges I faced as featured soloist in Larger Than Life (staged by Dama in 2014, featuring songs from Broadway musicals),” explained Tan.
“Another challenge I face is finding a line between the character and myself, and trying not to put too much of myself into the character.
“After one or two shows, people will recognise that similarity. And in the end, the character I’m playing could come off as monotonous and I wouldn’t want that.”
Up next, Tan will be performing in Bosom Buddies (with Tan Yon Lynn and Loh Ui Li on piano) on Sept 7 at Theatre Lounge Cafe in KL. It features a selection of songs from musicals such as Cats and Miss Saigon.
Tan concluded the interview with her thoughts on the future of performing arts in Malaysia.
“There are a lot of people who are passionate about performing arts and it’s good to see that. Commitment is important and performing arts should be considered more than just a hobby.”
The Paper’s People is a weekly column which introduces Malaysia-based everyday folk, doing what they love. If you have any person to recommend, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org.